Sunday, November 16, 2008

Kudos to XOHM's Treatment of the DNS

I'm not sure how long this will last with every corporation throwing ethics to the wind in order to wring every penny out of every customer, but XOHM isn't messing with the DNS. I previously mentioned my displeasure with CavTel's redirecting DNS lookup failures from the web browser to XOHM's allowing the DNS to work as designed.

My Last Mile

This fall I've made major changes to the wires running into my house and thought I'd take a minute to discuss Internet provider options in suburban Baltimore. Right now I'm using XOHM 802.16 (WiMAX) service at home. I get good performance--better than my prior DSL--and the price is good. In a money-saving move, I no longer have a land line, so I had to ask Credo to boost my anytime minutes (now 450/month) and shift the beginning of my off-peak minutes from 9pm weeknights to 7pm.

 To quote David Byrne, "well, how did I get here?" I moved to Baltimore County in 2005. At the time, it seemed natural to go with Verizon for phone and DSL. I already had a Verizon cell phone. I chose Working Assets (now Credo) for long distance service. The Verizon DSL was poor from day one. I spent a lot of time on the phone with Verizon technical support that year, including much time on hold, with their IVR, and with actual support personnel. Their IVR said my line checked out fine, so it seemed the obvious thing to do would be to swap out my DSL modem or check theirs at the CO. I couldn't get them to take that simple step or to send a tech out to diagnose the problem. The DSL was so bad that I often dialed in to UMBC's 56kb/s modem bank (which I think is now gone). The land line service was exceptionally poor as well, very noisy.

 In the meantime, Verizon was unable to combine my land line and cell bills. They kept touting "one bill," telling me that they'd take care of it, and then a few weeks later I'd get a letter explaining that the bills couldn't be combined, with no explanation. Then I'd talk to customer service, a friendly rep would assure me she'd take care of it, and a few weeks later I'd get the same letter once again. I went through three iterations of this. I suspect the problem was that the cell phone had a Frederick, MD number, and Frederick's a couple counties over.

When my year with Verizon was up, I switched to CavTel for land line and DSL and Credo for cellular. CavTel uses Verizon's network, but charges customers less and has much better customer service. Credo uses Sprint's network, as of 2005 charged customers less, and has very good customer service. The CavTel DSL did not work--they use Verizon's lines, after all. But, after a call to CavTel customer service, a Verizon truck showed up in the alley behind my place, the line was fixed, and DSL worked reliably the rest of the time I was a CavTel customer. When they fixed the DSL, the noise on the land line cleared up as well. I was a happy CavTel customer, but paying $80 monthly for Internet and phone.

Enter Comcast, claiming $62 monthly Internet and phone. I'd heard bad things about Comcast's customer service and network reliability, but I decided to give them a shot. Note: this was about when XOHM started offering service in the area, and I think Comcast's lower prices are the result of competition, something that Comcast and Verizon don't have much of a history of. The Comcast tech came, did the install, and I was happy. The service was fast.

I wasn't happy for long, though. The Comcast Internet service worked for about 4 hours. I talked to technical support and they said it was a database problem that would be fixed in 24-72 hours. 72 hours later, still no Internet service. In the meantime, I noticed that the Comcast phone was noisy (not as bad as Verizon had been) and every time I picked the handset up, I got the staccato dial tone, indicating voice mail present. But there usually wasn't voice mail. So if they don't know how to install service and they can't fix what they claimed was a simple database problem, I don't want anything to do with them.

So I decided to disconnect Comcast service. A funny thing about disconnecting: when I went through their IVR and selected reduce or disconnect service, it put me on hold. I had stuff to do, so I hung up and dialed back in, but this time I selected add features. They picked up right away, and the woman I got was able to schedule the disconnect. But she said it would take about a week and a half. The next day I called back for a clarification of where I had to drop off their cable modem, and was told the billing would stop as soon as I returned the modem. It didn't but their customer service says they've taken care of it. Hope so.

 So everything about Comcast, and everything about Verizon in Baltimore County, was negative. I'd been okay with Verizon in the past, but hadn't really needed their technical support before, so maybe I'd just been lucky. So, no land line and no Internet service. What's a guy to do? The most economical approach appeared to be upgrading my cell plan with Credo and going with XOHM, $25/month now, going up to $35/month later. I decided to give this a try.

I'm happy with XOHM. I'm at the edge of their service area, which concerned me a bit, but I am getting around 2-4Mb/s consistently. My first XOHM modem/router stopped connecting to the network several days after starting the service, but the second tech support guy I talked to said "Your modem's acting weird. Take it back to where you got it and exchange it." This was NTI Wireless, a friendly little shop pretty close to my house. I exchanged the modem, and everything's been fine since. About XOHM customer service: this is Sprint, and one of the reasons I like Credo is that they isolate me from Sprint customer service. CavTel and Credo have the tremendous advantage of being larger customers than I am, and so have some voice with the actual network provider. So, XOHM is Sprint. Sprint has a very large investment in XOHM, and they're not making money off it yet. But they're rolling it out to other cities now, apparently DC and Annapolis recently. They need to make it work, and this isn't a great time to hunt down new customers. Anyhow, their tech support people seem inexperienced--XOHM is a new service, after all--but the wait times are short and they sound like they might really be in the Kansas City area as opposed to overseas.

As a loose end, part of why I was willing to go without a land line is that my current cell phone gets pretty good reception at my house. It's a Samsung m300, and really not a good phone (I've reviewed it at Amazon). But it's an upgrade over an Audiovox phone I had, much better than an LG piece-of-junk that I shipped back to Credo, and not really as good as the old Samsung phone I used with Verizon from '02-'06.