Finally Connected?

Broadband ISP deployments have come a long way, but the devil's still in the details.

Back in December 1998, when the Internet still promised eternal riches, we ran a story called "Stuck In DSL Hell." The story, which chronicled our awful experience getting DSL connectivity to Smart Partners lab in Foster City, Calif., went on to win numerous journalism awards.

Nearly three years later, Ive decided to compare our hellish 1998 experience with two more recent broadband deployments.

In the 1998 project, we had to settle for DSL running over ISDN, or iDSL. Still, a 144-Kbps connection was nothing to sneeze at. And, we had a test platform to evaluate more Net-based technologies.

Fast-forward to May, 2001. Having moved our lab and offices to downtown San Francisco, we were looking for Internet connectivity. A deal from MegaPath Networks for 1-Mbps synchronous DSL service (SDSL) met our needs. We placed the order. Boom. Thirty days later, we had a Netopia SDSL router humming away at our end of the connection.

The performance test at rates our speed between "rocks" and "awesome." Even when MegaPaths CLEC partner, Rhythms NetConnections, filed for Chapter 11 in August, we were virtually unaffected. MegaPath delivered a new router to us ahead of time, gave us a complete credit on the old router, provisioned a new set of IP addresses, and performed the cut-over to Covad. We were down for a few hours at most. Our only gripe: fixing the billing problems between MegaPath and our IT and accounting departments in New York.

In a separate project, I ordered ADSL service for my home on Sept. 9 from Covad performed the line provisioning on Sept. 20. Eleven days. Hot damn! A self-install DSL kit arrived a few days later. I hooked it up and … nothing.

Apparently, double-ordered my line. Covad caught the duplicate, but canceled the first order, which the ISP was using to assign my IP address. And the ISP couldnt change the order numbers in their database, which is tightly coupled to their provisioning system.

After a 45-minute wait on hold, I explained the situation to the ISP. They promised to do a manual build for me on their San Francisco router. Of course, new IP information was necessary, which they provided on the spot.

Early the next morning, the new IP information didnt work, which necessitated another phone call … and a wait. As it turns out, a different IP address had been assigned, along with a different gateway. With the new values, lights began to flash on the DSL modem. A connection was made. And it rocks.

Well see how it goes when I ask for a waiver on the first months bill.