Tag Archives: AT&T

Moving to a Faster ISP

Recently moved from Austin, TX to Montreal, Qc. The move implied an ISP change and I was wondering what the results would be.

My previous ISP plan was AT&T Yahoo’s Pro DSL (3.0Mbps/512kbps). It cost 25$/mo. (without a contract). Here were the results from DSL Reports using that connection on a MacBook through WiFi (802.11g).

In Montreal, I’m now using Vif‘s ADSL Monthly (5.0Mbps/800kbps). It’s 30$/mo. (no contract). Setup was very easy (nice to be able to choose your own PPPoE username and password!). The connection seems reliable enough. And it is, in fact, much faster than what I had in Austin.

Using the same MacBook and WiFi router, I now get the following results:

Latency is the same, upstream is 50% faster, downstream is 140% faster.

Thing is, though, I’m not really sure I see much of a difference. Sure, it can be quite useful for some downloads and, since this connection will be shared with somebody else in the house, it might make things easier. But it still feels a bit like overkill.

The other issue is whether or not this connection gets throttled at all. Vif itself won’t throttle. But they use Bell Canada’s lines and it seems possible that Bell throttles third-party ISPs using its lines. Though I don’t use much “peer-to-peer” directly, throttling can be very problematic.

Anyhoo… The ISP switch looks like a good thing so far.


ISP Choice and Speed

Trying to figure out my typical throughput to determine what I need out of my new ISP as I move to Montreal. One issue is that I don’t know how long I’ll spend in Montreal. So I really need a monthly plan (not a contract).

Currently, in Austin, I’m mostly on a WiFi (802.11g) connection to an AT&T Yahoo High Speed Internet Pro DSL line.The plan is advertised as 3 Mbps downstream and 512 kbps upstream. It’s been fairly consistent over the past few months. There’s currently a desktop connected directly to the router but its network activity is minimal.
Here’s what the connection speeds look like, at this point:
So… About 1.6 Mbps down, 400 kbps up. For my typical use (including Skype, large number of podcast downloads, etc.), I’ve been finding it sufficiently fast.
So, how can I get something similar in Montreal?
Well, a similar 3Mbps/512kbps plan doesn’t seem to exist. Typical DSL plans in Montreal seem to be either faster (5-7 Mbps up, 800 kbps down) or much slower (288-500 kbps both dl/ul).
I really don’t need more speed than I currently have here and the faster plans are (unsurprisingly) more expensive than what I’m getting here. The lower-speed plans are somewhat less expensive than what I get here but they really seem quite slow. I mean, my upload speed is decent at 400 kbps but with all the overhead, I’m guessing a service advertised at 500 kbps must be rather slow. And I have a hard time figuring what that might feel like as a download speed.
The other issue is which specific ISP to choose. There’s choice. In fact, there’s a large number of individual providers. But it’s still limited in terms of actual plans.
I’ve had Bell Sympatico in the past and actually had good service from them. But they’re the most expensive DSL provider. The 7Mbps plan is over 42$ (w/o a contract) and it has a relatively low cap of 30GB/mo. Their 500kbps is quite expensive at 30$/mo. (w/o a contract), has an incredibly low cap (2GB/mo.), and very high price for extra bandwidth (7.50$/GB).
There are several unlimited or high cap (100GB) plans from “independent” providers like Vif and RadioActif. The normal price for a 5Mbps/800kbps (dl/ul) seems to be around 30$/mo. (w/o contract). Unlike Bell, these plans don’t include a modem. I’m not sure my current ADSL modem (Motorola 2210) can be used with any of these ISPs. I’ve sent emails to several of them to inquire about this. Modem rental is 10$/mo., making these independent ISPs almost as expensive as Bell. The modems they sell are around 90$, which is almost twice as expensive as the retail price of the Motorola 2210. (Actually, the modem was free after a cashback.) I already have WiFi routers, so that shouldn’t be an issue.
I guess the main issue at this point is the modem, then. There really should be a site where we can see which modem is supported by which ISP. My searches with the modem’s model number aren’t returning the kind of results I want. The user manual doesn’t seem to contain any information which could help me find this out. Maybe this modem is only supported on AT&T, in which case I might have to buy a new DSL modem. 
Ah, well…

Praises for AT&T

Wow!

I’m impressed.

No, I’m not a shill for AT&T. And I’m not even an AT&T customer yet.

So, what am I impressed by?

Customer service.

Quality of customer service.

Customer service representatives who do their job well.

Instead of just assuming that it should happen all the time and complain when it doesn’t, I get really impressed when it happens. Call me weird or naïve. Really, I don’t mind. I’m funny that way.

So…

My wife and I are moving to Austin, TX in a couple of weeks. She’s currently in NoHo, Massachusetts while I’m in Montreal, Qc. Because she doesn’t currently have her “social” for the U.S., I was to order phone and broadband services. We basically don’t need anything else, besides electricity.

Shopped around a bit. Asked some people over there about alternatives. People who are currently with AT&T said they had no problem with it. Someone with MCI is thinking of switching back to AT&T. Some people gave me more specific advice on plans, including measured service.

