Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Turbo. Max. Max Turbo, at your service

If you read my post yesterday you know I was quite frustrated with AT&T's customer service and inability to properly provision my line to support their new fast internet tier, Max Turbo.

What a difference a day makes. I took my frustration onto Twitter, and god the kind of friendly helpful service that Grandma probably got in the olden days. I followed the official AT&T group Twitter presence and directed a mention their way, describing my frustration. Within an hour, I got a response from a very helpful gentleman named Jason who works for AT&T's Twitter team. We exchanged some Direct Messages (I pointed him to my blog entry) and he said he would contact AT&T's U-Verse team to get a straight answer.

This morning, I got a call from a U-Verse Tier 2 technician, who, within 5 minutes, was able to look up my account, determine that my line qualified for the higher speed, actually get my line properly provisioned with the 32/5 profile, and added the Max Turbo level of service. The profile took effect immediately.

And that's it. A tale of successful customer service. I am quite glad that it all worked out and I am very happy with the level of service I got after reaching out to AT&T on Twitter, but a part of me wonders why I had to go to this length? Shouldn't you be able to get the same service if you call in? It almost seems like there's two levels of service -- the basic, poor phone support, and for those savvy enough to use Twitter, premium, high-quality support.

But, I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Thanks to Jason and the rest of the AT&T Twitter team, I have Max Turbo:

Over the next few weeks I will put it through the paces, keeping an eye on my line stats and real-world internet speeds. As always, I'll share the results with you here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Max Power? Not quite.

Boy I was excited yesterday. AT&T announced a big U-Verse internet speed increase was available across their network. For essentially no increase in our monthly price, AT&T was offering 24 mbits download speed (up from 18) and 3 mbits upload (up from 1.5).

Twice as much upstream capacity, and a nice little bump on download, for the same price? Cool. The new service tier is called "Max Turbo" (why do all the U-Verse speed tiers have names that sounds like porn stars?)

However, when I went to actually upgrade, I was reminded of why it is so frustrating to deal with AT&T. I went online to change my plan, and of course the online form allowed me to select the new tier, but when I tried to place the order, it just said "not available in your area."

A brief perusal of the AT&T online forums shows that a lot of people are having this issue.

The technical reason why is that your U-Verse VDSL line is "provisioned" to support particular tiers of service. The most common tier is 25/2 which means your line can support 25 mbit down and 2 up (remember that some of this is reserved for TV use, even if you don't have U-Verse television).

In order to support the new faster internet, my line has to have its provisioning profile updated to AT&T's new "32/5" profile. Not all U-verse customers support the profile; if you are too far away from the fiber optic node (VRAD) in your neighborhood, you are out of luck. The key statistic to help determine if you can support the new speed is your line's "maximum sync rate." If you have U-verse, you can view this number in the Residential Gateway's user interface.

If you have the "new" UI, you can see it here. Here's what mine shows:

The blue circle indicates what I am provisioned at... 25/2

The red circle indicates my lines maximum speed, which is over 50 mbits!

While no U-Verse customer can actually have a speed close to the max (if you get too close to it, the number of line errors goes way up...think of it as being the same as the maximum speed your car can go...the engine wouldn't last long if you drove at that speed all the time).

However, the 50 mbit max speed is important, because it indicates my line can support the high-speed 32/5 profile (generally, if you max user rate is 45 or above, you definitely qualify for the fast profile). Furthermore, our line is very "clean" with no errors, making it an ideal candidate.

So, my line can support the fast speeds, but my profile needed to be updated to actually make it work. Simple call to AT&T tech support to get this taken care of, right?

Simple as creating world peace, perhaps.

After a frustrating hour on hold, being shuttled between several different folks, nobody at AT&T can tell me why they can't make this simple switch. Changing line provisioning is something that Tier 2 technical support can do remotely (on-site techs can also initiate this).
The excuses I have been given included the whopper that "the central office in your town can't support those speeds" which is factually wrong, as well as "maybe the system will be upgraded in the future." Adding to my frustration, the Tier 1 representative, and an additional sales representative refused to escalate me to tier 2 support so perhaps I could get this fixed, or at least get an honest answer as to why it can't be done.

Needless to say I am quite frustrated. I've reached out to the AT&T staff on Twitter (this is a good way to test their responsiveness, especially compared to our local cable company's responsive Twitter presence.

I'll update this blog when I hear more from AT&T, meanwhile the "dis" in front of my "gruntled" is growing.

UPDATE: I reached out to AT&T on Twitter and they responded quite well. Read the full story here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Unloading on uploading

If you live in Lawrence, Kansas, you have some decent competitive choice amongst broadband providers, at least compared to other areas of the state. We have Sunflower Broadband offering cable internet, AT&T offering both VDSL (U-Verse) and traditional ADSL, and Freenet for a wireless solution.

All of these services have one thing in common: their upload speeds absolutely suck. AT&T, Sunflower, and Freenet won't sell you a decent upload speed at any price.

According to recent reports from the FCC Broadband Speed Test, the average internet upload speed amongst all broadband customers in the Sunflower State is between 1.5 and 2.0 megabits per second. None of Lawrence's broadband ISPs can provide upload service within that range. By way of comparison, the average download speed in Kansas is between 7.9 and 10 megabits per second, which is exceeded by both Sunflower Broadband and AT&T's U-Verse.

The upload speeds offered in Lawrence are a joke. The maximum speed Freenet offers is only 512 kilobits. AT&T's maximum VDSL upload speed is only 768 kilobits, and Sunflower can only manage a meager 1 megabit, even on its brand-new DOCSIS 3 cable network. AT&T's VDSL service, U-Verse, manages 1.5 megabits, the very bottom of the state average...and that is their top-of-the line theoretical speed, generally not matched in actual deployment.

Freenet and AT&T ADSL get a bit of a pass, because technical reasons make fast speeds extremely difficult. However, U-Verse and Sunflower don't have any good excuse for their terrible upload speeds. U-Verse is capable of upload speeds in excess of 2 megabits, but AT&T chooses not to provision such a speed or offer it to most customers. Sunflower Broadband is even worse. Cable infrastructure is easily able to support upload speeds much greater then they offer; indeed most cable companies around America (and elsewhere in Kansas) offer 2 to 5 megabit upload speeds, even in their mid-range tiers. Why Sunflower refuses to offer acceptable upload speeds is a mystery.

Upload speed is important, nearly as important as download speed. A lot of the activities you do with your internet connection require a good upload speed to function properly. Uploading HD video to Youtube, sharing photos on Flickr, utilizing online backup services, and VPNs/remote offices all work much much better with decent upload speeds.

I don't know why the providers in Lawrence don't offer higher speeds, or why Lawrence lags behind the rest of our own state (not to mention the rest of America) in this aspect of broadband. I would guess it is a combination of factors. Perhaps the providers don't understand that the nature of the internet has been changing and that consumers utilize uploading a lot more frequently these days then 5 or 10 years ago, when the internet was less interactive and participatory. Hopefully AT&T or Sunflower will offer faster upload speeds in the future and give customers some additional choice.