Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Verizon Wireless outage in League City, Part 2

Following up on yesterday's post, after being without cell coverage for six hours, later in the evening after it was finally restored, I pressed Verizon customer service on what exactly happened and whether we should expect a repeat non-performance from them. 
Let me clarify that:  We had no voice service (3G).  We still sort of had the ability to use text and data service (those of us with 4G) except that those other services appeared maybe to be getting overwhelmed*, perhaps because nobody could use their voice service and those whose data was still on 3G presumably could not use that either (*it took about two hours for texts to reach my daughter, texts warning her that her phone could not be used). 

Microsoft clip art.
Retrospectively, that maybe should have been my first clue that, despite Verizon's emphatic declarations to the contrary, the problem was with their equipment and not mine.  Data was not as impacted.  I never made the mental distinction between the 3G and 4G networks that are apparently operating simultaneously and independently on the same devices. 

Anyway, I tracked the issue down through customer service last night which, in itself, was no small feat because apparently they don't widely share information on service outages amongst themselves (duh, why not??), which blows my mind.  That's Lesson #1 to be learned here: When something goes wrong with your cell phone, press the issue because chances are that Verizon itself will not have a clue, even hours into the service failure (see my screen chat in yesterday's post). 

The problem was reportedly caused by a "switch issue".  I asked the rep, "What the hell is a 'switch issue' and how does it occur?"  He couldn't be specific about what happened in League City but reportedly, it's a hardware failure of some sort. 

The rep went on to state that there were "more than fifty" trouble tickets initiated in League City yesterday.  Presumably, that doesn't count all the people who physically walked into the store because they couldn't use their phones to reach customer service to initiate trouble tickets.  Those formal reports were perhaps mostly from people like myself who tied up someone else's non-Verizon phone trying to sort things out.

The rep went on to indicate that he was impressed that the "switch issue" was fixed as promptly as it was.  He stated that it often takes "days" to get those rectified, and the fact that it was fixed so quickly suggested to him that a technician must have been at the site of the problem immediately after it occurred.

I asked the obvious question:  "How can you take 'days' to fix a phone service outage?  What happens to the people who need to dial 911 in that time?  Nobody has landlines any more."  No real clear answer for that one.
You think you're living in a time of high technology, but it's not nearly as robust as it appears.

Microsoft clip arts superimposed. 
I also asked why there wasn't more redundancy built into the system.  Someone really could have a heart attack and die or a house could burn down for lack of access to emergency services, and I was wondering how the liability would work in a situation like that.  What about parents with sick children who need to reach the doctor?  No real answer for that one, either.

Anyway, this whole thing has been an eye-opener for me.  Verizon Wireless is the largest cell carrier in the United States, reportedly with 100 million customers and $76 billion in annual revenue, and yet their own customer service can't tell you four hours into a service outage that (duh) they've got a service outage.  Seventy-six billion dollars in revenue but apparently they can't establish a technical means of communicating services outages to their customer service team.  I find that remarkable. 

I was struck yesterday by the degree to which it was automatically assumed that I was not a customer affected by an outage, but was instead just a customer who either had a broken device or didn't know how to operate my own device, even though I had their own local store backing me up regarding the explanation to the contrary.  Verizon gets a great big FAIL from me on this one. 
Lesson #2 is that you have to push very hard to get your service issues dealt with.  Use the online chat or call 800-922-0204 if *611 is not accessible, but be prepared to do some heavy arguing.  And if they tell you that it's not their problem, don't listen to them.  If I was understanding correctly, the customer service rep seemed to suggest that the primary way Verizon discovers their own service outages is via clusters of complaints forming in specific geographic areas.  This suggests that there is no little computer routine that sends a fault message saying "your equipment just fried itself" when things go wrong.  When I hear things like this, I really do visualize a cave man carrying a torch in one hand and a useless cell phone in the other. 

Screengrabbed from Google. 

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