An Open Letter to Charlotte Burke

Charlotte Burke, Senior Vice President, Consumer Internet Services

Thank you very much for you letter welcoming me to Bell’s WiMAX Internet service. While the letter was full of hyperbole, catch phrases and without a doubt identical to the letters received by thousands of other WiMAX customers, I do appreciate getting your name so that I can send you this letter in response to your service.

Rather than getting wrapped up in flowery rhetoric to soften the blow and be “diplomatic” I’ll cut right to the chase since I’m living in Quebec now and complaining is something of a national sport here. I also have some faith left in the power of free markets to deliver ever improving service, so I’d like to think, perhaps naively that my criticisms might, just might improve the service received by others. One can only hope.

I’ll skip the Internet service itself for the moment since that isn’t where things began to go sour.

It all began when I discovered that I wasn’t eligible for DSL Internet in my new apartment but that there was an alternative called WiMAX which was slower and more expensive, but hey – this is 2008, how could I live without Internet? Bell.ca never really explained what WiMAX was or how it worked, but it assured me that it was as simple as 1-2-3. Sadly 1 never arrived.

After more than two weeks my modem still hadn’t arrived despite assurances that it would reach me in 3-5 business days. When I called the help line I navigated the usual labyrinthine telephone option maze and when I finally reached a living breathing human being had to reiterate all the information I’d previously punched into the buttons of my phone – leading me to wonder why I’d bothered to run the maze in the first place. The operator could not help me.

I called again a few days later, ran the same gamut, waiting for the Minotaur to leap out of my receiver, finally reached a human being and finally got an answer to my question. The modem shipped, the address on the package didn’t exist, and so it was sent back. I confirmed my address with the agent on the phone, something I’d done on my previous call and, now that I think of it one of your operators had called me a week before to confirm my address as well, though they never told me what for. Checking my email at work I confirmed that my original order receipt had the correct address on it. Obviously there’s an issue between your sales and shipping departments.

So finally my modem arrives at my door and I eagerly plug it into the wall and the computer, ready to relieve a month’s drought of Internet with an orgy of email and YouTube only to find – nothing. No signal. Notta. I am somewhat computer proficient and tried everything I could think of to make things work before calling your dreaded help line, and as usual I plunged through seven levels of menus and inputted everything except my social insurance number on my phone’s tiny keypad – only to have to tell your operator everything all over again when I was finally released from hold.

He told me to move the modem. “Is it in a window?” What the hell kind of a technology is this? It has to be in a window? It has to be pointed at a Bell tower? I’m on the ground floor of a brick building facing an inner courtyard, there are no phallic Bell monstrosities in eyesight! Okay I’ve got a couple of blinking lights on my modem, I only had to move a cabinet and put it next to the window by my bed with the modem on top so that I hit my knee every time I get out of bed. Sure its inconvenient, but it’s the Internet right? We all have to make sacrifices. Good thing I just happened to have a 50ft CAT-5 cable sitting around to run halfway across the apartment to the computer.

Still nothing. I hear the flurry of keystrokes on the other side of the line. He tells me to unplug my Internet and leave it alone for an hour or so – maybe it’ll fix itself. It doesn’t. I call again. Different operator, same maze of options. This operator doesn’t seem to know what’s going on either and there don’t seem to be any notes from the previous operator to help. Again the problem isn’t solved. Try again tomorrow.

I don’t have time to call Bell every few hours in the hopes that something’s changed so I don’t call again until a couple of days later. Now my account is erased and started from scratch, then my operator gets confused and has to get someone more senior to work on my account. Another ten minutes on hold, awkward silence throughout. Try it now…

Finally the Internet works. Or so I think.

The speed is nothing to write home about, in fact its about a quarter of the advertised “speeds up to 2Mbps!” but what can you expect with a modem sitting in the bedroom window pointed at a brick wall. Who the hell approved this technology? Was it you Charlotte? I’m sure it looks great on a traderoom floor, but in real life applications its leaves much to be desired. But wait, it gets better.

Over the next couple of weeks, my Internet connection proves itself to be remarkably unstable. The speed fluctuates all over the map with no rhyme or reason from moderately fast to mind numbingly slow. I can kind of tolerate this, though it is more than a little bit annoying. What passes beyond annoying are the service outages. We’re not talking about one little service interruption for an hour, no, we’re talking about spending half a day without the Internet despite the happily blinking lights on the modem, blinking along every time I hit my knee on the dresser.

Over the course of two weeks the Internet went down at least half a dozen times for an hour or more, two or three times I was down for more than four or five hours. This isn’t service. This is like trying to deliver the mail by carrier pigeon right next to the International Pheasant Hunter’s Association. Totally unacceptable.

Finally I canceled my service which surprisingly only involved getting transferred between a couple of different departments at Bell. We’ll see if I get my modem deposit refunded. If not you’ll certainly be hearing from me again.

In the end I called up your competition TekSavvy to see if they could provide me with Internet service with some reliability. I spent no time wading through telephone menus, talked to a real human being and was registered in a few minutes. The modem arrived before expected and my connection worked the moment I plugged the modem in.

Most interesting of all however was what I learned in researching TekSavvy. I discovered that they buy their line access from you and resell it. What makes this interesting? What makes it interesting is that Bell claimed that my address was not eligible for high speed ADSL, and yet at this very instant I’m composing this message connected to a Bell copper line, going into a Bell central office, which means you had the capacity to give me this service all along and put me through the hell of WiMAX and lost me as a customer for nothing. Oops.

But that’s fine with me. TekSavvy shows me much more respect as a customer, offers better rates and unlike you and your fascist cousins supports Net Neutrality. You as an ISP are making many of the same mistakes as the MPAA and the RIAA by alienating your most influential and devout customers. Your poor customer service and business practices are creating a demand for alternative providers like TekSavvy. I only hope that you begin to learn from your mistakes, streamline your business practices, focus more on customer service and respect the privacy rights of your clients.

Oh, I almost forgot. Since my initial tech support calls to your call center I have been receiving daily SPAM emails from Bell purportedly in response to my call, but the emails have no content except for pointless links to customer surveys, FAQs and special offers. One is enough. Every day is excessive. Yesterday I got a blitz of 16 such messages. I wouldn’t be surprised if your system is filled with such repetitive and unnecessary garbage eating up bandwidth and resources. Stop wasting everyone’s time and get your shit together.

– Sincerely, Kay O. Sweaver

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3 comments

  1. Rod · June 26, 2008

    Ha! What a great story, love the happy ending.

  2. melbennae · June 27, 2008

    same thing happend to me: !! wow

  3. Air33 · June 29, 2008

    thank god my cell contract is nearing the end. I’m dumping bell altogether and using telus and teksavvy in the near future. Awful, truly dismal customer service, the seven levels of the inferno you have get through to get to a human being is one thing — then they try selling you shit. I love the broken English operators who say “yes you buy right” when you say NO! in a vein attempt to get to another human being to deal with your issue.

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