Hang with me, folks.. this edges towards rambling, but it details why I have strong convictions that Mindspring is an excellent online service provider.

Prior to moving here, I asked some of the folks at work about online service providers. I had heard there were quite a few (hardly surprising, given the area), and someone mentioned someone specific to this area. I asked if Mindspring was in this area (not having looked up Mindspring myself), and was assured they had local access numbers here, but...

..they didn't provide good service.

This surprised me. Mindspring has never failed to provide considerably better-than-average service when I lived in Cary. I had never before enjoyed such professionalism (sorry, Cheeta Net.. you're not bad, but you cannot compare to Mindspring). I never had an issue with billing, I rarely to ever had busy signals, and everything worked not only smoothly, but swiftly.

Because it would be such a hassle to try to change everything over to another service on a whim, I decided to give it a chance. I acquired the local access numbers for this area, and after moving here, continued using Mindspring.

I was not happy.

At first, I didn't really have any problems. I think either I only called in during the mornings (my favorite time to log in), or things were working okay. But after about a month, I started having consistent problems logging into my account.

I would call, and this voice would greet me:

We're sorry, your call did not go through. Please check the number and try again. Thank you.

This went on for a few weeks before I decided to call Mindspring about it. I told the technician that this particular problem had been going on for a while, and pointed out that I had heard Mindspring was having issues, which led me to believe they had a bad reputation in this area. I didn't expect them to take me seriously; after all, I could be one of those customers who would lie, saying stuff like that with the misguided belief that A Huge Corporation would care. I pointed it out anyway, on the odd chance that someone might not have been paying attention to their records.

I called each day I couldn't connect (which is to say, each day), checking their official status, and upon finding no official word on connections in this area, contacting a technician to point out the problem. After only three days, I started hearing an official status on the issue.

They continued to point out that the problem was trunking errors, and that if they couldn't resolve their problem in such-and-so time, they'd find other alternatives.

I suspect in the course of hunting down these other alternatives, they accidentally cut a fibre-optic line, which caused a few hours (but during prime-time, which is how I found out about it) of lost connectivity to all customers in this area who use the numbers I use.

About a week or two after this, they set up another phone line in a different networking system (thus away from the trunking issues), that would still be local to my area. I've never had problems connecting into this alternate number, although I suspect part of this may be because it's new, and other folks haven't started using it yet. I received e-mail after I found out about the number, informing me (amongst other customers) of Mindspring's intent to get rid of the old problematic numbers in favor of the new ones they set up.

However, the nicest thing about the letter was the concern expressed over causing some customers to have to dial in using long-distance numbers; they asked everyone to please examine the numbers and see if they could find one local to their area, and if they couldn't, to let Mindspring know.

That, to me, expresses true, plain, and simple concern for customers. No big press releases about how wonderful they are. No big to-do about anything. Just plain-ol' "business-as-usual" concern for customers. Microsoft could learn much from these guys.

Also, as far as I know, Mindspring is the only online-service provider who won't give up on Joe User who might be using Alternative Operating System "X". While they won't be able to tell you the specific commands to type, they seem willing to give you as much information as you need to work out the problem for yourself. The logic is, if you're using an alternative operating system, you probably already know a lot about the OS, or can find further help elsewhere.. they can simply provide you with what you'd need to know. Not bad.. other providers just give a curt "we don't support that."

Anyway, the text that follows is the old rant I'd typed after the fibre-optic line was cut... I'm leaving it in for a sense of the frustration I felt dealing with these connectivity problems.

The Old Rant.

I have been having a rough time logging into my service now for the past couple of months. They only seemed to start admitting to some kind of a problem around here shortly after I started my campaign of repeatedly calling them when I had a problem logging in.

As I write this, a cut fibre-optic cable has taken down my service. I cannot log in to upload this web page. I cannot chat with my friends. I cannot read the news. I cannot find out what the most recent additions to linux might be. I cannot do any research into the sorts of things I enjoy researching. I'm glad I made my reservations this morning, or I'd have to use a standard telephone to handle it.

In short, my primary means of entertainment has been cut off.

I've always defended Mindspring in the past. The folks at work warned me that it wasn't such a great service in this area, but I had a difficult time believing them. I mean, I had such excellent service in Cary, NC, and I've heard incredible things about their technical achievements. And they're proud of their work. They really love what they do, from everything I've ever heard about them.

I even noticed that, amongst online service providers, they tend to have the fastest and smoothest connections. I no longer remember the URL for the site, but someone set up something that does a series of pings along a regular interval to all the various ISPs, and saves the results in a database. From that, you can determine which ones tend to take the most time (IBM and AOL being amongst the poor performers at the time, if I recall). Mindspring had really low numbers (a good thing.. means quick pings).

But all the speed in the world isn't going to do me any good if I can't even connect into the service.

Ah well.. I probably needed to get more sleep tonight anyway.

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