For one thing, AT&T’s phone plans are very affordable. Hard to beat, even. Measured service is exactly what we need as we’ll be making very few calls. It’s mostly a way to get incoming calls and have a landline for emergencies. I might end up with a cellphone at some point, but not right away.

Broadband isn’t too different. As someone said, broadband is pretty much a commodity so, unless there’s a very specific issue, any provider would do. I’ve been using DSL with Bell for a while and it’s quite decent. AT&T’s DSL plans are, again, very affordable and quite flexible. Better yet, the plans have no term commitment.

So I was pretty much set. I wanted to get a measured line as our primary residential phone line and the “Pro DSL” package (3Mbps).

Started the ordering process online. Entered our new home’s address. Wasn’t in the database. Spelled out the street number instead of using a digit and the address was found. But with the wrong zip code. Not slightly wrong, as from a neighbourhood close by. Completely wrong. Hundreds of miles away. But the city name was right. Didn’t want to risk it so I decided to complete the order with some assistance.

While doing all of this, a floating box appeared on the page to allow me to chat with a CSR. Normally, such a box might be quite annoying. But, in this case, it was exactly what I needed.

So I chatted with a CSR named Rachel. Got straightforward answers to all questions I had. One advantage of doing this kind of thing through chat is that it’s easy to copy and paste. Plus, you don’t get issues with trying to perceive tone or anything. It works.

I still needed to call customer service if I wanted to check the address from the database. Seemed perfectly reasonable. I could have proceeded with an online order but I really wanted to make sure everything was set right.

So I called the toll-free number, using Skype. (My headset is quite comfortable.)

Contrary to the experience most people have on most occasions, the voice-activated system was actually quite good. Very conversational and natural. Did a good job at recognizing everything which would be in a restricted list (numbers, place names, yes/no answers…). The recognition of a free-form answer was trickier but the NLP itself was quite efficient. It’s just that it’s difficult to pinpoint an issue like the one I was having with a few words. What’s more interesting, though, is that the system “failed gracefully.” Not only did it allow me to try another way to phrase my issue but it provided different examples every time. The nice little added touch was that, the first time it failed to understand my query, it asked “Did I get that right?” and when I answered “no” it actually said “My mistake.” Sounds really silly, but little things like that do help.

I got my query right the third time (by broadening it) and, after confirmation that this was what I wanted, I was directed to a CSR. Waiting time was less than a minute.

At this point, I just wanted to get information about the database entry for our address. My expectations were fairly low. But the CSR did exactly what he needed to do. (Didn’t catch his name. Given his accent, I would be very surprised if he weren’t from the U.S.) While I was just calling to make sure the address was right, I ended up ordering the services directly through the CSR. I may have missed on a deal but I really think it was worth it. The CSR was that good.

What did this CSR do so right? Simple things.

  • He adopted exactly the right tone with me, neither patronizing nor “salesmanish.”
  • He adopted the appropriate “colloquial yet respectful” form of speech.
  • He solved the database issue very efficiently.
  • He understood exactly what I wanted. Right away, he understood that the phone line I wanted was the most basic one.
  • He never tried to upsell me on anything. In fact, he reassured me that I might not need a protection plan for the lines in our new place.
  • He was frank about what the complimentary calling card would be. (I’m still getting it and I’m sure I’ll use it in an emergency, despite the ridiculously high rates charged.)
  • He explained everything he was doing.
  • He never put me on hold.
  • He explained every detail of each plan I was ordering.
  • He answered questions I didn’t even realize I wanted to ask.
  • He did everything his job required him to do.

I fully realize that many an administrator would look at this list and think that this CSR should get reprimanded or even fired. Especially since he was frank with me and never tried to upsell me on anything. But what many an administrator doesn’t seem to understand is that this quality of customer service goes a long way to bring in faithful customers.

I think that one key here is “basic psychology” and the importance of context. This CSR was able to adapt to my “style” right away. His strategy might not have worked with somebody else. But I’m actually convinced that he would have adapted his strategy according to my reactions. The exact opposite of “cookie cutter solutions.” Customized, personalized, tailored service. As if we were doing business in a small store.

Naysayers will say that my experience was positive because I was actually ordering a service. It will surely go downhill from there. That’s quite possible but, if it does, we will just switch our services to some other company. Not having a term commitment is very valuable, in this case. Besides, I will likely not have to do business with them directly very frequently, unless the services stop working. And the prices are low enough that our stakes in the matter are also quite low.

One reason I’m thinking so much about this is that I have done phone surveys about CSRs in the past. In fact, the surveys were about a phone company. When I completed the order and ended my call to customer service, I was thinking about my answers to survey questions (if I ever get asked). What is sad about surveys is that it’s impossible to give anyone any insight as to what, to me, constitutes excellent customer service. Sure, the ethnographer in me has to say this. But I think it goes beyond the differences in research methodology.

I just wish more people were to understand needs of different people.