09 August 2005

A World Without Internet

As promised, here's the first person account explaining my recent 'disappearance act' from this blog. (Caution: This is a very long post. You have a choice not to read on. But please do if you would like to learn more about diagnosing Internet connection problems and also how to be a more educated consumer. Contrary to Chris' practice, I blog when I have the time, an issue to talk about and last but not least, when I have an Internet connection. Unlike Chris, I do not blog when I am stressed. Sorry Chris, no offence meant.)

My Internet connection had been acting strangely for the past 1 or 2 months. I was on Singnet Broadband which used an ADSL modem and existing telephone line for connection to the Internet. I kept getting disconnected while on-line. At first the problem wasn't so bad. After a disconnection, the modem would re-sync itself after a while. If not, it would after I rebooted my PC. Then things got worse. Even after letting the PC rest for a while and rebooting several times, the connection just refused to come back until the next day. Then it would happen again. This problem was intermittent but it was enough to drive the sanity out of any person.

The first thing was to make sure that my equipment set-up and configuration was correct. I also reinstalled the modem driver. I even got the latest driver from Singnet's website. No use. Then I upgraded my Windows OS to XP Pro from ME. Still no use. Chris, being a true friend who was ever willing to offer a helping hand, lent me his Prolink 7000 ADSL modem which had been lying in his storeroom ever since he upgraded to Starhub cable. His modem also failed to solve the problem. So I ruled out a modem problem as the cause.

I called Singtel and was advised to connect my computer to another wall socket to see if the problem persisted. It did. I was at my wits' end. I even contemplated buying a brand new PC, hoping that the problem might just go away with a new PC (see cartoon above). But being an analytical person, I was determined to find out the root cause. Then I thought of something – when the disconnection problem happened, I disconnected all equipment from each and every telephone wall socket in the house (I had 5 but normally only 3 were connected – 2 for telephones connected via microfilters and 1 for the PC's ADSL modem.) After about 5 minutes, I reconnected a single telephone without a microfilter to one of the wall sockets. Eureka! No matter which socket I tried, there was a loud high-pitched humming noise on the line.

I immediately contacted Singtel. They said that this noise was not a normal phenomenon (as if I didn't know!). They offered to send a technician to my place to check the line. However they first cautioned me that if the cause of the problem was found within my premises e.g., there was a loose connection somewhere in my house, there would be a service charge of $20. I asked, 'What if you can't trace the problem or the problem did not occur while your technician is here?' 'Then there would be no charge,' came the reassuring reply.

By now, I was quite certain that the fault did not lie within my premises. (It was fortunate that I was tech-savvy enough to do some pre-diagnostic troubleshooting myself. I really sympathized with those who can't.) 'Send your man over', I replied confidently. Besides, I was losing so much connection time that certainly amounted to more than $20, not to mention the inconvenience.

The technician called via phone on 2 Aug 05 at around 11 am. He told me that he 'changed my line'. At that time the connection seemed alright so I thought that the problem had been solved. But no, it happened again later that day. So I called Singtel again to summon the same technician back. The technician called via phone again to say that he identified the problem to be 'an internal network problem' (meaning that it was not my problem but Singtel's). However, Singtel could not attend to the problem immediately so I had no choice but to be at home again on the morning of 6 Aug 05 to 'welcome another technician who would be more well-equipped' into my house for another thorough check. Imagine my frustration!

Meanwhile, my elder son's homework was in arrears and it was getting more so each day without the Internet connection. So the next day, I went to a Starhub shop to see what Internet cable packages they had to offer. One of the packages called 'MaxOnLine FlexiSurf 2000' required you to buy a cable modem for S$99.23 and then sign up for a minimum of 3-day block of Internet connection time (at S$7.50 each) by entering your credit card details on first-connect to the Starhub page when you used the modem for the first time. You didn't have to pay if you didn't use. There was also no contract period. On expiry of your connection time, you just sign up for another 3-day block if you needed it. I thought that this package was neat and served my needs very well. It would provide a temporary solution while Singtel could take their own (sweet) time to rectify the problem. So I paid S$99.23 for the modem, went home and signed up for the 3-day S$7.50 connection time.

Much to my dismay and anger, I found out from Starhub's website the next day that there was another more attractive package called 'Fun Learning Pack' offered by the Telemarketing Dept of Starhub (yes, they were from the same organization!). Mainly, this package had the added feature of free 60 days Flexisurf thrown in when you buy the cable modem for S$99.23. How could the same organization offer 2 packages with different benefits for the same price? And I had been given the less attractive of the 2 packages just because I didn't know what to ask.

Therefore the next day, I contacted Starhub to demand that they put things right. They said that the package must be bought via a telephone number of their Telemarketing Dept, In other words, it was my own fault for missing out this piece of crucial information. However at my insistence, they offered to refund me for the purchase of the modem. Then I could sign up for the 'Fun Learning Pack'. Ironically, this whole experience was definitely no 'fun learning' for me. And I believe that Starhub could have avoided all this trouble in the first place if they had been more transparent at the point of sale.

Singnet finally managed to solve the line problem on 6 Aug 05 by replacing a 'mux' (multiplexer) at the neighbourhood access point. My Internet connection has been good for the past 4 days now and I am keeping my fingers crossed.

So my advice to all – if you intend to make a purchase whether big or small, always do you homework. Ultimately, the rule in a free and open market is caveat emptor or buyers beware.

1 comment:

Chris Sim said...

Wow Victor, what a refreshing change you did to your BLOG! Is it an attempt to clear away the web that has been gathering all over your old blog? It's about time, mister, it's about time...

You too never fail to amaze me with the details in your writing. Not everyone has the patience like me to pour over all this technical details in your blog you know?

Thanks for teaching us the rope "to learn more about diagnising internet connection problems", though it remains a big question mark as to how many of the readers actually understood the technicalilty of your problem. (Actually, there is only one sole reader who reads your blog faithfully, and it's yours truly, hahaha...)

If anything else, you've taught me how to keep my eyes open when comes to doing business with "unscrupulous" vendors. IMHO, Starhub is anything but unscrupulous. I think the problem lies with the promotion department.

There's always an element of luck when it comes to sales. I remember when I bought my Canon IXUS digital camera many years ago, I was rather upset when Canon decided to give away a free DVD player for custmoer who bought the same camera during a promotional drive just one week after I bought it! I called up Canon and made a lot of noise. In the end, that DVD player eluded me all the same.

You're lucky Starhub agreed to refund your money. Not every vendor is that generous, you know. Like what you've so aptly preached, when it comes to buying things, it's CAVEAT EMPTOR.