Sunday, July 30, 2017

Adventures In Getting On-Line

It's been almost twenty years since the first time I purchased a device to go on-line. I bought what was then called a Web-TV unit. This was a unit that connected to a television, when you first powered it up, you received instructions on how to subscribe for monthly service. The unit was originally a joint venture between the Diba Corporation and Zenith; Microsoft bought the rights to it in 1997 when it was about a year old.

It was a very basic web browser that was reliable. Units originally came with just a hand-held remote. I used mine for literally one day before giving up and going back to Wal-Mart to buy a wireless keyboard.

Microsoft, it must be said, really did a lot to improve things as the years went by.  They paid for their users to have access to the chat rooms at Talk City. I'm eternally grateful for that, because I met my late wife in one of those chat rooms.

They upgraded the design of the unit. They developed a second design, Web-TV Plus, that had picture-in-picture technology. You could read your e-mail (Hotmail was the default provider) or look at a web page and watch television at the same time.

My mom's first attempts at getting on-line came with the unit she bought on my recommendation and she was still using it when Microsoft ended the service in 2013.

The way we connect has changed a lot, of course, through the years. Dial-up service over land lines was once the only way to do things. America On Line was once a thriving company, but today they're a shell of what they once were.

The most rock solid connections I've ever had were with Time Warner Cable, using the cable line, and Verizon with their FIOS service. Both were reasonably priced and aside from a few glitches with the FIOS early on, I never had a single loss of service in a combined seven years of using the two services.

Here at the Binghamton Y.M.C.A. the agency has contracted with Spectrum for television, Internet and home phone services.  The only problem is, the building was constructed in the early 1970s and the fourth floor is not suitable to be wired up for those services.

When I was here before, that contract did not as yet exist. Had I been able to get back into the room I had before, I might have been able to use the existing set up that I had installed in 2012.

But I'm down the hall from that room now. I did ask for a waiver but was denied one.

So, for about the first week, I used the free wi-fi offered in the downtown area.  This is something that the city offers as they paid a local company to set things up and pay them to maintain the network.

Unfortunately, the network has not been well maintained. Both connection speeds and reliability range from a little above average to really bad, depending on time of day. Obviously, there are more of us using the network at say, ten in the morning, as opposed to midnight.

To recap:

1- No ability to sign up for and use the cable company's services.

2- No ability to sign up for Verizon's FIOS service.

3- Free, but very hit or miss, service provided by the city.

So, after that first week, I had had enough. I bought a modem and signed up for service through Freedom Pop. This is wi-fi that uses the Sprint 3G and 4G networks.

The service is good, when it works. I once had a three day service outage, for which my account was credited. When I say the service is good, I'm talking about the connection's reliability along with download and upload speeds as well.

However, their customer service is very, very bad. When I first placed my order, I was asked if I wanted a second modem. No cost for this, other than shipping charges. I declined the offer. Sure enough, a few days later, two packages arrive, each with a modem. I wound up having to threaten to dispute the shipping charge with my credit union before that amount was credited back to my account.

As it turns out, getting two modems was a good thing because the first time I dropped modem #1, it stopped working. Modem #2 was pressed into service and was fine, until yesterday (more on that, in a little while).

Using modem #2 with the account for modem #1 was no problem. I called and explained what I was doing and was told that everything was just fine and dandy. Two weeks later, they billed me for a second account. They said I had authorized that second account and that the first modem was shown as being in use at a second location. They had the nerve to tell me that they knew I had given the first modem to someone else to use.

I had done no such thing. Again, I had to use the threat of getting my credit union involved before the agent I was dealing with decided to credit back my money.

Also, I should mention before I forget, is the fact that initially, they were suspending my service when I reached 90% of my data usage. They said this was to prevent me from incurring charges for data used once I got to 100%. I read them the proverbial riot act and got the level  for suspension changed to 99%.

Still with me? Good, because we're almost finished.

Two days ago, I was reading an article in which I learned of the existence of a similar service that Verizon offers. I decided that I would call and inquire about it on Monday. Yesterday, however, the modem stopped working twice. Both times I had to pull up the diagnostics page, and restore the modem to factory settings.

After the first time, I went to the Freedom Pop website, to let them know the modem is going bad after just three months. I decided, "as long as I'm here, let me check my data usage".

I'm glad I did. Because I also checked my billing. When I did, I discovered that they had billed me $5 for goodness knows what, on my debit card. Then I saw they had billed me for my monthly service when I already paid for it this month.

And just to make things interesting, they billed it to my credit card. Which is the card I had used to order the modem. I made the change to using my debit card for monthly service billing and never changed it back.

So, as they say, long story, short, I signed up with Verizon for their service yesterday. The modem will ship on Monday and arrive on Wednesday. I have been paying Freedom Pop $79.99 a month for 10 giga-bytes of data (I listen to a lot of on-line radio).

The three customer service agents (Sales-transferred to tech support-transferred back to sales) I dealt with at Verizon were all great to deal with. The one who actually handled my order took the time to see if she could bundle the new service with my existing cell phone service.

Because I had no outstanding balance from before, and because I had never missed a payment, she was able to convert my pre-paid plan to a regular one. Nothing about my cell phone plan will change. Same coverage, same features. That and the wi-fi with no data caps will run me an even $100 per month.  Savings total $12.39 a month. Not a lot, but enough for a nice dinner out.

As always, dear reader, I thank you for taking the time to read this.

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