Trials And Tribulations With US West

I started agora in 1985 (originally named skeeve, then changed due to a name conflict). At the time, I lived in an apartment in Hillsboro (GTE territory). It grew to have several lines, and in those days, the phone company had no clue what a modem was. You definitely didn't want to mention that you were using one or they'd try to make you get a data grade line suitable for high speed leased line usage. Previously, I'd lived in Pacific Northwest Bell territory (Corvallis, OR, and for a summer, Boise, ID), and been very pleased with the service I got there. In 1991, I moved into SW Portland, and knowing that PNB had become US West, I was looking forward to improved telco relations. Boy, was I sadly mistaken.

By the time I moved, I had enough phone lines that I needed to start charging a small amount to cover the cost of them, but I wasn't really intending to run it as a business and didn't want to have to charge enough to cover the cost of business lines. Most BBS's (which this wasn't, but they were the main alternative) were still free in those days. You usually didn't have to register first to use them either, and really hated having to do so. Such is life, however.

I ordered residential lines, and all seemed to be well, until about a week before they were supposed to go in, I got a call. It seems someone got suspicious about the number of lines, and asked if it was a business. "Not really." "Do you charge a fee?" "Well, yes." "You'll have to get business lines then." OK, fine. This actually turned out to be a good thing, because the business people were far more clueful than the residential people. We dicussed the lack of wires and what to do about it: never mind the fact that I gave them a couple of months advance notice, specifically noting the lack of wires, yet they waited until the week before the due date to notice, which then pushed things out considerably. This forced me to come up with a minimum number of lines as I couldn't delay moving out of the apartment --- I put my voice line on hold as a housemate currently in the house already had a voice line, and we brought up two dialins on the existing 3-pair coming into the house while we ran more wire. After discussions, we decided that I would dig a trench (to save the $500 they would charge for it) and pipe and they would pull a 50-pair cable in. As I recall, I needed 8 total, so I suggested a 25-pair, for future expansion, but they jumped from 6-pair to 50-pairs in their installs. Well, that sounded just fine.

So, a few days later, I come home at lunch time for some forgotten reason (but I think it was because a phone line wasn't answering), and surprise! There's a crew digging a trench in the front yard. They're about half done. After some calling around, I find out that it's the residential side of things. With my voice line on hold and the residential and business divisions being like completely separate companies with completely separate techs, they don't seem to have coordinated anything. I made it clear that I was not going to pay for the trenching as I'd already made arrangements with the business side to do it myself, but truth be told, I really wasn't looking forward to doing it. Since they were already half done and were running two 6-pairs, and I'm *pretty sure* they'd sliced up the original 3-pair, and I needed them back up asap, I said screw it and let them finish and lived with that.

End of Round 1.

It actually was enough for a couple of years, but eventually my housemates of the time and I did dig the trench and lay the pipe and have a 50-pair pulled. US West came out and marked where the previous cable had been buried and we carefully avoided it, but after it was over, the phone lines were dead and we found shredded cable about a foot from the line they'd drawn. Fortunately, one of my housemates had some nice spicer thingies and wrapped all up in a mound of electrical tape and reburied it.

Over those and the next few years, it was just minor stuff: the usual annoyance of not being able to schedule an exact time, having to take the entire day off work to be there when they arrived, half the time they didn't show up at all and having to schedule another day. This alone limited agora's growth substantially, as I couldn't make a habit of taking time off work to deal with the phone company. In late 1994, I installed a T1 Internet connection, and about a year later a T1 trunk for the dialin lines, however that doubled the cost of them (despite using far fewer telco resources, go figure!), and in 1997 switched back to standard POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service, that's a real telco acronym for standard analog voice lines). That turned out to be such a major battle, it took from March to December, got me several thousand dollars in credits, and the PUC made them give me residential rates over it.

A year later, late August, 1998, I was preparing for a two week vacation in Hawaii starting on Sep 1. A phone bill was a little overdue, and I tried to call in to get it paid, but gave up after getting put on hold for an hour, and then when trying later, got busy signals. I went downtown around noon to find an office to pay them, and found that they *don't have public offices*! Someone else had done the same thing, and the guard had called what amounted to the same people I'd been trying to get ahold of at home. When that person got done, I got on and got the bill paid, and in that time, someone *else* had come in for the same thing. But, at least it got paid. I could go on vacation and relax. Hah!

The next morning, Tuesday, I flew to Hawaii, an all day process, as I was going past Honolulu, on to Kaua'i. When I got to the hotel, I called home to check my email and got "the number you are calling has been disconnected". What!?! I was able to get in through a private line, and determined that the lines had been shut off at almost exactly the time I was boarding the plane at PDX. If I were more paranoid, I'd swear they were watching and waiting. I called US Worst to figure out what was going on and they claimed I hadn't paid my bill. Well, yes I did, I made a point of paying it the day before. Well, it was evening, West Coast time, so they couldn't fix it until the next day. %^$#%^$#

Well, by the end of the next day, they still weren't working, and so I called them again (I don't recall any longer exactly when I called, but I think it was usually in the morning), and got some jerk who was giving me a major runaround, and I'm afraid that having gone through several reps by this time, none of whom had told me the same thing, and having visions of having no customers left because they all thought I'd gone out of business before I could get it working again, and well, let's just say that I rarely lose my temper but they managed to get me to do it, and it wasn't pretty and probably didn't help matters. Eventually, they agreed to get things hooked up, but not until Friday. *&^%*&^!!!!

