My ten days of Verizon Hell

The following is a verbatim copy of the letter I mailed to Verizon almost two weeks ago. So far, I have received no response of any kind.

February 10, 2014

Anyone Who Actually Gives a Damn
Verizon “Customer Service”
PO Box 11328
St Petersburg, FL 33733


I’m sending this letter because my story is long and complicated, and it’s proven impossible to reach any sentient lifeform (as opposed to an automated computer bot) at Verizon who isn’t sitting in a cubical in India and actually knows what’s going on. Right now I am wondering why I don’t just cancel my Verizon account and sign up for cable phone and Internet. I’ve had my Verizon account since 1989 and Verizon DSL since, I believe, 2010.

I’ve  had (since 2010) a perfectly good home wireless network, with a Westell 6100G ADSL modem from Verizon and a Linksys WRT54G wireless router that I bought and configured myself. The Westell modem was actually quite new, since on April 25, 2013, a Verizon serviceman came out to investigate problems with my DSL line being noisy and dropping the signal, and gave me a new modem. I also had a Linksys WPSM54G wireless printer server. I have a Dell desktop running Windows 7 and two laptops running Windows XP. The Linksys WRT54G was configured with WPA-PSK “Personal” security. Everything was running just fine.

But the wireless network only ran at 54 Mbs, which is the maximum for 802.11g. I watch a lot of video online because I have neither cable nor broadcast TV reception. Some video was choking up on my slow network. I got a faster wireless router as a freebie. But when I tried to set it up, it wouldn’t connect to my Verizon Internet. It seemed to need parameters that normally you get from your ISP, like primary and secondary DNS server addresses. Verizon is my ISP, so I logged into Verizon’s website to see if I could find this information.

That’s how I ended up in ten days of Verizon Hell.

After searching and searching fruitlessly on Verizon’s website, on Tuesday, January 28, I tried logging into Verizon’s “Live Chat.” I found myself in an utterly surreal chat with “Agent Karthik” who I’d swear spoke no English at all and was running every word through an online translator. He would not answer my questions about getting information like server addresses although I asked repeatedly. Instead, after a couple of minutes he said he was “talking to his supervisor” and Verizon was sending me a new modem. “It’s a modem/router, it’s basically Plug and Play,” he said, “and it’s much faster, it will solve your problem.”

I hadn’t asked for a new modem and I didn’t want one, but that was Agent Karthik’s solution, so I said thank you very much.

The new modem arrived Thursday, January 30. It was a D-Link DSL-2750B. When I set it up according to the instructions, it was fine with the Windows 7 desktop. It would connect with the Windows XP laptops. But it would not assign them an IP address, so they couldn’t get on the Internet. Also, they didn’t show up as actually being on the network with the desktop, and wouldn’t communicate with it—and that’s critical. I back up data onto the laptops over the wireless network so I have redundant backups, and I occasionally work remotely on the desktop from the laptops. I also couldn’t get the wireless printer server to work at all, and I finally had to connect the printer directly to the desktop computer with a cable.

Because I needed everything to be connected, I disconnected the new router and put the old equipment back as it was (except that I wasn’t able to get the printer server working again). On February 3, I had time to work more with the new router and tried different changes in the setup, trying to get it to talk to the Windows XP laptops. I got nowhere, but I learned some things:

  • The router is sent with Verizon’s customized firmware, not the manufacturer’s. Verizon’s firmware has some restrictions built into it that the manufacturer’s does not. It’s also pre-loaded with the WPA-2 SSID and key. If you do a factory-reset, you don’t get “factory settings,” you get Verizon’s.
  • D-Link doesn’t even market this model in the U.S. The user’s manual is written for the U.K. and other online information applies to Australia. I infer from this that Verizon has an exclusive agreement with D-Link that only Verizon will distribute this model in the U.S., with its own proprietary firmware.
  • On the router’s admin utility console, it says “IP Address Distribution disabled” in one place and “enabled” in another.

Verizon heavily pimps out its FiOS high-speed Internet, and all its online support defaults to FiOS. They also heavily pimp out this utility called “In Home Agent.” I downloaded and installed it. But it’s useless. Not only is it, like almost all of Verizon’s “support,” painfully condescending and elementary, it’s entirely for FiOS. Hey, I’d love to have FiOS. I’d sign up in a minute. But it’s not available here. Some time ago, Verizon announced that they weren’t going to expand their FiOS service to any more new locations. Nevertheless, they’re still pimping it out as hard as they can. If you use Verizon DSL, you’re scum as far as their support goes.

I signed up for the user forums and looked around there, but that was useless—and talk about the blind leading the blind, anyway. No Verizon customer was going to solve my dilemma! I tried calling the support phone number several times and got a message saying, “due to an extremely high volume of calls,” there might not be a technician available to talk to me, and to try again later, after which the call was terminated.

