Memo to @Clear: a kudos .. but why so un-clear?

I like Clear / Clearwire .. I like the concept, flexibility and pricing. Further:

  • I’m happy they’re trying to be friends with me .. and I’d like us to be friends. The company has a great product, right time and right place.
  • After going round with them on support chats and calls, I’d like to give the gang a kudos for trying to resolve my connection challenges .. and for their interim solutions.
  • However, after multiple contacts with their tech and customer support departments, unanswered questions remain.
    FWIW: I do not mean for this to be a negative post. I am not trashing them. I am staying as close to the facts as possible. I do not intend for this to sound like a rant; please comment liberally if I do.

For starts, I’m going to cover some history in an effort to set the stage.

Clear / Clearwire is a wireless internet service provider, connecting computers and devices wirelessly across far greater than home Wi-Fi distances. I first contracted with the service in August 2010, and enjoyed speeds up to 6 mbps down, 1 mbps up. While not setting any speed records, this level of service provides enough for my general purposes at home. The cost? $45 / month for the 6/1 ‘unlimited’ (quotes mine .. see below) package.

A month or so into the contract, download speeds became inconsistent and very, very slow, with no no real day part pattern: we had great speeds during peak hours during one night, and dismal speeds during the peak hours of the next. Late night / early morning speeds were typically better, but nowhere near the speeds we enjoyed the initial few weeks.

During my first IM chat with them, I went through several steps, including:

  • Checking the speed on http://speedtest.net.
  • Confirming there wasn’t “something on my PC”, i.e., a virus or other malware, followed by clearing my internet cache. Memo to Clear: get real.
  • Confirmed the three Rs of the wireless modem: reboot, relocate and refresh (they initiated a firmware patch / refresh on the last item .. and it disconnected my from the chat session).
  • Reconnected and re-tested,
  • Initiated another chat session (even though connected to different support professional, Clear keeps track of the chat records, so little time was lost).
  • I connected directly to the wireless modem (I use a firewall / router to protect my internal network and wanted to take that variable out of the loop).
  • Refreshing and reloading my address resolution protocol (ARP) entries. Memo to Clear: this isn’t for the novice user; I’m an experienced IT professional .. I only went along because I know how to fix it if it goes awry.

After all these steps, I was advised that “there is an issue with your account” and asked to call their toll-free line and speak directly to another support professional. Ouch moment here; if an account issue, why did we jump through all the previous hoops? “What is the issue?”, I ask. The reply: “All I can tell you is there’s an issue with your account and that you need to call in”. Clear: this is broken. Please give your level 1 support better information. Keep reading, and you’ll see why.

While on a short hold, I perused the Clear support forums (mentioned prominently during the hold recording). Wow! There are a LOT of folks who are complaining about bandwidth. I found a few threads that mirrored my own and recognize the support staff is exercising reasonable due diligence in ensuring no issues on the local side. I saw lots of references to ‘managed’ accounts .. translating to ‘managed bandwidth’ accounts .. further translating to a few possibilities:

  • You’re using too much bandwidth, so Clear is ‘managing’ (throttling) your download speed.
  • The tower to which you are connected is overwhelmed (too many users, or broken in some way), so Clear is ‘managing’ download speed on your tower so everyone some bandwidth.
  • A public safety / security issue exists, so Clear is ‘managing’ everyone in the affected area (likely well beyond your tower). This can be region-wide, and beyond.

When the friendly Clear support person got on the line, my first question was about the “issue with my account”. In (what I now recognize as) typical Clear response, I got a question in return: “Do you download a lot of movies, or torrents?” Umm .. no, no I don’t. I reiterated my question, trying to discover if the “issue with my account” is because of my usage, or a technical / tower issue. No Clear answer (pun intended) from the service professional. It was late, so I let it go for the night.

Over the next few months, speeds were up and down, and I made a few more calls. It all came to a head for me around February 1, when download speeds dropped to 0.30 mbps while upload speeds maintained 1.0 mbps. Something else was wrong.

