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Note from a satisfied customer
Since you enjoyed my last ISDN column so much I thought I'd send you this
one, which just ran in the 3/11 issue of CommunicationsWeek.
Thanks for stimulating me to get ISDN. And next time you embark on another
techno-populist crusade, drop me a note. I can always count on you Naderite
cranks for producing good column fodder <g>.
For those of you out there that are perplexed by my position on how
reasonably priced this service is because they somehow got the idea that
ISDN is a private line replacement, consider the competition-destroying
consequences should you be successful in strong arming the regulatory
authorities into mandating artificially low flat-rate charging tor ISDN.
Nothing comes for nothing. If the RBOCs have to give in on this, they are
going to get something back in return, most likely a lock on the market
that will retard ISDN deployment for years to come.
PS. In case anyone gets the mistaken idea that I am an RBOC monoploy lover,
see my column "Pity the Poor RBOCs" at
causes monopolies, not vice versa.
TRUE CONFESSIONS: I ORDERED BELL ATLANTIC ISDN
After all the abusive E-mail I received over my Perspective column, Feb.
12, "Competition is the Solution, Not More Regulation"
<http://techweb.cmp.com/gurus/frezza/cw0212.htm> I thought I'd put my money
where my mouth is and order ISDN service, experiencing first hand the
"horror" of installing ISDN and the "exorbitant" costs involved. What I
found might surprise you.
A Philadelphia area resident, I surfed over to the Bell Atlantic home page
<http://www.bell-atl.com/> where I clicked my way to the section on
residential ISDN. There I found a dumbed-down overview as well as the
all-important phone number for Bell Atlantic InfoSpeed (1-800-204-7332).
Don't bother calling your local Bell business office - they're clueless
about ISDN. Once in the warm embrace of this regional ISDN swat team,
however, I was pleasantly shocked by the level of tender loving care.
First, I was assigned a customer service rep, auspiciously named "Star,"
who stayed with me through the whole process. After asking a few questions
about my intended use and confirming that my Central Office was
ISDN-capable, we went over pricing information. By strange happenstance, I
learned that my phone bill would actually go down.
How so? I'd been paying $62.42 per month for two analog lines: one for
voice and the other for data and fax. The latter was on a
metropolitan-area calling plan, which let me reach the Philadelphia Point
of Presence (POP) of my Internet service provider, Performance Systems
International (PSI) without running up toll charges.
It turns out that Bell Atlantic does not offer a metropolitan area calling
plan for ISDN. Because PSI's extensive nationwide network of POPs are so
useful when traveling, as well as the fact that they're the No. 1
ISDN-capable internet provider, I wasn't about to give it up. I feared I
was out of luck as I had no intention of paying toll charges to get to the
Internet. At Star's urging, however, we discovered that PSI recently had
opened a POP just across the river in New Jersey. Even though it was in a
different area code, it was included in my local calling zone.
My basic monthly charge for ISDN, including two phone numbers, is $27.35.
Aside from a one time activation fee of $165, there is also an ISDN usage
charge of 2 cents per minute per "B" channel, or half that between 7p.m.
and 7a.m.. At that rate, I could surf the net for 29 hours per month and
still pay less than I used to for analog service. Granted, with a local
PSI POP available I could have stayed analog and shed the metropolitan area
service plan, which would have brought my bill down to around $45. Still,
this was more expensive than ISDN, making the allure of speed irresistible.
We then discussed modems, my preference being the Motorola BitSURFR Pro, as
it had garnered good reviews and could be attached to my Apple Macintosh
PowerBook through a simple serial port connection. Star was happy to sell
me one, though I found that Mac Zone carried them and, after playing them
off against Mac Warehouse to get the best price ($375), my BitSURFR arrived
next morning via Fed Ex.
Precisely six days after I placed my line order and within 10 minutes of
the promised arrival time, a special Bell Atlantic ISDN installer showed
up. I watched as he connected my RJ-45 jack and kicked myself for paying
the $100 installation charge - I easily could have done this myself.
Handing me a piece of paper with my all-important Service Profile
Identiffiers (SPIDs) and Directory numbers (DNs), he gave me the "800"
number for tech support staff and left me in their care for the daunting
part, configuring the modem.
In retrospect, this is a piece of cake. All you have to do is decipher the
incantations required to load a string of glorified phone numbers into the
modem as well as set the local central office switch type. I have to
admit, though, that I was intimidated by the BitSURFR documentation. As a
former Bell Labs engineer you'd think I could dope this out, but I confess
it took a half dozen calls to tech support to get it right.
Again, I was pleasantly surprised. Bell Atlantic always picked up by the
third ring and had extremely knowledgeable technicians on hand. In
contrast, I spent a full hour on hold with Motorola before I hung up.
Fortunately, I passed that time reading their manual and was ultimately
able to answer my own question.
Finally came the big test: could I log on to the Internet? I could reach
downtown Philly but, much to my dismay, I couldn't connect to the local PSI
POP. Again, Star came to bat and after the appropriate escalation,
discovered there was an error in a routing table in my central office.
Apparently, I was the Lewis and Clark of my local switch, the first one to
ever make an ISDN call down this route. Once the problem was corrected, it
was smooth sailing.
Now, I wouldn't give up ISDN for twice the price. No more painful waiting
for graphics, no more half hour download sessions - this stuff is fast. I
clocked a single B channel (64 Kbps nominal) at about 60 Kbps of actual
throughput and 2 B channels at about 90 Kbps, limited no doubt by the
serial port speed on my PowerBook.
So, at least for Bell Atlantic customers, I strongly recommend that you
junk your analog modem and go digital. Let me also point out that the
computer industry could take a lesson in customer service from at least one
big fat old monopolistic phone company that got it right.
# # #
Bill Frezza is president at Wireless Computing Associates and co-founder of
the on-line forum DigitaLiberty. The opinions expressed here are his own.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or techweb.cmp.com/gurus.
COPYRIGHT 1996 CommunicationsWeek