I finally got frustrated enough to resort once more to Live Chat. This time I got a “Ragavendra swamy” [sic].  He wanted to take remote control of my desktop computer and change the router setup. I definitely did not want him to do this. I asked what he wanted to change. He said that he would change the SSID and passwords for the new network to be the same as the old network. He promised that if he did that, the XP computers would connect to the network “and it will solve your problem.”

The hell it would! Man, I could see that would be a disaster—not only did I not see it solving the problem, it would have meant I couldn’t go back to using the old equipment! I’d be totally screwed with no network at all! I refused to let him do it. I tried changing the network name to something new and different, but I didn’t have the router connected with an Ethernet cable, so I just crashed the connection to the router and was knocked offline. Ragavendra swamy called me to see what happened. It was past my bedtime by then (he was in India, he had no idea what time it was here) and I told him thanks very much, I would reset the router to factory (i.e. Verizon’s) settings tomorrow morning and start over from scratch, and would apply some of his suggestions.

Which I did. But no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the XP computers to get an IP address and be recognized by the network—except under one condition. If I turned off all security encryption entirely, then both the laptops connected, with Internet, just fine. But having a completely unsecured network seemed…awfully risky.

This was very frustrating, because I wanted a faster connection for online video, and it seemed like Verizon was dangling it in front of me and not letting me use it. The whole thing was stressing me out way too much.

On Wednesday, February 5, I got through to an actual live person, “Victor,” on the phone. This worked much better than the Live Chat. But after a very long phone call in which Victor and I pretty much changed every parameter we could without success, Victor said the D-Link router or its firmware might be defective, and they would send me another router. He said specifically that it would be a different model, an Actiontec. “That will solve your problem,” he promised.

The techs all kept saying that I should switch to WEP security instead of WPA, because, they claimed, Windows XP wouldn’t work with WPA. But there were two problems with this assertion. First, my old wireless network ran under WPA and the Windows XP computers had no trouble connecting to it at all, nor did the wireless printer server. Second, we changed the D-Link to WEP and the XP computers still weren’t assigned an IP address nor recognized by the network.

I set the old equipment back up. On Friday, February 7, the replacement router arrived. But it wasn’t an Actiontec. It was a D-Link DSL-2750B, identical to the one I’d been ripping my hair out over for the past week. I set it up, and I got exactly the same results. There was a pre-paid mailing label in the box to return the first D-Link, and I was so disgusted, I felt like just packing them both up and sending them both back to Verizon. I’d been promised a different model of router—although that may have been moot if the whole issue was Verizon’s flaky firmware, and it seemed pretty obvious that it was.

But I was compulsive enough to still not give up, and after a very long wait on hold, I got another live tech person, Krishna, on the phone. (By this time I was noticing that my calls got some attention, with all the complaints and problems on my account in the past 10 days!) I went through stuff with Krishna, and now it became apparent that the firmware on the replacement D-Link wasn’t quite identical to that on the first one. This time, we were able to change the security to WEP, and mirabile dictu, the XP laptops both were able to connect to the network and the Internet.

Was my problem solved? Well, not exactly. Verizon’s firmware will only allow the router to run in 802.11n mode if the security is set to WPA-2…or none at all, go parse that logic. With WEP security, the fastest speed I get is the maximum for 802.11b/g modes, 54 Mbs. That’s exactly the speed I had before, and this whole nonsense started because I wanted a faster connection! On top of that, I can’t set up the wireless printer server. It allows for WEP keys of 64 or 128 bits. For some weird reason, the Verizon firmware is set up with WEP keys in 40 or 104 bits. (I mean, huh????) They’re not compatible, so the printer server can’t connect with WEP. It was connected on the old router with WPA.

I pointed out to Krishna that with WEP security I had a slower connection. He said it was because there were several devices on the network taking up bandwidth and the security setting shouldn’t affect the speed. But he obviously didn’t realize that the 802.11 mode does limit the speed, because he knew I had to change the mode from 802.11b/g/n to 802.11b/g when we changed the security. So the support technician didn’t even know that I can only get a connect speed of 54 Mbs with these settings.

So after all this frustration and stress, and hours of wasted time, I’m worse off than when I started. I have exactly the same connect speed as before, less effective security, and I can’t use my wireless printer server. Verizon will never expand FiOS to my area, and DSL is rapidly becoming almost as inadequate and obsolete as dial-up. Remind me, someone, why I shouldn’t just cancel my Verizon account and switch to cable for my phone and Internet? If I didn’t loathe all cable companies on principle, I probably would have done just that by now.




Inanna Arthen, M.Div
[my account number, phone number and service address]

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