Telecom Tech Support

By James Kwak

I’ve recently been making you suffer through my struggles with the telecom industry. To show that I appreciate your patience, I wanted to recommend to you a brilliant cartoon on telecom tech support, from the inimitable XKCD. I would reproduce it here, but that seems like it would violate fair use, so you’ll have to go over there.

Don’t forget to check out the mouseover (place your pointer over the cartoon and wait for a few seconds).

20 thoughts on “Telecom Tech Support

  1. Last summer I started using Skype. Since then I’ve concluded that Skype and similar technologies are the future of the cell phone industry. The monopolistic telecoms are scared of Skype and are digging in their heels. Using Skype from your an internet connection you can make “telephone” calls to almost anywhere in the world. The cost of a Skype call is free or for pennies. I can see potential for a mobile phone company that is fully-integrated with Skype as a selling feature.

    It would be great to get some discussion on this.

    Here’s the Skype link:

  2. Where I live the monopolistic telecom giants have pretty much locked in on profitable model of high fees and dissatisfied customers. Is this an entirely hopeless situation?

    Here is what 14th says:

    Seeking radical solutions: “So does anyone have any ideas? Here is one. Let’s create a wave of entrepreneurship that begins to rectify some of these imbalances. How can we do that? There is tremendous talent and knowledge locked up in our biggest corporations, those that are prospering while giving paltry wage increases, passing more health care costs back to their employees, moving many jobs to other nations, paying massive bonuses to executives. Why should the people support this?”

  3. Skype and other Voice over IP (VoIP) solutions won’t work well on current cell phone data networks, since the latency is too large. Got to wait for 4G.

  4. Yup, they really are insistent on the reboot. In fairness to them I have found that 80% plus of the time when I have any kind of snafu the reboot fixes it. Also in fairness to them their managers probably drill this into their brains to follow the script, and if they don’t there will be hell to pay, especially if it is a random quality check (if they actually do those). But they need to listen to the customers.

    Let me say as a preliminary to this statement, I am very ignorant on computers and technology, BUT it has always struck me as asinine to have an internal modem. It seems you have much better idea what is going on, and much more control with an external modem, but maybe someone who is more knowledgeable out there can correct me on that.

    Again the big problem is the telecom industry spend tons on marketing to attract customers, but when you threaten to leave, they only seem to care about 4 weeks after they realize you were serious about the threat and you followed threw and left, then they start in with the contrived sales pitch again, complete with feigned concern for your happiness with their service.

    Another thing that gripes my butt, is they offer the free hook-up and trial period. We had 2 or 3 chances to hook-up free for 6 months, only took it once. Because at the end they whack you with the disconnect charge, so when they say it is free, it is a LIE, you always pay for the disconnect, including labor charge.

    Hey James, I think readers like when you share some personal things or personal frustrations, or some little things from your everyday life. I think readers (especially regular readers) like that. It helps to create a “bond” with the reader and makes you more likable and “endearing”. It can be overdone, but little shades of it makes the site more fun. Also I think the site should always be 75% finance and economics, but 25% Law, Software, Societal issues gives some variety and spice to the site. I would leave without the major weight given to finance and Econ. but would get bored without the 25% variety/spice.

  5. Skype is probably insecure, and a competitor with the cell phone companies and international carriers, so what you hope for is not likely anytime soon. I think Google Voice may be better to do business with, but would prefer a cooperative service based on open standards. Encryption is the 800-pound gorilla in the room; the intelligence agencies discourage its use, but there’s no way to use these services for business without it. See Zfone.

