Thursday, September 4, 2008

Shafted by France Télécom

I've been unable to put anything in this blog for several days because of the extreme slowness of my Internet connection. In theory, it's an eight-megabit ADSL connection, or at least that's how France Télécom (disguised as Orange) advertises it. Eight megabits corresponds to about 400 pages of typed text per second. However, that claim is largely fraudulent. For the past few days, the real-world speed of my connection has only been about 189 bits per second, which is roughly the speed of teletypes used during World War II, and it's 42,000 times slower than the advertised speed.

Customer service at France Télécom is incompetent. They appear to be minimum-wage non-specialists who work from simple scripts that tell them what to ask customers and what to answer (I used to do technical support, I know how it's usually done). If your problem isn't on the script, they don't know what to do, since they don't actually know anything about computers or networks. To them, everything is a problem with your modem (the little box that connects you to the Internet) or your computer. They like to send out technicians to look at your box, even when there's nothing wrong with it, because they can bill you $125 for the visit.

As far as I can tell (and remember, I've been working with computers since I was 12 years old), France Télécom deliberately undersizes the network, so that it doesn't have the capacity to deliver the speeds that they promise. With zillions of customers downloading for hours or days at a time (pirated software, pirated DVDs, and so on), the network is overloaded, and there isn't enough capacity to support everyone. There may be configuration errors, too, as I see strange things when I do traceroutes on my connection. Nobody in customer service understands this, and nobody in customer service seems to have any connection to the people at France Télécom who do understand it, and so there's no point in talking to customer service, as they cannot help, and they don't talk to the people who can.

It takes several hours to display a Web page right now (I'm not exaggerating). A lot of my e-mail is being lost because the data moves too slowly and the e-mail servers give up, or simply because a lot of the data is thrown away and the servers give up when they see no response. Most Web pages today require dozens of accesses to many different sites, and so they may never display at all. If my connection actually ran at the advertised speed, all of this would be virtually instantaneous. And I know that my line does run at that speed, because France Télécom has tested it, and my central office (the place where all the telephone equipment serving my line is located) is right across the street! So it's upstream on their network. But nobody in their customer service knows what "upstream" or "network" means. And this is supposed to be a "professional" subscription; I'm afraid to think what customer service is like for their "consumer" subscriptions. What a bunch of incompetents!

The problem would be easy to fix, but FT apparently doesn't want to spend money to fix it, or the people who could fix it don't know about it because it's impossible to get in touch with them (customer service is a dead end).

Unfortunately this is typical of technical support at many companies, and since I've worked in technical support, I know what the actual reasons are behind the scenes. I'm thinking of writing an essay on it. It boils down to greed and incompetence, though, in every case.

I'm looking right now at the results of the speed test I ran ten minutes ago. I'm getting 33 kbps, out of an advertised 8000 kbps. That's 240 times slower than the speed that France Télécom brags about, clearly slow enough to count as fradulent advertising. And yet it's 170 times faster than it was this afternoon (it's a little past 5 AM now). If I'm willing to wait 5-10 minutes, I can see a Web page. I hope this blog post makes it through.

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