It turns out that part of reason they couldn't just turn them back on was that in the one day they'd been off, they'd already reassigned wires to some other line being installed, and had to go out and find new wires and reconnect them. They finally got them all working by Saturday, but didn't get the hunt group working until the next week, as I recall.

When I got back, I talked to another telco, GST Telecom, and found out where they were located, which would have made it really easy to switch, but there was no office space there, and the Galleria, another location that they serve with their own fiber, doesn't have 24x7 access. I looked at a couple of options, but none were satisfactory and with things working, the motivation to upset the apple cart diminished. Also, I planned to buy a house the following spring, and the cost of moving was prohibitive, so I put it off.

With spring came many late nights at work, followed by the search for and purchase of a house. I moved, but knowing the people in the old location, left agora there, pending a final decision on what to do with it. The new house has lots of room, but the utilities are underground, and under a large concrete slab going right up to the foundation of the house. Not going to be easy to run new cable to. Also, my previous experience, and some more recent word of mouth, indicated that GTE wasn't going to be a panacea either. I really want to move agora to downtown Portland, but a co-worker who runs a web-hosting service expressed an interest in co-locating so we could save on the T1 internet connection (which costs a lot and agora only uses a fraction of). We looked around for some locations, but nothing panned out and it turned out he really wanted something in Hillsboro, where he lives, and I wanted something closer in, so that fell through.

Then, the final straw came September 27, 1999. The new residents at agora's location got a new housemate, who had some phone lines installed for his use. Some clueless residential installer used a pair of the T1 wires (which uses 2 pair) for one of these voice lines, taking down my entire service, for practical purposes. This was about 9:50am Monday. It wasn't until Tuesday afternoon that a tech came out to fix it, and then just found another pair which seemed to test clean with his test box and we thought we were back up. It didn't take long to see that nothing substantive was working, however, only small emails and pings. Wednesday afternoon, another tech came out, and tested and probed, and the central office testing people wanted to write it off as customer equipment, but the tech was persistent and worked with the Frame Relay tech (who *was* seeing errors) and finally we probed enough to find the original wires and reconnected them, swapping the voice line onto the "bad" wires (but good enough for voice). Up again, after almost 3 days of downtime. I contacted Norris & Stevens and started the process to find office space in downtown Portland.

But Wait! There's More! Saturday at 5pm, the T1 goes down *again*. It isn't showing total disconnection like the previous case, but we're getting no signal from the telco side of things. Verio (who actually "owns" the Frame Relay line) convinced them to send a tech out Sunday, and he spent the afternoon trying to figure it out, finally giving up and moving it onto the wires originally used by the T1 Trunk when I had the dialups on it. That got me back up after another 2 days of downtime (5 out of 7!). A Cable tech was to come out Monday to fix it, and sure enough, he did, and the T1 got moved back to the original circuit, though I didn't get the details of what was wrong.

But Wait! There's Still More! Monday night, I got complaints of a dead line, and checked. Sure enough, one line hadn't been used since the afternoon, around 1:15pm. Tuesday morning, I stopped by on my way to work and checked, and sure enough, no dialtone. As usual, it's a full day before they'll get a tech sent out. I specifically asked that they call me beforehand so I could be there and make sure that everything was working when they left. Well, by Wednesday evening, I'd heard nothing, but the line was in fact working, so they'd fixed it without contacting me in any way, even to let me know it was fixed. Fortunately, since then everything has been working since then (a couple of weeks at this writing). Hopefully I can get the system moved before the next crisis...

That Dec (1999), I made arrangements to colocate in a facility downtown operated by someone I know. The details, however, turned out to be even more devilish than usual, and it kept getting drug out and drug out and eventually, I gave up the idea. Things at the 45th location were relatively stable, and that helped motivate the procrastination. Occasionally, however, there would be some issue or other pop up, and after another year of delay, both the colocation facility and I resurrected the move. It took until July, 2001 to get things negotiated and phone lines in place, and then another couple of months to get the move accomplished (during which time, I got dot-bombed out of Intertrust, where I was working until Aug 2), but by September, agora was in a new 3U rackmount server and everything at 45th was shut down. The new dialin lines are via Electric Lightwave on an ISDN PRI trunk line, and there have been no problems since. There was an occasional problem with the access server interface locking up, taking down the trunk and requiring a reboot. Since putting everything on a UPS, eliminating power glitches, that problem has not recurred either.

2003 Update: Now that I'm supporting DSL, I have two Qwest T1's: one to Verizon and one to Qwest itself, and in fact, Qwest has been much easier to deal with for supporting DSL than Verizon (which is giving away IP service, making it impossible to compete with them).

2004 Update: DSL didn't ramp up fast enough to cover the costs, so I got out of that business, and only have to deal with ELI on the telco front, and never really have to do that either.

2008 Update: ELI got bought by Integra Telecom, which started raising rates jerking me around. When I checked into alternative options, I found that my dialup usage had dropped to the point where the best option was to transfer my dialup accounts to the real ISP I work at during the day and get out of dialup entirely. RIP dialup.