Saturday, May 19, 2007

Please Hold

The house-guest we had some years ago for some years was an Old-School Telephone-Network Enthousiast, the kind that mourns the technological repercussions of the break-up of Ma Bell for aesthetic reasons. If you are into networking, find yourself one and talk to them. They'll teach you why, for example, as I paraphrase, "5 nines [99.999%] availability is a disgrace; if a switch is down for more than ten minutes a year a district manager would have been fired. That's 911 availability you're talking about here." And much other tidbits about the astounding engineering effort the enduring old telephone network is.

It was because I lived with one that I will never get Voice Over IP, also known Phone Service From My Cable Company, as my home line, and why, even though I work in the mobile industry, I always have land-line. Well, I also have to have a land-line in this building: the doorbell rings it when some comes calling. But mobile services are flaky, and cable phone depends on the cable company -- and the cable company has never been solid wherever I lived. How are you gonna use your cable phone to call the cable company when your cable is out? That's 911 availability you're talking about here.

As happened last night. I lost cable around midnight, and since I do not get paper bills, I couldn't quickly get online to find the tech support number instead. I pick up the phone and decide to give The Former Shell Of AT&T a workout, dialing 411.
The recording asks: "What cities please?"
-- "Los Angeles, California"
A new voice: "What number?"
-- "Time Warner Cable"
And instead of being switched to the mechanical voice to read me the number, a human moment occurs with a single sentence that catches me by surprise: first the operator says something useful only she could know. "I have had a lot of people asking for that one, so be prepared to hold. Here it is..." And then she switches me to the number read-out.

Indeed, by the time I navigated the tech support phone tree to the option of "Yes my cable-modem is on, I have restarted, your modem connection light is blinking, I am not an idiot", a recording tells me call volumes are so high they can't handle my call, they won't even put me in the wait-queue, please try again later. I guess there is critical mass of cable-modem users on a Saturday early morning in downtown L.A. now. I went to sleep. And also, you can find the old service-oriented attitudes of the fierce telephone network of old still peeking through.