  6. I’ve got one. Several years ago I received the latest upgrade for AOL (for free, unsolicited in the mail, of course). I was never a convinced user, and had removed the last version from my computer about a year earlier (it was just taking up space and at the time, memory was a bit of a premium). I decided to install the latest version, just to check it out to see if it had become something useful. I installed it by the instructions (duh, as if), and my computer immediately locked up. I tried to reboot, and it didn’t work. I called AOL, and their person told me that their program couldn’t have caused the malfunction. After 15 hours of phone time, expending $200 on a “neighborhood geek”, and lots of patience, the software was finally removed, and the nerd I had hired found that it had a conflict with some software basic to most computers that happened to trigger this response. Obviously AOL had not done the amount of beta testing necessary to resolve this potential issue, although I am sure they really didn’t care that much. However, I must say that that experience has made it loathe for me to install anything without checking with one of my brothers, who are both prime geeks (they are baseline backdoor guys). I have had a couple of other minor episodes.

    One further remark. Anytime I call a help line and don’t feel like I would be better off if I spoke Hindustani, I feel is a major victory.

  7. Just wondering what this (and prior telecom posts) has to do with

    What happened to the global economy and what we can do about it

    i.e., the ostensible mission of this blog.

    James, I have no doubt you have intelligent opinions on all sorts of business issues beyond this publication’s mission, but I’m not sure this is the right place to publish them. I am starting to find it annoying to open my Baseline Scenario email newsletter, expecting something relevant to the original editorial vision … and finding something like this (or a gripe about Microsoft, etc).

    A loyal, engaged audience was built here around a particular subject area. Would be disappointing to see it evaporate because postings started veering indiscriminately into personal interests instead of sticking to the subjects that brought us here in the first place.

    Set up a personal blog for this stuff!

  8. There is a connection between JK’s post Telecom Tech Support and Baseline Scenario’s raison d’etre. The underlying issue is that the telecom giants are profiting from a business model based on high fees and poor customer satisfaction. Adding here, Canada has the highest cell phone rates in the world and terrible customer service.

    Here is an excellent link comparing the cost of cell phone plans in different countries.

    Canada and the United States have the highest cell phone rates in the world. While Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Sweden and Britain have the lowest.

    Here is a cost comparison of similar monthly cell phone plans (voice, text, data) across four countries.

    – $68 Canada
    – $60 United States
    – $34 Sweden
    – $32 United Kingdom

    Can someone explain to me why Canada and the United States have cell phone rates that are double that in Sweden and the UK?

  9. Here is a comparison of monthly cell phone voice plans across four countries.

    – $39 Canada
    – $40 Unites States
    – $17 United Kingdom
    – $7 Sweden

    Yes !!! The same plan we pay for in Canada and the United States would cost $7 in Sweden. What is causing this disadvantage to cell phone users North America?

  10. I believe the RIM Blackberry has the encryption needed for business. Noting here RIM (Research in Motion) is a Canadian company.

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  12. Here’s a great overview from Scientific American about business models and how different nations have chosen different paths. They hammer US providers quite hard, though the country does have some logistical overhead as they admit.

    At the head of the line is South Korea. They tried a single network and found that 5% of the users sucked up 50% of the bandwidth. They then created two separate networks, one “premium” the other for “regular” users. The average speed for all users is 33 mbps downstream (into your machine) and 17 mbps upstream (I remember reading somewhere else that their high-speed network is 100 mbps).

    The plan is for everyone to have a gigabit/second speed into their home within 3 years. There’s a target to shoot at.

  13. Laurie,
    Forbes has an editorial section. Wall Street Journal has an editorial section. I haven’t read Fortune in awhile, but I’m guessing they veer off money topics from time to time. I’m wondering if you fell out of your seat or felt terribly inconvenienced by that?? James Kwak is a nice guy who cares about his readers, “customers” of this site, and probably feels they are broad-minded enough to handle this.

    The internet is an amazing candy store of human wonderment, or “buffet”, no one is holding a gun to your head. You could just watch your local news, they always show cute kitty videos somewhere in the broadcast that might be more to your taste. See that 17,000 number in the right column??? Other sites that get mainstream attention have 3,000 less than that. I’m sure any movement there will be noticed.

    Other than that you might see if you can get a PR/spokesperson job at Microsoft, or one of the telecoms with crappy customer service. I believe….. yes….. I can hear their beckoning call for you.

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