February 10, 2005

Groanage, or, How Do I Opt-Out of this Revolution?

Our Vonage phone lines have been dead for two days. When exactly it happened I don't know. Why exactly, or even inexactly, it happened, I don't know. Inbound calls are not possible, but at least get routed to Vonage's voicemail (at least I think so). Inbound faxes are unavailable. Outbound calls are not possible. Not good. No replies from Vonage's tech support to two support emails I sent them. Yesterday.

Next step was to call Vonage (on my cell phone). But rather than contact Vonage directly, I decided to start with Linksys. I figure, the one vendor's gonna wanna point their finger at the other vendor, and everybody assumes hardware first, so start with the hardware. I'd picked up a Linksys WRT54GP2 wireless router back in November. The wireless was awful (too much interference with other nearby WiFi sources) and we couldn't use it. But it did come with two built-in phone jacks and Vonage support, so I signed up for a Vonage phone line and free fax line. Dumb move. But it did work okay for four months after a bumpy start. This new outage was completely unexpected.

11:54 am: Call Linksys. The recording mentions hey did you know we have this thing called Linksys Check, that can almost automatically troubleshoot your router, just go to www.linksys.com/check. . . so I did. And I click on the buttons, and nothing happens. I inspect their code, and see it's trying to download an .exe file.... (um.... they could have said Windows only...)

11:57 am: Called Linksys again. "Press 1 for wireless. 2 for routers. . . . 8 for Voice over IP." (Ok, so if I have a wireless VOIP router, should I press 218? Seriously, what is a customer to do when they own a product that is wireless, that is a router, and that supports Voice over IP?) I picked Voice over IP. Got through quickly to a support rep. He said to reset to factory defaults and then talk to Vonage. I just called Vonage.

12:10 pm: "Thank you for calling Vonage. If you're interested in signing up for Vonage and joning the revolution please press 1". Bad idea #1: When you are talking about the lifeline for your business -- one of them anyway -- you don't wanna join a revolution, you want something that Just Works.. I press "5" for "repair" and get a new recording. "Thank you for your loyalty as a customer . . . we apologize for. . . " yadda yadda . . . "Press 4 if you're experiencing trouble with your outbound calls, press 5 if you are experiencing problems receiving inbound calls, press 6 if you are experiencing problems with faxes." One again: what is a customer to do? I can't get inbound calls, i can't receive faxes, and I can't do outbound calls. Should I press 456? I think not. So I press 4, and get . . . A BUSY SIGNAL!

12:11: I hang up and redial.

12:12 --- "...Press 5 if you are experiencing problems with your inbound calls." I pressed 5 this time. Pause. Ker-ching. Connecting to something new. Pause.

12:14 --- "Thank you for calling, all Vonage asistants are helping other callers, we appreciate your call and with be with you shortly" then silence. In the background, the faint background, I can hear an increasingly choppy voice and chopping on-hold music.

12:16 --- Still on hold. A loud BEEP. Then three quick dialtone signals, then more silence except for the background noise.

12:17.... Another beep-beep-beep. Continued choppy, barely intelligble recordings going on in the far background. A perky voice encouraging callers to "visit our website!" and "sign up today!"

12:18 A recording: "Your call is very important to us please stay on the line for the next available service rpesesentative thank you."

12:18. More choppy faint audio in the background...... on-hold music, short-circuited, and broken messaging about "our website".

12:19. "Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available service representative. Thank you."

12:20. "Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available service representative. Thank you."

12:21. "Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available service representative. Thank you." I continue to hear the faint perky voice ... "call waiting!" then "call forwarding! then "and much more!"

12:22. "Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available service representative. Thank you." Some garbled message that sounded like "Sign up on our website!" and then something that sounded like "updat--- . . . cred--. . card information . . . ."

12:23. "Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available service representative. Thank you." More music clips -- imagine a half-a-bar of music, followed by a sudden silence for a second, followed by another half-a-bar, followed by another second of silence . . . and on and on ad nauseam. To the accompaniment of continued unintelligible, choppy messages. Something about "--ignup".... Something about "-ternational..."

