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Posted 2 Oct 2000 00:00:00 UTC

If ever there was a reason to dismantle a telecommunications monopoly, we've found it in the last few days. Odds are you won't read about it in the papers, but we've had a five day Denial of Service attack and we know who the culprit was. But we doubt Verizon will be hauled into court to answer for their crimes and we don't think there will be hearings on Capitol Hill on the matter anytime soon.

While Verizon may not be a monopoly in the true sense of the word - there IS some competition after all - for all intents and purposes that is exactly what they are. While we use a subsidiary of MCI to get our bandwidth, they are powerless to do anything without Verizon's cooperation. And that is one thing we have gotten very little of since Thursday, when our T1 first went down for no known reason. It was the third outage of more than a day in the past few weeks.

We went through the usual routine. We notify the provider, the provider notifies MFS (part of MCI). MCI notifies Verizon. It all works pretty well until we get to the Verizon part. Bright and early Friday morning, a Verizon tech shows up at our site. Unfortunately nobody is around since we were waiting to be told when to have someone at the site and Verizon never notified anyone. Once we find out what has happened, we get people down to the site immediately and request that Verizon send the guy out again which they agree to do. At 9 pm we get a call from MFS saying that Verizon told them they were cancelling the appointment because they couldn't make it. (Verizon doesn't talk to the customer directly and with this kind of service we can understand why.)

So now we've been down Thursday AND Friday, we've wasted our own people's time by having them stick around waiting for Verizon people who never show, we still have no idea what the problem is and tens of thousands of people have no idea what's going on with our site. We had learned on Thursday that Jack Valenti of the MPAA was going to be involved in a debate on Sunday evening at Harvard University and we wanted to get the word out so people would attend. But Verizon has the ability to silence us and there's not a thing we can do about it.

Saturday arrives and so does Verizon - finally. We make sure people are waiting all day once again for their arrival. They come to the conclusion that nothing's wrong on our end and then go down to the basement where the line comes in. Then they disappear. Nobody knows where Verizon has gone. We call them to find out but we're told that only MFS can call them. So we call MFS who haven't been updated at all by Verizon. After 45 minutes on hold while MFS tries to get through to Verizon, they're informed that a smart jack card was replaced and the ticket was closed. The guy never came back upstairs to tell us this or even to check the connection. Had he done this, he would have quickly realized that the problem still wasn't fixed. The ticket was then reopened and a technician redispatched. After several hours of waiting around, we called MFS again for an update. Verizon had gotten to the point of looking for a problem inside the central office. This meant a wait of a couple more hours and less likelihood of a technician actually being dispatched before Sunday.

At this point, MFS told us that this was standard procedure with Verizon. It's in their interest to drag things out and make it as unpleasant as possible for the customer because MFS was actually competing with Verizon. The problem with this "competition" is that Verizon is still needed to fix problems with the line. We'd seen the same thing with DSL providers - while you can get Covad or NAS to provide your service, THEY still had to deal with Verizon and Verizon wouldn't be the ones to feel the heat from the customer.

Sunday we had trouble getting people to show up at the very beginning of the time window Verizon gave us. Being the fourth day of this nonsense, our enthusiasm for meeting Verizon was starting to wear thin. So we left a great big envelope on the door marked "VERIZON" in case we were late, which we were by about an hour. In the envelope was the cell phone number of the person who was frantically trying to get there to meet them. Verizon showed up, didn't open the envelope, and left. That was the extent of their efforts for Sunday.

By Monday we were ready to block the street and not let any Verizon vehicles by until they fixed our problem. The Verizon guy arrived and replaced the exact same part (smart jack card) that had been replaced earlier without having been tested. He said they had been having problems with these parts lately.

And so our service was finally restored after being out all day Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. We lost a ton of money from lost sales to our Internet store and, more importantly, lost an opportunity to let people know about a really important event involving the MPAA and the DeCSS case. Whether deliberate or due to extreme incompetence, how different is this from a malicious attack on someone's website? When we first reported the problem on Thursday, why wasn't someone sent to fix it immediately? Why is this the THIRD TIME something like this has happened in recent weeks? Why would Verizon leave without checking their work and then take another two days to correct THAT mistake? If we were a big corporation, would we have been treated this way? Will Verizon compensate us for the loss they've caused us? And just how long will it be before something like this happens all over again?

We already know the answers. This is the kind of thing that turns people into perpetual cynics, after all. But we have answers of our own that will help prevent this kind of thing from happening time after time. REAL competition where so-called competitors to Verizon aren't dependent on Verizon to serve their customers, real penalties for companies who through maliciousness or incompetence deprive others of service, and a leveling of the playing field so that the big guys aren't always trampling all over the little guys while being the first to cry foul if anyone even looks at them crooked.

We want accountability. It's doubtful we'll ever get it so we'll settle for publicity instead. That is, until the next time they cut us off.

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