ISPs are just not providing a good enough service for remote workers

If ISPs can’t do a better job we may as well give up on our cloud utopian dreams and go back to the old days - all in the office. I was visiting a friend over this weekend who works from home, and he told me how he’d been upgraded by...


If ISPs can’t do a better job we may as well give up on our cloud utopian dreams and go back to the old days - all in the office.

I was visiting a friend over this weekend who works from home, and he told me how he’d been upgraded by his ISP to have an ADSL service with a better throughput of around 5Mbps (up from about 1.5Mbps prior to that). Furthermore they’ve raised his upload speed too, and since he works from home, and also maintains some websites, that all sounds like good news doesn’t it?

Well you know where I’m heading, or I wouldn’t be writing this. No.

Every weekday at around 7pm, after the TV soaps finish, the performance goes to hell. Almost no throughput at all. Email not working, websites timing out or just “spinning” on connection. Simply unusable, until around midnight.

So what, 7 ‘til midnight are hardly normal work hours, right? Maybe not, but most organisations who employ remote workers know that their flexibility in working hours is a huge benefit.

Anyway, he calls up the ISP and is of course routed through to their call centre who are polite as ever, and request that:

  • He should switch his router on an off - which doesn’t work
  • Switch his router off and leave it off for a while - which doesn’t work
  • Switch his PC off - which doesn’t work
  • Switch off both - which doesn’t work

They then suggest that the problem probably lies with his router and he should get a new one. He politely replies that his router works every day until 7pm and then again from roughly midnight and so it’s unlikely to be his router. They get nowhere and he gives up for the evening.

He goes through this exact same call centre process on two further evenings again without success. Why would they assume it would suddenly work? The call centre agrees to call him back to investigate but does so on a weekend, when there is no problem at all. Then they call him back and he misses the call. They never call back again.

Now my friend is no networking expert, but he’s very technology savvy. He establishes that a number of his neighbours on the same ISP have the exactly the same problem. So really it’s not going to be his router. He also finds out that they’ve just laid fibre down to the box and the end of his street to improve the performance, and so can’t understand what’s going on.

He goes back through the ISP call centre and tells them that lots of his neighbours are affected too, but gets trapped in the same rigmarole, and so after over a week he’s in the same place. No worthwhile internet between 7pm and midnight. No cloud.

It’s not good enough, is it?

The problem is that the call centre hasn’t advanced or escalated the problem as far as I can see. They also did not follow up as promised. Each call has resulted in them doing exactly the same things. I’m half Indian, so there’s no prejudice here: It’s not an Indian issue. Its a procedure, monitoring, logging, correlating and training issue.

Now while individual problems may be unique, many of us have experienced something similar.

I certainly have. With my cable ISP, I also called the call centre in similar circumstances multiple times. I also called friends in my area on the same provider and verified that they had similar problems.

Thing is, that I’d also visited this cable ISP and knew their setup, so after huge frustration with the call centre I asked to speak directly to second line support. And to my shock, without much protest, they did.

Second line support were great - well trained and knowledgeable. There was a fault affecting several users which was affecting me. I could stop rebooting my box in the vain hope it would work. They had a fix date and it got fixed on that date. Not great still, as I had to wait several days, but much better than my friends' experience.

My unlucky home working friend asked me what the problem might be, and truthfully it’s hard to tell, but we can guess. Insufficient backhaul capacity somewhere in his and his neighbours path, overloaded proxy servers, DNS overloaded.

Yesterday, I told him to call the helpdesk back on Monday after 7pm, strongly resist their attempts to make him reboot things (again!), and ask for second level support (or failing that a supervisor).

Will it work? I have no idea of the structure of his ISP. But it’s better than where he is currently.

I also armed him with traceroute (tracert in Windows or “pingplotter” does route tracing well too) so he can look for a jump in the latency and so determine where it might be used as an argument in getting support. We’ll see how he goes.

But for the moment his work flexibility has gone. His upgraded network a waste of time. And, his ISP’s response, frankly woeful. Improve yourselves!

Oh, and before you go telling me that my friend should pay for business broadband at home, note that recently the same ISP had a major broadband service outage and had restored home broadband first.

Posted by Frank Puranik, Product Director, iTrinegy

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