12:24. "Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available service representative. Thank you." And then, silence. And then, a (ring). And then a second (ring).

12:24. "Customer Care, this is Anthony can I help you." I explain to Anthony the problem. I give him my Vonage phone number. He sees the Linksys router through his diagnostic software on his end within seconds. "I see the device register," he says. "At 3:20 it registered here on our site." (He's in New York, I guess. Has a New Yawk accent. I am imagining the movie Boiler Room.)

12:25. "I wanna see if the davice grabs my updates in just a moment. . . I'm waiting for an open port number I can use..... so I can log it, just be a minute or so....." I wait some more. He's waiting too. We're both on the line waiting. Since I know he's still there on the line, I mention to him that his company ought to look into the problems customers are experiencing with the on-hold music and messaging while we sit on hold for Vonage Customer Care representatives. He says they're aware of the problem. "It's the Nortel vendor's on-hold music. Whenever Nortel comes out and says it's fixed, it isn't." Great, just great. I suggest he consider another fine company that does on-hold services among other things, but he doesn't take the bait.

12:29. "Ok, I think I got one here," he says hopefully. No, not quite. We wait some more.

12:33. He puts me on hold, to loud overamplified piano music. You know what I mean. What is it with companies playing overamplified music through telephone systems? And not just any music, but Muzak-style music? If it were The Who, then yes, you could play it loud and over-amplified, and I might even tap my foot. But I do not want to listen to loud, over-amplified Muzak.

12:35: He comes back on the line and asks me to reboot the router, meaning, pull the power cord out, hold ten seconds, and then put it back in. I do this.

12:36: I tell him the two phone LEDs are out on the front panel of the Linksys. His test did not work. "Both lights still out, ok I am gonna ty reassigning a number and trying again, just one moment....." I wait. And then, "It looks like it's still failing." By now I am noticing the cacophony of voices in background --- thick new yawk accents... I am imagining a scene from either Boiler Room or Wall Street. Wanna go to a Nicks game? Come on, Daddy-O. . .

12:39. "I want you to reboot your router agan." I get up and go cycle the power again. I go back and wait.

12:41. "It looks like it is still failing." Pause. "Alright gimme one moment and I'll be right back."

12:41. Loud overamplified piano music resumes.

12:44. Still listening to the loud overamplified piano music, but now there is ever-increasing white noise mixed in. The music continues, but loud wooshing static sound slowly taking over.

12:46 Music getting REALLY choppy, static noise now louder than the music, which has gotten so choppy it's like someone has cut the wire, and for kicks is taking the two cut ends of the wire and reconnecting them -- but just briefly. And then disconnecting. And reconnecting. I think: wanna bet this on-hold stuff is going thru a Vonage connection?

12:47. Music, hiss, chopp, continues. Is it an audiotape? Has it looped? yes. It has relooped and started over. Idea. People ought to podcast their tech support calls. When you call a company for support, you should record the call, then recount the experience in a Podcast. You could start the call telling the Customer Care representative, "This call may be monitored for a future podcast depending on my satisfaction level at the end of the call!" See how they take that.

12:51. Still on hold, still listening to this insane piano pop music.

12:52 Anthony suddenly comes on the line again. "OK, I need you to reboot that routuh again... we're sniffing what's going through the connection..... I need to put you on hold and confer with my lead, be back with you shortly."

12:53 --- The piano hiss music again.

12:58. Still on hold. I am thinking about cell phones and microwaves and damage to nerve cells, and suddenly Anthony comes back on. "Alright sir, we want you to put the Linksys wireless into your cable modem." It's a long story. I have two Linksys routers. Suffice to say, I do what he asks. Maybe we'll get a breakthrough. Of course, this means our network is down. One of the folks on my team declares he's going home to work, where there is still a network. I continue to wait for Customer Care Anthony to return.

12:59. "It looks like it's doing the same thing." Oh well.

13:00. "Alright, gimme another rmoment please, thanks."

