Archive for July, 2011

Your Home Internet Is Down. Is it You or Them?

Monday, July 25th, 2011

A sordid tale of brainwashing, intrigue, and woe.

Does this sound familiar? The workday is over, dinner is cleared, and now for a little “me” time – time to relax, go online, and catch up on emails, chat with friends on facebook, or maybe play that epic game of Bejeweled Blitz. Except the Internet has other plans for you tonight and, instead of your favorite website popping up, you are greeted by a long pause, twirling hourglass arrows, and finally the dreaded PAGE NOT FOUND error. Okay no problem right? You can handle this, it’s happened before. Off you go under the desk, into the closet or down to the basement. Because you know where your router is hiding, and you know that all you need to do is pull the plug on it for a few minutes and it will spring back to life, rewarding you for your technological savvy by magically solving all connection problems and almost immediately granting you and your family renewed access to the Internet….

Right?… Right??? (ahem!)

Okay, reality check time. Sometimes it’s not going to be that simple, and unfortunately for most folks, this is the start of a series of long and painful phone conversations with your Internet provider. Long, because they work from scripts that need to be churned through until the gods of technology are sufficiently satisfied that there really is something wrong (and it’s not just that you forgot to plug in your computer). And painful because more often than not they’ll walk you through completely dismantling your home network only to conclude after 2 hours, that “it must be a problem with your computer.”


Oh yeah, and don’t expect them to help you get your home network back in order.

One particular provider of DSL service (suffice it to say, their name begins with V) has elevated blaming the end-user’s computer into an artform. So much so that I had a recent call from a customer who asked that I bring a new ethernet card for his computer because, according to tech support at V, his bad ethernet card must be the reason why he couldn’t connect to the internet. So I showed up with ethernet card in hand to find that there was nothing wrong with his ethernet port. What’s more, I immediately observed that the ETHERNET light on his DSL modem remained lit even when the ethernet cable was completely disconnected from it. Now I’ll warrant that even non-geeks can pretty quickly figure out that when the ethernet light that comes on to tell you you’re connected, stays on even when you’re not connected, well, there’s probably something wrong with that DSL modem!

But just to make sure, I whip out my trusty laptop and hook it up to the DSL modem, and as expected, no connection. Very convincing, but I’m a techno-conservative, so I even ditch his ethernet cable in favor of my own which I know is good. Still no connection from the DSL modem. So let’s review the facts; we have two computers, neither of which will get a signal from the DSL modem. We’ve tried two different cables, and, oh yeah, the modem has this little indicator light quirk where the light tells us it’s connected even when it’s not. What do the rocket scientists and non-geeks alike all conclude? The DSL modem is bad!

“Let’s call V,” I say to the customer, “they need to replace your DSL modem.”
“Oh no,” he replies, “I’ve already been on the phone with them for 2 hours and they said the modem is fine and it’s a problem with my computer”

I have visions of this poor guy at the mercy of some script-droning tech in Deli, and I can’t help but feel he’s been the victim of brainwashing.

So I call V and get through the formalities of who, where, and what, then into the queue where I am 3rd in line to talk to a tech. Then my moment arrives and I try to speak as clearly as possible: “Hi. I need to replace this DSL modem. It will not connect to the PC and the ethernet indicator light stays on even when the ethernet cable is disconnected. I have tried connecting with two different PCs, and two different cables and have also tried resetting the DSL modem several times. Can I get this modem replaced?”

…interminable pause…

From half a world away: “I’m very sorry to hear this, I will be happy to help you. Now can you tell me what lights are lit on the modem?”


I then proceeded through an hour of testing and connecting, reconnecting, swapping cables, PCs, and resetting of the DSL modem. All stuff I had already done, but despite this was not able to persuade the tech to abandon his script and skip straight to GO so we could collect a new modem. As we moved into the second hour of dialogue, I felt my brain melting, but with herculean effort stayed alert enough to eventually guide the tech all the way through the logic to the point where he finally agreed the modem was bad and needed to be replaced.

So in the end, the customer got a new DSL modem and the problem solved, but for weeks afterward I kept finding myself thinking about the colossal waste of time, effort, and money, spent for me to go through that pointless troubleshooting process when I knew all along that the problem was the modem, and then I began to formulate a plan for how I could cut the process short next time. Next time when the tech starts the troubleshooting process by asking what lights are lit up on the modem, it will go something like this:

tech: “I’m very sorry to hear this, I will be happy to help you. Now can you tell me what lights are lit on the modem?”

me: “none”

tech: “no lights are on?”

me: “nope”

tech: “is it plugged in?”

me: “yep, and I also tried plugging it into a different outlet.”

tech: “Okay, we will have to replace your modem…”

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ghc-logo-341w-x-482hThis article was written by Andy Trask, Head Geek at Geek Housecalls, the New England area’s original traveling computer geeks, on the web at Geek Housecalls specializes in “anything computer” and, since 2001, has become the trusted in-home computer and technology support provider for over 15,000 families and small business computer users in eastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and southern New Hampshire. For help with your computers, gadgets, or network at home or at the office, click here to contact Geek Housecalls via the web, or call toll free:

1-877-4PC-GEEK             (1-877-472-4335)