A day without Internet

Rob Walker's Internet goes out for a day, and doesn't like what he finds out about himself (or Comcast)

Rob Walker, Yahoo News
Yahoo News
A modem
.

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Pictured, a modem.

by Rob Walker

I had a jarring experience yesterday: Our Internet connection went down.

That doesn’t sound like a big deal, especially if you’ve been reading about the guy who has recently come back online after a year with no Internet. My adventure lasted only a day — and really not even the whole day, just most of the work day — and I had a smart phone and a nearby café with Wi-Fi to fall back on.

On the other hand, my withdrawal was totally unplanned, very unwelcome and ultimately eye-opening. Here is what I learned over the course of the experience.

9:00 AM: I work at home, and our access failed right around the time I get down to business. The usual modem restarts weren’t helping, and I suspected the modem needed to be replaced. I called Comcast, and went through the expected rigmarole (more modem restarts, “power cycling,” etc.). I phone-treed my way to a human rep, who told me the earliest service visit I could get would be Friday afternoon.

I panicked. She said she could put me in the running for an earlier appointment if someone else cancelled, and I’d hear from a local dispatcher of some sort around noon.

As is routine these days, the call included a request to evaluate my customer service “experience:” Assuming the rep had done her job properly, it was suggested I might rate her outstanding. Why are businesses so obsessed with rating the performance of phone reps who have no power whatsoever? Sure, the rep did an outstanding job — of informing me that I was screwed. Why no opportunity to “rate” Comcast’s service infrascture? “Press 4 if you think Comcast should hire more field technicians.” That’s something I’d weigh in on!

11 AM: To Comcast’s credit, it’s been a few years since we had a real outage like this, and I was shocked to realize how much more dependent on Internet access I’ve become. I could keep up with email and some Web stuff through a smartphone, but that wasn’t adequate for more substantial research tasks. And it wasn’t just work: Our evenings are all about Pandora and streaming Netflix these days.

I was getting depressed about being cut off, and then getting depressed about being depressed about being cut off. What the hell has happened to me?

11:47 AM: Recalling stories I’ve read about consumers tweeting their various dissatisfactions and getting better service as a result, I gave that a shot.

12:28 PM: No call from the local dispatcher, but @ComcastMattV tweeted me an email address I could send “details 2” so someone would “look into this 4 u.” I thumb-typed a short email, and went back to waiting.

3:30 PM: Cranky and listless and having done all the phone work and other non-Internet tasks on my agenda, I headed to the nearest Wi-Fi-friendly café. I caught up on more substantial email and other Web-heavy tasks. With no call from the dispatcher and no reply to that Comcast address I’d been given, I sent a more detailed — and, let’s just say “colorful” — follow-up email. By now I was in full-on theatrical outrage mode, ranting about how the local utilities and even the phone company wouldn’t leave me without service for three days. Within an hour a loudmouth college student at the next table had become intolerable, so I trudged home.

"People pay you a lot and depend on your service. If you can't respond to routine service problems same day, you should hire more people. If your service takes longer than utilities and local governments, that's pretty shameful."

7 PM (OR THEREABOUTS): My wife and I discussed what to do next, and the idea of returning to the café came up. The image of us sitting in public staring at our laptops filled me with existential despair.

But just then: The phone rang. Comcast! It’s some sort of regional manager, apologetic and human, offering me his cell-phone number. Within a half-hour, a service tech arrived — and replaced the modem. As is so often the case, the front-liners like this manager and tech were great. Why does it always seem like the system is designed to make accessing them so difficult?

8 PM: As we fired up Netflix, I came to two principle conclusions about my brief exile. First, it appeared that complaining through social media really is a reasonable tactic for end-running a service bureaucracy.

Second, I don’t really depend on high-speed Internet access the way I depend on electricity or water. But I do depend on it more than I would have guessed (or admitted). And what’s really unnerving about this is that I can’t imagine how to change it.

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