It started on a Thursday evening. I wanted to upload some changes to The Hittman Chronicle before announcing it to the public, but found that I was no longer able to FTP to the site. RoadRunner customers are used to frequent screwups and significant downtime, so I shrugged it off and went out for the evening. It was still broken when I got back five hours later. It was too late to put up with their tech "support" so I fiddled with the pages some more and went to bed.
It was still broken on Friday. I reluctantly called their tech support and spoke to someone who confirmed there was a problem. She opened a ticket and I asked when it would be fixed. "They usually get to it within twenty-four hours." I asked if they could call when the problem was resolved. "Oh, they don't do that."
A quick check of the RR newsgroup showed the problem was effecting everyone in my immediate area. FTP was broken, home pages loaded very slowly, and several other outside pages, most notably those run by c-net, were unusable. I tried some of them and found that snap.com took thirteen minutes to load. It would have been faster to dial up at 1200 baud. It would have been faster to scratch it in the dirt with a stick.
On Saturday, anxious to update my site, I called them again. I went through the obligatory voice menu hell, with every selection I needed conveniently located at the end of a wordy menu, then listened to some sappy Kenny G. style jazz for way too long. Every minute or so a recorded apology interrupted to make the wait even more annoying. The drone who finally answered was typically useless. His solution was to open another ticket, so I asked to speak to a supervisor.
This time the wait was even longer. The music now sounded like Yanni (Yawny?) on Quaaludes. Finally, I was connected to Keith. I hesitate to say this, because it might get him fired, but he knew what he was doing. We spent nearly an hour on the phone and determined what I already knew - the problem was on their end. Using several tools and techniques we narrowed it down to a timing issue on the home.nycap.rr.com server. FTP wasn't broken, it was just responding so slowly most software timed out before completing the connection.
He told me he was sending the ticket to the locals and would follow up with a phone call. I asked again if they would call me when they were done, and was told "I'll ask, but they'll probably forget." That was much more diplomatic than the truth. He gave me what he said was his extension, but when I asked for his last name he told me they weren't allowed to give it out.
Three hours later, having heard nothing, a simple solution occurred to me: Why not send Keith the files I wanted posted and have him transfer them to my page? I called the number he gave me and someone else answered the phone. "This is Abe" he said. Abe? I asked for Keith. "I'll need his last name." Arrrgggh! Abe went in search of Keith while Yanni and Kenny G did a duet, and then another one, and then one more. Abe came back and told me Keith was not available.
I asked if he would post my files and was told they're not allowed to do that, but he'd check. Yanni and Kenny G. were now doing a Celine Dion medley. He finally came back and told me no, he couldn't. By now I was getting pissed, told him that I expected some credit on my account, and I also wanted to speak to a local tech. While more easy listening syrup blasted through the phone I accidentally hit the phone button with my chin and was disconnected. I didn't bother calling back. They had my phone number and could call me if they were so inclined. I figured that was about as likely as the Victoria's Secret models stopping by with a keg of Sam Adams and a box of condoms. I was right.
As I write this it is now five days later and the problem is still there. There is no evidence that anyone has looked at it, or has any intention of ever fixing it.
Roadrunner's customers have always felt like Wile E. Coyote. We never know when the anvil is going to fall on our head or when we'll be thrown over a cliff or smashed into a brick wall. We can't predict what they'll do to us, or when, but we know another painful surprise is inevitable.
Their current apathy toward customer satisfaction is a fairly new posture. It has replaced the open contempt they were displaying just a short time ago. They freely displayed animosity to anyone who complained or tried to do anything they didn't understand, even referring to dissatisfied customers as "hostile to RoadRunner" in their local newsgroup. Now the messages in the group are simply ignored. Dissatisfied customers are not their concern.
Most ISPs do a decent job of running their Usenet servers, but the task is beyond RRs technical abilities. After waiting a year for them to figure it out, putting up with weekly system resets and crashes, I tired of their endless promises to fix it and subscribed to an outside newsgroup service. I posted a public message asking they reduce my bill by the price of the service, five dollars. I didn't expect them to comply, but was unprepared for the response: An angry e-mail from one of their techs. He ranted about how hard he'd been working on the problem, and closed by informing me that usenet was a "value-added service."
(I just got off the phone with a friend who read the first draft of this article. His e-mail has been broken for a week. A tech informed him that E-Mail is a value added service!)
Their Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) seems designed to keep customers confused. On one portion of the page subscribers are told they are prohibited from running servers. A little later they're told it's OK as long as some guidelines are met.The way it really works: users who want to attach a server must first ask RR for permission. This is reasonable; RR doesn't want their bandwidth deteriorating even more because someone is running a server full of warez or .mp3 files. Some operating systems can present an additional problem: they can be abused by spammers if configured incorrectly. But after receiving permission customers often receive nasty e-mail weeks later telling them their server is a violation of the AUP and they must shut it down or their account will be yanked. The customer then sends a copy of their permission slip and all is well, until three or four weeks later when they are put through the same dance all over again. Some customers report going through this a half dozen times before RR finally left them alone.
Last year, in the Albany NY area, RR scanned everyone’s PC for open ports and determined, incorrectly, that a third of their customers were running unauthorized servers. They could have sent out a polite e-mail requesting more information or explaining their concern. Instead they sent out a nasty, accusatory message threatening to close the customer's account. Most of the recipients had no idea what RR was talking about. Shortly thereafter RR sent out an embarrassed apology, but the damage to their customer relations was already done.
Any other ISP that treated their customers this poorly would be out of business before their modems got warm. Why do RR customers put up with such abuse? Speed. If you want the speed they are the only game in town. They suck, but they suck fast. They used to suck really fast, and before that they sucked really, really fast, but their policy of adding customers instead of bandwidth has slowed the system down considerably, especially during the peak hours. (i.e. when you want to use it.) Still, when it works it is considerably faster than a modem.
The other factor is convenience. With a RR connection you're "always" connected to the Internet. ("Always," in this case, means when they're up and running, which, to be honest, is more often than not.) Data junkies like myself, who used to have a separate phone line just for the computer, find RR is actually a few bucks cheaper than a separate phone line plus an ISP account. That is, before factoring in the aggravation.
And the aggravation is unavoidable and immense. One customer learned seven of his tickets had been closed with no problem resolution. Another . . . but this article is long enough already. There are many more problems I could list, but our web pages are limited to five megabytes.
RR could be a great service, if they could just grasp a few concepts from Business 101:
- Current customers are valuable assets, not nuisances to be mistreated or ignored.
- Growing ISPs need to expand their infrastructure, not jam everyone into an ever-decreasing bandwidth.
- And most important of all, when you hate your customers, at least have the sense to pretend otherwise in public.
Postscript: Six days after my first call to RR I was able, through subterfuge, to get through to a local tech. He pulled up the ticket and looked at it for the first time, asked me a few questions, and said he'd work on it. That evening I received e-mail requesting more information, which I provided. A day later FTP and the troublesome web sites were working. It worked for two whole days before it broke again.
It is now nearly three weeks later, and the problem comes and goes. It is present more often than not. This morning, when I called a local tech to check the status, he sounded surprised. Anyone reading their newsgroup wouldn't have been.
I guess I better learn to live with it.
Additional information, reports, pissing and moaning is available at the following sites:Roadrunner Problems on The Left Coast
One Pissed Off Customer from California
Roadrunner® is a trademark of Time Warner.
The graphics are used here under the principle of fair use, and in no way diminish or dilute the value of any trademarks. Nasty letters from scum-sucking bottom feeders demanding their removal will be displayed and heavily publicized for everyone's entertainment.
© 1999 Dave Hitt
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