Another series of calls over a few days. The following bits represent an amalgam of these calls, with my speaking with the next level of technical support and supervisors as a matter of course (I now have a history with Clear, it seems):

  • I assured the agent I had IT skills and a reliable network (some resistance, as they wanted to run through the gamut of local tests again). I pushed back on the local tests, assuring the agent that I had connected a Wireless Ethernet Bridge to my neighbor’s Comcast-powered network (with their permission, of course; I had set up their network, so they were willing to grant me the favor) and measured 10 mbps download through my router and network (wired and wireless, connected to different switches, to boot).
  • Another objection and question: “Do you download a lot of movies, or torrents?” Umm .. no, no I don’t. My account usage (available in the account management tools) demonstrates this as well.
  • Another objection and I assured the agent I could supply speed test logs for a wide range of day parts, demonstrating my network can accept their data as fast as they can push it down .. which, at times is pretty fast.
  • Last objection, assuring the agent my next call would be to customer service to cancel my Clear account, and the call after that would be to the Better Business Bureau. Aggravated? A bit, a bit.

My main issue: why can’t you tell me if I am being ‘managed’ because of usage, or something else? If it’s me, please tell me:

  • Why doesn’t ‘unlimited’ mean ‘unlimited’? My contract says ‘unlimited’.
  • If ‘unlimited’ doesn’t really mean ‘unlimited’, what does it really mean? At what usage level will I be ‘managed’? I can monitor my bandwidth, so at the least, I will understand.
    If it’s NOT my usage or my modem, please give me some information I can use.
    I stayed on it .. more calls, all with level 2 tech support and supervisors. I collected lots of fun facts:
  • The modem will grab the tower with the strongest signal .. regardless of the capacity / usage of the tower.
  • The user does not have any way to tell to which tower they are connected. However, the account management tools (currently in beta) allow the user to see the locations of towers in their area and Clear coverage for their location (nice, actually).
  • The user does not have any way to change the tower to which they are connect, save by moving the modem to another place in the house, rebooting and hoping another tower will step up.
  • The agent CAN disconnect the modem from the current tower, but on other events (including a modem reboot), the modem will again grab the strongest signal.
  • Second-to-last: the tower with the strongest signal is overloaded.
  • Last: the affected tower is scheduled for an augment (increased capacity), ‘sometime in the Spring’.

Ouch, that was painful .. and a shame I had to drag it out of them. I am guessing I have more tenacity than many other users; would have been far easier to have cancelled my account and selected another provider. Memo to Clear: please be more clear.

My resolution? Still a work-in-progress, however, Clear is working with me:

  • They provided me with a USB modem to test in my location (you’ll love the results .. watch for my next post).
  • They covered one month’s usage charges (I will revisit this in the next month or two with them if service is still poor).
  • They forward me to Level 2 support and supervisors before I even ask (I think they’re protecting their staff .. noble).

For that, I’ll keep working with them.

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About Michael Coates
I am a pragmatic evangelist. The products, services and solutions I write about fulfill real-world expectations and use cases. I stay up-to-date on real products I use and review, and share my thoughts here. I apply the same lens when designing an architecture, product or when writing papers. I am always looking for ways that technology can create or enhance a business opportunity .. not just technology for technology's sake. My CV says: Seasoned technology executive, leveraging years of experience with enterprise and integration architectural patterns, executed with healthy doses of business acumen and pragmatism. That's me. My web site says: Technology innovations provide a myriad of opportunities for businesses. That said, having the "latest and greatest" for its own sake isn't always a recipe for success. Business successes gained through exploiting innovation relies on analysis of how the new features will enhance your business followed by effective implementation. Goals vary far and wide: streamlining operations, improving customer experience, extending brand, and many more. In all cases, you must identify and collect the metrics you can apply to measure your success. Analysis must be holistic and balanced: business and operational needs must be considered when capitalizing on a new technology asset or opportunity.

One Response to Memo to @Clear: a kudos .. but why so un-clear?

  1. Pingback: Memo to Clear: Connection Madness « OpsanBlog

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