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Southwestern Bell's DSL Service Is Target of Missouri Customer's Complaints Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News Publication date: 2000-06-06
Jun. 6--Southwestern Bell's ads for digital subscriber lines make them sound like Internet nirvana -- "always on" Internet connections that transmit and receive data at lightning speed.
But some of the telephone company's customers say DSL fails to live up to the billing.
"They're touting this as the greatest thing since Ted Drewes frozen custard, and it ain't," says Ken Langsdorf. He says the service has been unreliable both at his home and in his office. He lives and works in the West End.
The phone company, which dominates DSL service here, is working on software solutions for some frequent problems and is hiring extra staff to deal with installation and service issues, said Dan Hernandez, president of SBC Internet Services. SBC is the parent company for Southwestern Bell.
"Clearly, we have some opportunities to improve the service," Hernandez said in a telephone interview. He says he hopes to get some of the most aggravating problems solved within a few weeks.
At least 46 customers have taken their DSL complaints to the Missouri Public Service Commission since December. The PSC lacks jurisdiction over DSL, an unregulated data service that travels over telephone company wires. But the PSC has referred complaints to Bell.
The Federal Communications Commission handles only complaints about telephone companies making DSL available to competitors. An FCC spokesman said consumers can file complaints with the Consumer Information Bureau, but he advised customers to be patient with DSL because it is a new technology.
About half of the complaints to the PSC come from customers who can't get the service, said Kevin Kelly, a spokesman for the PSC. The rest are from customers who have the service but say it's unreliable.
To get DSL, customers must live within three miles of the telephone company switching center that handles their phone line. The three miles are measured in the length of wire between the switching center and the customer's phone, not in street or air miles. The line must be free of repeaters, bridge taps or coils; Bell uses those to improve voice quality but they interfere with DSL.
Southwestern Bell admits that it has had some problems with installation scheduling. The company hired some contractors to help with installations, and the contractors failed to provide enough installers to handle all of the appointments, said Michelle Johnson, a spokeswoman for Bell in St. Louis.
Johnson also admitted that the company has had service interruptions. And she says the company has not always made it clear whom customers should call when they have a problem. Customers can call 800-NET-HELP or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
Langsdorf, the West End businessman, said the service had been pretty good until three or four weeks ago. Then, he started getting disconnected and had to reboot his computer to re-establish the connection.
"For a week now, it's just been intermittent service," Langdorf said.
Langsdorf said he has been unable to get answers about his problems -- if he can get anything other than a recording when he calls the company to complain.
Jack Waterbury of Clayton said that he received good DSL connections when he first got the service in mid-March but that it's been unreliable since then.
"This week, it's been conking out," Waterbury said. "If I'm not active for 15 or 20 minutes, it disconnects. It's happened as many as 35 times a day."
Waterbury said he's had to wait as long as 30 minutes on the phone to get in touch with a technician who can discuss his problems. Bell hasn't been able to diagnose the problem to his satisfaction.
A Southwestern Bell technician told a reporter that the service can be disconnected if a user isn't actively using the Internet because the network assigns a "temporary" Internet Protocol number to a user when he or she connects. If the user isn't surfing or working on a site, the network may decide to reassign that IP number after a certain period of time. Customers can get a permanent IP number, but it costs an extra $30 a month.
Hernandez said some users were opening multiple windows on the computer and getting multiple IP addresses assigned to them. That created a shortage; so, the company programmed in a "time-out" procedure to disconnect customers if they weren't actively using a window after 2 1/2 hours.
Bell attempted to install a software solution for the multiple IP address problem on May 24 in St. Louis, but it didn't work, and the company had to remove the solution. The company is working on another software solution to this problem, which could be solved within a couple of weeks, he said.
Fred Lohmann of Creve Coeur has had similar problems with intermittent service. One outage that started over the Memorial Day weekend lasted until Thursday.
Lohmann said when he called Bell he was transferred around to several people, none of whom could adequately diagnose or explain the problems.
"They have misled the public about their ability to provide this service," he said.
To see more of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.stlnet.com.
(c) 2000, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. SBC,
-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), June 07, 2000