BitDepth 627 - May 13

Problems with my broadband connection revealed deeper issues with Flow's support.
Choking the Flow

Instead of flow, my Internet connection got a bit tied up. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

Alert readers will recall that I switched my broadband connection from TSTT to Flow in December 2007. My primary reason for the change was TSTT's inability to offer a schedule for the Blink upgrade in my area in St James, which was in some kind of connectivity sinkhole, a problem with an old switch in the area, if my memory serves me better than it usually does.
That change came with its own issues. I dutifully called TSTT's 800-CHURN number (yes, I had to dial all five numbers after the 800) to request disconnection of my service, but the customer support person didn't register it correctly. I got billed for three months of service that I wasn't using before I managed to get it stopped and was able to state my case clearly enough to negotiate a refund.
There were also some early hiccups with the switch to Flow, most of them centred around technical issues with their modem (more in the sidebar).
Two weeks ago, my connection stuttered and then dropped and my adventures with Flow's technical support began.

Lost in tech support
Well, that isn't exactly accurate. I didn't actually speak to anyone in Flow's Internet technical support until four days after the problems began on April 25.
I was able to talk to the company's general customer representatives, the folks who normally serve the Cable TV customers, but that proved to be a frustrating round of explanation, waiting, explaining again and waiting for promised call backs that never came.
According to Flow's Rhea Yawching, the company was "undergoing maintenance and testing procedures of the broadband platform to accommodate new facilities and during this upgrade process some broadband customers experienced intermittent service interruptions."

The "intermittent service interruptions" were said to have affected 1,000 modems connected to the distribution nodes that were downed by the "maintenance and testing procedures," a number that Ms Yawching claimed to be three percent of Flow's broadband user base.
Despite the relatively small sector of the Flow customer base that was affected by the outage, my own experience of the failure was 100 percent. I couldn't get online at any time for four days, and I couldn't reach anyone who could help me every single time I called.

Carpe problem
This is usually the point where I have to make a decision. Because of this column, I know "people," but I think it's crass not to give the systems put in place to manage problems a chance to work.
When they collapse to this extent, it also seems a disservice not to let the people in charge of things like customer service and technical support know that they not only have a problem, but also that a critical mass of their support representatives don't seem to be aware of it either.
As unhappy as I was to be disconnected from my Internet service, I found it even more unnerving to my confidence shaken by the inability of anyone in support to offer a straight answer about the situation. Responses ranged from "There's a problem?" (honest), to "Everything will be corrected in half an hour" (lie).

Confronted with these issues between flights early on Monday morning (April 29), Rhea Yawching, Corporate Communications jefe for Columbus put me in touch with a senior technical person who proved both agreeable and knowledgeable about the situation, able to offer a realistic schedule for the restoration of service.
Regarding the failure of Flow's technical support to respond adequately to the situation over the weekend, Ms Yawching noted that "We recently restructured our entire Service Delivery operation; additional staff are hired, processes are reviewed and support technologies will be implemented to ensure our customers' experience when dealing with our front line staff is enhanced."
To which the only appropriate response can be, "we'll see."

Quirks with Flow's Internet modem
Flow delivers one of the most sophisticated modems I've ever seen offered by a local Internet service provider. It's a hefty slab of plastic with lots of impressive lights, and it has a built in battery backup for nine hours and built in connections for Flow's upcoming Voice over IP telephone system.
It does have one disturbing weakness and that's a tendency to hold on tenaciously to the MAC address of the first ethernet port it's attached to. 
So if you set up your Internet connection by attaching the modem directly to a computer and then try to connect it to a router to share the connection in your household, it won't work.
The solution is to unplug the modem, remove the backup battery for at least half an hour (an hour's safe), then replace the battery, plug in the modem and connect the modem to the router.
That's in a perfect world, though. The modem I got is particularly tenacious, remembering the last port it connected to for more than eight hours. Eventually a Flow technician had to reset the modem (or some other voodoo, I was tired, I forget) from tech support central.
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