Against all odds, I switched to AT&T’s U-verse DSL service. I say “against all odds” because of prior experience involving hours devoted to various attempts to resolve simple issues. That prior experience itself was a continuation of previous attempts, over years of interactions with AT&T and its corporate predecessor SBC, to obtain competent service and/or to sort out elementary problems.
When I made this most recent decision to try AT&T, I paid the requisite $100 to obtain AT&T’s “gateway” (i.e., modem/router combination) and waited the requisite three to four days for the router and the scheduled installation date to arrive. (In some situations, it appeared there were rebates for that equipment.) My impression was that there was, strictly speaking, no reason why I could not have used the Belkin router that I had been happily using up to this point. It was not a fiber optic issue, as far as I could tell from AT&T materials and otherwise: whatever the case with AT&T’s fiber optic network out there in the big wide world, the fact remained that the wire connecting my router to the wall was still a copper wire. In other words, the mandatory gateway purchase just seemed to be another way to take money from customers.
The equipment and installation day did arrive. At the appointed time, I connected the gateway as instructed. I had three computers (two desktop units and a netbook) that I chose to connect in a home network via ethernet cable. This setup had served me well, and I proposed to continue it unchanged with the new AT&T gateway.
In the setup, things actually went pretty well. I was able to get online and view webpages pretty quickly. I had not thought to run SpeedTest.net on my old service before swapping the router, and I was reluctant to do so when I was writing up these notes because, praise the Lord, I had finally gotten everything working. So I was not sure how much of an improvement, if any, I got from the new AT&T service. But a quick comparison against the netbook computer, using its wireless connection through another network, produced a pretty dramatic contrast: using Firefox 13, SpeedTest reported a download speed of only 0.40 Mbps on the netbook, but 2.44 Mbps on the new AT&T setup. I had purchased the 3 Mbps AT&T service, but was not surprised to be getting a somewhat suboptimal result. Choice of browser seemed to make a difference: Google Chrome produced a SpeedTest result of 2.81 Mbps.
Within the hour or so after installation, I had only one problem. Although I had connected all three computers to the new gateway in the same manner as I had connected them to the old Belkin router, I was able to go online only through the one computer on which I had done the apparently mandatory AT&T registration. This appeared, actually, to be two problems. During the installation, I had noticed that that registration webpage had given me a glimpse of router settings. I assumed, then, that I would need to be returning to that webpage to change those settings; and when that webpage proved to be nonworking, I guessed that I had both a networking issue and a router access issue.
As it turned out, I was confused. It had been a long time since I had set up a router, and anyway I still had a networking phobia from the bad old days. There were two separate solutions to my two issues. First, to view gateway hardware settings and such, I just needed to go to the address printed on a sticker on the side of the router: http://192.168.1.254. That would open up the web-based interface, and to get in from there I just needed to enter the Device Access Code listed on that same sticker. Second, to network my computers using Windows 7, I just needed to go into Control Panel > Network and Sharing Center. There (assuming the cables were connected) I saw a new network. I clicked on the “Public Network” link, indicated that this was actually a home network, indicated that I wanted to share documents etc., and I was done. Actually, the process went in two different ways at that point, because my tech support travels with AT&T (below) inspired me to create a homegroup, which I probably should not have done. So on the second desktop machine (but not the netbook), that resulted in further hassles.
The point here is, anyway, that I was pretty much on my own for these purposes. The first AT&T “technician” repeatedly asked me whether my ethernet cable ran directly from the computer to the gateway, or whether the cable was instead running through a splitter. I had never heard of an ethernet splitter, though apparently they do exist. Ultimately, we reached the shared realization that he had no clue, and therefore he put me through to AT&T’s ConnectTech “advanced technical support department.” He didn’t tell me this was a fee-based service; he just decided that this was probably what I needed. I spent about 10 minutes in that unnecessary detour, repeatedly providing “a good callback number” and other contact information and explaining the problem, before “Al” got around to telling me that I was going to have to pay for his help. When I balked at that, Al put me back to the regular AT&T support zone, where I got to deal with another technician, Joshua. Josh flailed around quite a bit too but, to his credit, at least he did force me to smell the coffee, remember that sticker on the side of the router, and thus find my way back to troubleshooting sobriety.
So I spent about 45 minutes seeking tech support advice that a knowledgeable technician would have provided in the first minute or two of conversation. This was mildly unsettling. As indicated in the earlier post linked above, I would ordinarily have expected to waste at least two or three hours accomplishing nothing in a call to AT&T. This faster service, combined with the genuinely impressive connect speed, did pose some risk that AT&T might actually be getting its act together. I was not entirely prepared for a world in which AT&T would be a highly functional organization. But then I reflected that, after all, this was only the initial setup. We had not yet gotten to the point of billing errors. There was still time.