Monopoly Power


We’re moving. When my grandmother died possession of her house went to my dad. Dad agreed to sell it to us. We’ve been painting, and performing other fix-it-up tasks to get the place ready for our residency there.

One of the repair tasks was to update the electrical wiring for grounded outlets throughout. Originally built in the early 1920s, the house didn’t have any grounded outlets. The electrician who performed the work for us recommended that we install a lightning protection mechanism on the phone line, in order to prevent surges from entering the house via the phone line. In order to protect the line, we need a “demarcation box” installed on the line.

As part of the move, I want to bring along my Speakeasy DSL service. I’m such a satisfied customer, in fact, that I want to upgrade my connection speed and get Voice-over-IP. I’ve been working with Speakeasy to coordinate the transition, and to port our current telephone number to the new service. I have not been keeping Carina informed of this process. Queue trouble.

Carina, eager to get the lightning protection, called AT&T, the local phone company (“Ma Bell”), to inquire about installing a demarcation box at the new house. She was informed that this will only be installed for homes with AT&T service. Without thinking much about it, Carina approved the transfer of our existing service to the new home, in order to expedite the process of getting the demarcation box installed. This was a reasonable course of action for her, since I hadn’t been communicating with her about my dealings with Speakeasy. She told me about this after the fact, and I became alarmed that it might complicate the service transfer that I had ordered from Speakeasy.

I spent several hours on the phone, making calls to Speakeasy and to AT&T. The difference between the two companies could not be greater: Speakeasy employees were happy and affable. The folks I spoke to knew a lot, and were able to answer almost all of my questions. I didn’t spend more than a couple of minutes on hold. AT&T employees were curt, and only perfunctorily polite. They were stymied by anything slightly off-script, and refused to do much to try to help me. I spent a lot of time on hold.

(In both instances I asked to speak to a supervisor. When dealing with AT&T, it was necessary to speak to a supervisor in order to speak with someone who could think for themselves, and deal with my oddball request without regurgitating the scripted answers again and again. To his credit, Jay, the AT&T supervisor, tried his best to help me, and was far more pleasant than any of the other AT&T people with whom I spoke. I spoke to a Speakeasy supervisor solely to praise the agent with whom I had been working. I explained that the agent had gone above and beyond the call of duty – going so far as to look up something for me at the FCC website! – and that it was people like him that kept me a happy Speakeasy customer.)

In my calls, I asked AT&T to install a demarcation box (also called a NID, or “network interface device”) at the new house. I was told that they would only do this for customers with AT&T service. Here’s the dirty little secret though: we’re all AT&T customers in Columbus, OH. AT&T owns almost all of the wiring infrastructure up to the individual houses. So even though I’ll be paying my bills to Speakeasy, Speakeasy will be paying AT&T for the privilege of using the AT&T physical wiring to provide my service. Additionally, it looks as though the FCC says that NIDs need to be made available for unbundled service.

Carina’s order to move our service is currently still in effect – AT&T’s “system” was conveniently down when I finally tried to get that order terminated. I don’t want to move our current service, because it’s not strictly necessary. Here’s the process, as Speakeasy explained it to me: Speakeasy installs the new DSL circuit at our new house. When that’s done, Speakeasy will then provision that line for VoIP operation. (At this point I can make outgoing calls on the VoIP line.) When that’s done, Speakeasy then sends a request to Ma Bell asking them to port my telephone number over to Speakeasy. Speakeasy gets the number and assigns it to my VoIP account. (This means I can now receive incoming calls on my VoIP line.) When that’s done, I can cancel my account with AT&T, since I’ll then be using Speakeasy for everything. Up until that last step, I’ll need to leave my phone service active at the old house.

I could proceed with the AT&T migration of service from the old house to the new. This would have the convenient side effect of allowing me to use my phone number at the new house sooner, rather than waiting for AT&T to port the number to Speakeasy (Ma Bell has 30 days to complete the process, and they’re not exactly known for being speedy…). This would also have the convenient side effect of getting the NID installed without extra fuss. Unfortunately, I suspect that I will be charged a cancellation fee for terminating the service at the new house so soon after activating it.

I suspect I’ll be on the phone with AT&T for a long time again today…

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