Monday, December 29, 2008

Don't Give me Static!

Our home phone line had a loud background noise. It had been this way for a while. I finally decided to get it fixed. It took me an hour to arrange for Verizon to look into it. Here's why:

First, I tried to find Verizon's customer service number by Googling. This was hard, because many web sites collect complaints about Verizon, and they all show up in searches for Verizon phone and service. Now you might think I should go to Verizon's main web site and check out the "Contact Us" page. I eventually did that, but I had to make some guesses, because Verizon has a different "main" web site for each of its different services. From now on, I might remember the number for local customer service: 800-verizon.

Second, I called them and went deep, deep into a voice phone menu. It's always tempting to say, "Damn, I know more than this automated idiot" and break out, but often it's best to relax and stay with the menus as long as they offer reasonable choices. This menu was helpful. It isolated my problem and told me how to troubleshoot it before asking for a service call. They wanted me to do two tests, which the automated system was happy to tell me and retell me until I admitted that I understood them:

(A) Disconnect all phone devices and try one phone on the land line. I had already done that.

(B) Go outside my house and connect a phone to the network interface device that I would find on my outside wall, near the electrical service box. I could not believe that this device existed, but I looked and there it was.

Now I had to find a phone I could connect to this outside box. Most of our phones are wireless (no connector at all), or use A/C electricity and do not easily work outdoors. Our regular land line phone is attached very firmly to a wall. But I remembered something: an old phone in our attic that I was keeping for purely emotional reasons: it's a wonderful red color, and it looks like a Princess phone (it's more modern though). It's a simple, inexpensive two-piece telephone. I found it and took it outside.

(4) The Network interface device had jacks for six phone lines. It took me awhile to figure out which one was our land line. I disconnected it and plugged my red phone in. That's when I noticed that the red phone's headset was not attached to its base, so I couldn't hear anything. This connection requires something that looks like an RJ-11 standard phone jack, but it is narrow. My heart sank. Where would I find that in my house? I wondered if I could borrow this cable from our land line phone that's firmly attached to the wall. I went to look at it, and at once I realized I was in luck: the wire on that phone was RED! It was in fact the exact wire that was missing from my red phone.

(5) I plugged the red phone in outdoors, made a phone call and heard the bad background noise. Excellent! According to Verizon, I had just proved that it's their problem, not a problem in our house.

(6) I went deep into Verizon's menu again. It gave me a human who scheduled the work to fix the line. On the scheduled day, we got a phone call from a computer, telling us – correctly – that the problem was fixed.

In the good old days, you called a local service number and scheduled a fix in minutes. But phone calls also cost more in those times.
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