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Dealing with the Devil

Posted by davidvc on December 1, 2006 at 9:37 AM PST

I discovered Robert Cringely's column/blog when I saw a link to his blog talking about Project Blackbox and how he had predicted something like this last year.

His latest blog is a mixture of great topics, but the part that made me laugh and sort of cry was his experience dealing with big ISPs. His experiences rang true for me, as I was sucked into the Earthlink maelstrom about four years ago because my local service,, was acquired, and then that company was acquired by Earthlink. It's like being pulled into the Death Star by a tractor beam.

My experiences with Earthlink can confirm that they would do such a thing as Cringely claims: lose email and not tell you. My hair got 20% grayer the year I had Earthlink and regularly had to deal with their support. After a consistent thirty to forty minute wait, I would get a level one support person with no experience and with a robot-like approach to problem-solving. Just as an example, every time I worked with them they required me to unplug my Linksys router and install their insidious networking software (that basically took my machine to its knees) before they were willing to help me, even if my problem was obviously unrelated to the router. I think they hated that I could have two machines connected to the same ISP connection.

And then there was my experience with AOL when I was at a home exchange last year. I found myself at one point in a three-way conference call between myself, AOL in India and Linksys in the Phillipines, and they were arguing with each other over thousands of miles about whose fault it was. I felt I was in one of Dante's levels of hell.

The sun was shining and the birds were singing the day I finally switched to , a local ISP based up in Sonoma County. I found them through the excellent site, Their ratings were so high that I found it hard to believe. The folks at Sonic are amazing. When they signed me up, they sent me daily emails telling me of the status. I would call support, and in three rings I had an actual knowledgeable expert on the phone who had the tools at his or her fingertips to diagnose and fix my problem. And downtime? I think I've ben down twice, once because my own telephone wire went on the fritz, and they helped me track that one down too.

I regularly see Comcast offering amazing deals and speed. Phone, cable and Internet combined. Or AT&T/Yahoo! DSL for just $25 a month. Sometimes I think about switching, but not for long. I think of my experiences, and the experiences of others, with the Big Guys, and I just shudder. So I stay with Sonic, pay the slightly higher prices, and pray to the God of Mergers and Acquisitions that they will never get acquired.

They are one of the members of the Rebel Alliance, fighting the Empire of Bad Support. May the Force be with you.