I was doing some research on the cost of business broadband services in the Twin Cities when I encountered one of the stark differences between local networks accountable to the public and the massive telcos (in this case, Qwest).
I was compiling some numbers on broadband costs and had just gotten through a very quick and efficient chat with Xmission - a service provider on the UTOPIA network.
For some reason, I thought getting similar information from Qwest would also be easy, particularly as we are in the middle of Qwest territory up here in Minnesota. But Qwest's website couldn't tell me what services are available in our area because it was convinced our address and phone number was outside their 14-state operating territory. Our office is in Minneapolis, which is certainly within the Qwest territory.
So I picked up the phone to call Qwest and find out what was available. After 4.5 minutes (which is a long time when one is already annoyed) listening to Qwest advertising in between being assured that my business was VERY important to them, I was connected to a rather friendly woman who tried to help.
For another four minutes, she tried to locate my building to tell us what services are available. She noted several times, as they all do, that the system was slow today and she was waiting for it to update. As a side note, this is the direct consequence of consolidation and the supposed economy of scale that results from bigness: we wait on hold to eventually talk to people across the country (or globe) while they wait for the computer to give us some probably inaccurate information because no one has any actual idea where services are available.
Alas, she found our address and was sorry to report that they only had slow services available for us because they have not yet lit the additional fiber necessary to offer services faster than 5Mbps down and .896Mbps upstream. Perhaps by the end of the year. Our office is located at the edge of the University of Minnesota in a dense area -- hardly the kind of place you would expect Qwest to struggle to offer decent connections.
I'm glad the customer service person was so pleasant because we spoke for almost ten minutes while waiting for their computers to find the information she needed to tell me. The experience certainly did not do anything to change my opinion of a company that has long offered poor customer service and survived by using its scale to drive out far better service providers.
Yet another reason we need to empower communities to build their own networks that put public needs first.
Update: Trying to get a sense for prices on Time Warner Cable is also frustrating with a web site that has 404 page not found errors. Impressive.