20 February 2009

'Tis True, 'tis True 'tis pity, And pity 'tis 'tis True. Part Two

True Corp bought more bandwidth in mid 2008. I know this because a customer service rep called to tell me so. At least the 2007 visit to True Corp head office wasn't totally in vain.

The honeymoon lasted until September when my speed was back in the garbage again. I started the usual round of calling, insisting it wasn't my settings, demanding to speak to someone besides customer service. Now neither I nor my computer were getting anywhere.

For a couple of weeks in October I was too sick to use the computer. When I finally sat down to work again, every site I tried to access elicited the message"Firefox Cannot Find The Address." Reloading the page 4-20 times sometimes got me where I wanted to go. Forget about sophisticated internet maneuvers like trying to navigate from between pages or sending sensitive data like passwords. I tried calling the True "Disservice Center" and as always was fobbed off with excuses.

To reassure myself the problem didn't lie with my computer, I went to the Fujitsu service center where any customer can use their Loxinfo-powered Wi-Fi for free. My computer worked quickly and perfectly. One of the endlessly helpful Fujitsu service people suggested I address my complaints to True via their on line customer service instead of by phone. He said True take you more seriously if you post a complaint and normally call back within 24 hours.

And they did! A savvy female engineer named Nahathai rang my mobile the next morning and we talked for an hour. She wanted me to test my speeds but I'm wise to that game after playing it so often with the customer service folks. Speeds to the True office in Bangkok are always normal. Nahathai asked if I used a lot of international sites.

"What do you mean international websites?" I tried not to yell. "The internet is the internet. Who knows or cares where the host servers are located?" True does. It differentiates between customers who surf inside the country and those who go inter as they say in Thai. Inter involves using the closely guarded CAT gateway described in the previous post.

Ultimately Nahathai admitted the real problem was True's lack of bandwidth. Or rather its core marketing strategy to buy more bandwidth at the usurious Thai prices and then sell thousands of cheap packages to Thai users. Unbelievably True works on the premise that young Thais only play video games or access local chat rooms and don't clog the international lines! How can any major ISP or computer engineer believe such rubbish?

After Nahathai manipulated something on her end related to my router, speeds sped up significantly. I was so happy. She gave me her mobile number and said to call whenever I had a problem.

When I powered up the next morning, speeds had gone back to their "normal" antediluvian slowness and Firefox required 4-20 tries to access a URL. I called Nahathai. She asked if I'd turned off my router. Of course I had. Energy-conservationist me automatically turns everything off when I shut down the computer. She'd never said to leave the router on.

We were at an impasse. Nahathai said she'd forward my case on to her bosses and get back to me. When she didn't I started barraging the website again. Eventually she called back and wanted to come to my house to test the router and the routes. I thought this was unnecessary, especially since service people always have a terrible time finding my place in the bowels of Chinatown. Then again, what did I have to lose but crap internet.

Promptly at 8 a.m. a few mornings later, Nahathai and K. Poo (from the Internet section) arrived, each with their own Dell laptop. I work in a teensy space delimited by an old-fashioned wood desk with a drawer I pull out for my laptop and have never experinced so many visitors crowded into my workspace. Fortunately Nahatahai and Poo were both short and slender! I demonstrated the various problems (the "Firefox cannot find the address" message, the impossibility of streaming an NPR radio program or navigating from one page to another) and left them to it.

At 10:30 the pair were still engrossed. They'd sorted the Firefox problem which was only vaguely related to the bandwidth issue. Nahathai said she'd already sent my case along with another serial complainer, also a farang, to the head office.

"So who complains the loudest?" I asked her. "Farangs or Thais?"

Oh only the farangs complain vociferously, she told me. Great! As if the Thais don't already have a zillion reasons to marginalize us farangs as weird, demanding, loud and aggressive! Now we're internet complainers too.

"Why don't the Thais complain? Surely they must hate slow service as much as we do?" I said.

"Thais don't go inter as much you farangs," she said. "And you farangs have experience with internet in your own countries and know about fast internet." I told her I'd been in Thailand 16 years and had very little experience with the fast, well managed and affordable internet in the west so it was no good lumping me into her standard farang profile.

After the pair spent two more hours sitting cross-legged on the floor hunkered down over their computers and in endless communication with their offices, Nahathai offered to temporarily put me on a special account so I could stream video. (I quit trying to watch Rachel Maddow on MSNBC since for 2 seconds of talking I had to wait 15 seconds for buffering.) Nahathai hooked me up to a lightening fast--and expensive--account to demonstrate and for 10 glorious minutes I could watch feisty, smart and cynical Rachel spout off without a single pause.

"No," I told her. "I do not want special farang treatment. I only want my standard 850 baht/month service to return to how it was three years ago before True vastly oversold its small amount of bandwidth." I refused to give her bosses fodder for turning me into a the poster child for faster internet speeds in Thailand.

So, like Cinderella at the ball as the clock struck midnight, Nahathai returned my golden internet carriage to its pumpkin-like state as a True customer with an ordinary internet account. And apart from the night a few weeks ago when the entire international connection broke down and every internet service providor in the country lost their ability to go inter, life on the True cyber highway has been more or less normal ever since.

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