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Venturing online in Ireland

A personal journey

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Long days

On Tuesday, I stayed home. At about half past four, I rang to see what had become of the modem. Oddly, I was transferred to tech support. "Hello and welcome to Irish Broadband," a heavily-accented voice said. "Would you please spell your first name?"

Now, don't take me wrong. I've always wanted to visit India. I think it's likely to be an interesting place full of lovely people. But I didn't think it likely that someone halfway around the world would be in a position to sort out my shipping difficulty. The fellow who dealt with me said he would ring the shipping outfit. He put me on hold for a couple of minutes, then came back and said the driver was still out, and that I could expect him by 5pm.

I'm not prepared to say that he pretended to make the call. I will say that I'm in no way convinced that he did. But I continued waiting, and of course, no driver appeared.

On Wednesday morning, I rang again. I was told that since the driver had not completed the delivery - "an extremely unusual event" - the modem would not be on the truck that day. It would "have to be re-sorted and re-scheduled", which sounded like a load of bollocks to me. But it would absolutely arrive first thing in the morning on Thursday. The person dealing with me even gave me the direct number of the dispatcher to prove his sincerity (and to get me off his back). So on Thursday morning I rang the dispatch office directly to confirm that the modem was actually on the truck and scheduled to be delivered.

"Yes, it is on the truck for delivery today," I was told.

So I stayed home all day, again. At about 4pm, I rang the office. "It's on the truck for delivery today," they insisted. "The driver will be on his rounds until 6pm. He'll ring you very soon."

I know that was a lie, because I later discovered that the dispatch office closes at 5.30pm. I was told 6pm so they would be gone by the time I rang again, in a rage.

Remember, I'd been told that I'd almost certainly receive it on Friday, 6 October. On the morning of Friday the 13th, I rang again. But this time I didn't get the standard response. The dispatcher rang the driver and reported his whereabouts to me in specific language of the sort that I'd never heard from Irish Broadband before. She estimated that he'd be in my neighbourhood in about three hours' time, and indeed he was. You see, that was the first day the modem actually was on the truck.

The customer is always right

Apparently, Irish Broadband has a policy of telling customers what it thinks they wish to hear. Only they're very poor at guessing what that might be. A sane person wants to hear, "sorry, we can't make it today". But they prefer to string you along so that you waste entire days for no reason, and come to despise them deeply.

Now, if you think it's a coincidence that the modem arrived on Friday the 13th, guess again. It was an omen.

I've got a spare bedroom that I'm using as an office. It faces south. I brought the modem in there and placed it on the window sill, and nothing. So I opened the window. Nothing. Finally, I lowered it from the window to the balcony deck, and nothing.

So I brought it to the opposite side of the apartment, and nothing. Eventually, I discovered that it would get a signal only on the north balcony. Naturally, I don't have a cable long enough to reach from there to the office, so I had to buy a wireless NAT router. I hated paying for it; I've already got several, but they're in a shipping container somewhere in Dublin, due to be put "on the truck for delivery" some day in the not too distant future, along with the rest of my worldly possessions, and I needed this thing to work as quickly as possible.

So, finally, I'm online again. The modem has got to stay out of doors. I cover it with a plastic bag when it rains. The service, while optimistically called "broadband" seems as slow as I recall dialup having been, and it goes dead frequently for hours at a time. I also get disconnected briefly every hour or so.

The router, made by Belkin, doesn't have a very strong signal. It drops out if I close the office door. Having a 15-month-old boy, who is magnetically attracted to shiny things and buttons and flashing lights, I'd find it a lot easier to work with the door closed. I'd find it a lot easier to work if my internet connection stayed up for longer than an hour at a time as well.

Capitulation

Irish Broadband's service is intolerable, so it's back to Smart Telecom for me. It's made a deal with one of its investors, Brendan Murtagh, who has already sunk more money in the company than he can afford to lose, so he's going to sink in more until the business turns around, or implodes taking him with it.

I'm not optimistic about Smart. It had wished to sell its landline and pay-phone service as a separate outfit but, after Eircom suddenly pulled the plug on so many customers, that venture is looking less attractive, and will no doubt sell for less money than Smart had hoped. Which Eircom no doubt intended. Lately, a creditors' "action group" has formed, dedicated to ensuring that every cent of Smart's liabilities shall be paid. You can guess who's behind that.

So I'll see how Smart works out. Perhaps it will remain afloat long enough for me to get onto Eircom without an interruption in service. I think of it as a temporary bridge between Irish Broadband and my inevitable embrace of Eircom - because, when it comes to old state monopolies, we all know that resistance, ultimately, is futile. ®

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