Tech Support. Technically, it’s support, but in reality, it’s not much help. In fact, I think it’s just the opposite. I think they try to discourage you from getting any resolution to what they assume is a perceived problem. Heaven can help you if your problem is real.

My DSL modem is sick. It’s getting old. I’ve had it since 2001. The only time it gets a break is when the power goes out. It’s a Westell, which meant nothing to me when I got it and means little more now. A beige piece of plastic with some blinky lights on it that sits on a desk near a computer and winks at us non-stop. The case is discolored in the middle, both bottom and top by it’s own self-generated heat. I picked it up the other day and it rattles. Should it rattle? I don’t think so.

But after eight years of 24/7 service it’s getting senile. It’s dropping packets and this past weekend, I couldn’t watch anything with a video stream online. Web pages worked okay, with an occasional graphic that got stuck halfway done, but for the most part, you don’t notice a crappy connect with web pages. ISPs count on that. They know most people don’t even realize it when their connection to the internet is sub-par. Hey, it’s still better than dial-up!

So I called Verizon today. First I searched all over their web site for a way to lodge a complaint. First, I found they had redesigned their user area to something called “My Verizon.” It took me several tries to get my old login to work. I still don’t know why it didn’t.

Once I was there, could I find anyplace to register a trouble ticket? Nope. Lots of FAQs, Knowledge Bases, User Forums and Troubleshooting Wizards, but not one way to actually ask them to fix something. It seems like the standard answer is that you are doing something wrong, or there is a problem with your computer.

I know enough about this that I don’t need to be told to update windows, or use a virus detection program. I know that is not the problem. Spyware doesn’t cause packets to vanish between my house and the central office. It’s one of three things, the modem, the wire from here to there, or their equipment.

I had been watching a continuous ping to the CO equipment drop packets and/or have huge ping times for several days. To be honest, I did suspect the modem, especially since it rattled. I can’t wait for a new one to arrive so I can open it up and see what is inside. I expect bits of chips or something that exploded off after some lightning strike. Actually, it’s amazing it is still working despite it’s condition.

But the web site didn’t even have an email. No live assistance. No trouble form. The best I could get was a toll-free number to call. So I had to enter Tech Support Hell.

I called and started into the automated routine. “Your call may be monitored for quality assurance…” “Por Espanol, …” Yeah, yeah, just let me talk to a human. Eventually I got to “press 2 for High Speed Internet.”

But then, I was confronted with a menu with no useful choice. “For billing issues press 1” “For email problems press 2” “To reset your password press 3” and on and on. Nothing about connection issues. The last item was one to cancel service. I wonder how many people give up and select that one? Maybe I shouold have tried. Maybe they would be like AOL and put someone on who would do anything to get me to keep their service. Hmm.. should have tried that.

But I eventually used the other trick I knew in these situations. I pressed 0. They were on to that. I heard the response “You have indicated that you would like to talk to a representative. Most problems can be solved by following our usual menu selections.” and it repeated the same menu again! Am I going to be stuck in a loop if I press 0 again? One more time, I hit 0 and this time it relented and gave me a human voice.

It was Christopher. Christopher sounded very asian, but what the heck, who am I to judge. He asked me the number I was calling from. He asked me my name. I had already entered my full 10-digit phone number in part of the menu system. Besides, they’re the friggen phone company. Don’t they know who is calling them? Haven’t they heard of caller ID?

He asked me a bunch of questions. Thankfully, he didn’t make me do all the idiotic basic things I had already done on my own. He seemed to judge from listening to me that I had some basic knowledge of the problem and accepted that. He wanted to run a line test to see if there was a problem on the line. It must be automated enough that he could do it while we were talking, and he reported that it passed. Or else he tells everyone that. I don’t know. I do know that I’m so close to the central office that I could probably stick my head out the window and use a megaphone to talk to a technician there. It’s like two blocks away.

Then he asked me about the DSL modem. He asked for the model number and I read it off the label on the bottom to him. I commented that it was an oldie. He checked my account records and told me I had gotten it in 2001. I thought it was around 2002, but he said November, so it probably was.

That seemed to make him happy. He seemed to think the modem was the problem and that eight years was beyond the life expectancy for it. I can’t argue. I only know about one modem, mine. He answers calls all day about them, he should know how long they last. So he said that he would recommend my getting a new modem, but that he needed to pass my call off to the billing department for that. He said he would talk to them first and see if it could be done for no cost, since it was such an old modem.

So I went on hold and a minute later, a woman came on the line. Her accent was strong and sounded like it was Indian or Pakistani. Another country heard from. But she couldn’t hear me. It was “Hello?” “Hello!” “I can barely hear you.” “Can you hear me now?” “What is you phone number?” “My number is 716…” “Hello?” “Hello” “What is your number?” “716…” “What?” Eventually, I got my number through to her. She kept complaining that she couldn’t hear me. So I said, “You got my number. Hang up and call me back.” I guess that made sense to her, because she did that and could then hear me. I knew I had been talking to the tech support guy with no problem until the call was transferred, so it had to be their problem.

Wait, did I say this was the PHONE company? You’d think they would have the world’s best phone system…

So I explained what I needed. As always, you have to explain everything again, even though the first person you spoke to swore they would tell them personally what you needed done. I had to give my name again and confirm my address. Then she needed to put me on hold again. Then the line went dead. Hmmm….

Yes, this IS the phone company. It really inspires confidence in their products…

So I waited. She had called me back before. Maybe, she would just call me again. I waited. When it became apparent that I wouldn’t be getting that call, I called the same 877 toll-free number again, waded through the menus and, since they had transferred me to “billing” I selected that from the menu. I got a different person, of course, but miracles of miracles, she sounded like she spoke American English!

I told her that I had been diagnosed by the Internet Tech Support person and transferred to billing so they could get me a new modem. She said she could do that for me. Then she wanted my phone number again. Can you say Caller ID? I gave it to her. Then she wanted a code number off my bill. Luckily, I had a bill in front of me. Then she wanted to confirm my address. I said “the address the phone is at, or my billing address?” Billing address. So they don’t care where it goes, just where the bill goes…

Then she says, “Would you like that all on one bill, or split over three months?” I said “How much is it?” Silence. “Hello?” “I’m just checking to see how much it is. Did you want the one with wireless in it?” So I said “No I have my own wireless gateway. But I was told this would be replaced at no cost because it was so old.” “Oh. I can check on that, but we don’t normally do that.”

So I resigned myself to paying for a new one and let her set it up. Then she asked if there was anything else they could do for me. As if playing telephone roulette and getting hung up on wasn’t enough. I said I was interested in the upgraded to 7M speed that they had advertised. It was right on my bill as $42 per month with $10 off the first three months. She said, no she thought it was $52. I read her my bill. Then I started to read the seperate flyer they had sent me. Then she said, no that’s just for new customers. I said then why is it printed on my bill? She said, no the higher price is for new customers, the $42 was right.

So what were we disagreeing about?

So, I went ahead and ordered the upgrade. It would be a few days before the order would be processed and there might be a short outage as they did it. Then she says, “This says that the upgrade is incompatable with your current modem and they will need to send you a new one. We can cancel the one you just ordered.”

That works for me. I’ll take the one that’s part of the upgrade and is included for free any day. I’ll be paying for it in the higher monthly cost anyway.

All told, I was on the phone for over an hour to accomplish this. I’ve never had that hard of a time getting something done with the phone company. Especially, if it ends up causing me to pay more each month.