13:00: That goddamn piano/white-noise music again. By now I have the cellphone on speakerphone-mode. And it occurs to me. I can record this music, for the world to hear and enjoy. And so I did. Here is a 83-second MP3 recording of what it was like to listen all these minutes. Now, if you listen to that you may immediately wanna say, "Why'd you make such a lousy recording?" And I would say, "But no, that actually is a VERY faithful rendering of what one hears at Vonage when on hold." Toward the end of the recording you get a good idea of what the choppiness and hiss sounds like. Now imagine 90 minutes of this.

13:08. Still listening to the choppy hissy piano pop from hell.

13:10. Still on hold.

13:15. Anthony gets back on. Wants me to use the browser to log into the Linksys router's administration options. I have to go rewire things so my Mac is connected directly to the Linksys router. I do that. I reset the factory settings. It was a lot of work to get things set the right way, and now all that work is undone. Then the router has to think for five minutes, its lights blinking wildly on the front panel. Five minutes pass and finally the power light stops blinking, which Anthony tells me means the Linksys is happy again.

13:20. The Linksys may be happy, but I am not. Anthony is talking to someone in the background, an engineer I take it. Unintelligbile mumbles about what they're seeing on their screens having to do with my router. They're waiting to see if my router's Vonage chips start behaving correctly. Suddenly I feel like I am on Mars, watching over the Spirit or Opportunity Rover. JPL is sending signals to the Rover but nobody knows if it is going to wake the Rover up.

13:23. And then, Anthony speaks. "Ah, shit! Same thing!" he says to this Vonage customer. Great. I guess this is what "joining the Revolution" means. "I'm escalating this to the level-3 engineers to take a look at," he says. "I'll give you a ring back to see what's going on. It's not even making a reg request," he says.

13:25. I ask for a case number. Why, I don't know. Do I care? No. I am thinking about what it will be like to be an SBC telephone customer. "There is no case number," he tells me. One hasn't been filed yet. I guess the Level-3 engineers have to do that.

13:26. "I will also call you know," he says. Or he will email me. We end the call, problems unresolved.

13:27. So the Linksys router is now unusable, the network is down, the employees are at home. I get the network back up. I go back to the Doc Searls' afternoon keynote at the Desktop Summit up in Del Mar.

Update. It is now 17:06. The on-hold music is still playing in my head. I wonder how long it's going to keep playing.

Update #2. It is now 18:15. I just realized hey, Anthony never called back a half hour later, like he said he would. Nor did I get an email. I guess this means I order two POTS lines tomorrow. I hear that Vonage has a $40 cancellation fee. They better not pull that on me. Posted by brian at February 10, 2005 05:07 PM


Vonage will charge you $40 to cancel, but if you send them back their router, it gets refunded.

At least that's how it works if they sent you the router in the first place. -m

Posted by: Micah Dubinko at February 10, 2005 07:47 PM

Hi Micah, nice to see you! I bought the Linksys at Office Depot. Vonage had no say in the matter. $40 fee to cancel when their service doesn't work seems a bit outrageous to me. The least I would expect is them to issue something that convinces Linksys to send me a replacement model at no charge. And for the month of February I shouldn't be charged a whole month's monthly service fee if I am not getting a month's worth of service.

Posted by: Brian Dear at February 10, 2005 09:45 PM

AIEEE, earlier today my Vonage has lost all outbound calling. (Inbound was still working, I checked)

It seems to be working again at this moment, but my faith in the system is kind of shaken. -m

Posted by: Micah Dubinko at February 11, 2005 11:21 AM

I don't know you, but I do feel your pain. I am actually listening to that same choppy brain-butchering piano music right now...waiting for the last 40 minutes for SOMEONE..ANYONE..to pick up. I hate Vonage.

P.S...Noticed the Vonage ad next to your entry. How fitting, huh? Good luck!

Posted by: Brandy at March 26, 2005 04:55 PM

The piano music has been replaced with really horrible, jingly-jangly pseudo-jazz. I haven't solved my phone problem, but still, the worst problem is the damn muzak!!

Posted by: msgerstein at April 5, 2005 08:08 PM

i've had vonage for about 3 months now. . . .can't say i have any complaints whatsoever. just my 2 cents worth.

Posted by: Mark at May 1, 2005 10:20 PM

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