DSL Utopia? It Feels More Like DSL Hell

By Henry Baltazar  |  Posted 2000-12-11

Over the past four weeks, my EarthLink DSL connection has driven me to believe we are still a few years away from the DSL utopia that vendors are trying to pawn off on us now. Several months ago, I became part of the new broadband revolution when the power of DSL networking was piped into my humble abode. EarthLink, which provides Internet connectivity via Pacific Bells DSL network, seemed to be a good choice because I got two months of free access and because it had a fairly low cancellation fee (which I will be taking advantage of soon).

Despite that I only expected to download at 380K bps (and real-world numbers were closer to 310K bps, thanks to the decrepit phone lines in my apartment complex), this slow speed angered me only when my boss, who happens to live across the street from a phone company central office, talked about the 1.5M-bps link he gets for the same monthly fee. Even at 310K bps, I was still getting roughly six times the speed of a typical 56K-bps modem, which in turn opened up the world of streaming media (football and basketball game broadcasts, with no lag) and MP3 sharing via the mighty Napster.

More problematic, however, was the level of support that EarthLink was able to give to me when my DSL connection performance fluctuated from nonexistent (thanks to an authentication server meltdown that knocked out EarthLink DSL service in parts of Northern California) to sub-56K-bps modem speeds on really slow days.

Because EarthLink doesnt have control of the DSL network it uses, in my experience with EarthLinks DSL technical support, they could only really resolve software-based issues such as misconfigured network settings. Their hardware support was limited to saying, "reboot everything," when a more logical course of action after weeks of networking difficulty would instead involve a check of the physical link in my apartments wiring closet, or a check of my neighborhoods DSL access multiplexer.

Unfortunately, both of these actions require the issuance of a trouble ticket from EarthLinks second-tier technical support staff to Pacific Bells DSL services, a clumsy procedure that can slow the problem resolution process by a day or more—which would be unacceptable to most businesses.

With partnerships being formed between ISPs and other service providers (a good example would be the recently formed EarthLink/AT&T partnership), the potential for more such problems will increase.

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