Pieces of a Dream, part 2

Two forces are currently regulating the tone of this message. The first is that I got some insider comments on the first part of this article, telling me of options which I was hitherto unaware of, for venting my frustration, and getting retribution for whatever wrongs I feel I have suffered at the hands of these operators. This gave me the subtle reminder that I sometimes sound like I have a personal score to settle. Not quite true.

The second force has to do with the rather ironic fact that as I sit here, I have observed a new problem with my current subscription, which is due to expire on the 27th of April, and of whose 3GB capacity I have only utilized 4%. Not one to give up so easily, I utilized an idle SIM card, and made another subscription today, a much cheaper one, because I needed internet access in order to continue work on a current web development project and I figured that driving off to an Internet cafe 5 kilometres from Judges Quarters Layout in Makurdi and then paying ₦200 per hour for the four or five hours I might like to be online is more expensive than paying MTN ₦500 for their flat 50MB-a-day plan. I ended up paying MTN ₦500, and then driving 5km to the cafe, waiting 40 minutes for electrical power to be restored, and then sitting in a rather small chair and trying to work with all the distractions inherent in such an environment. Well, I won’t get paid if I don’t complete the project… and you know I need the money :)

MTN, MTN, MTN. Will you try something else already? Oh yes, I did mention it wasn’t so straightforward. You see, I believe (no empirical data, just experience that comes from my patronage of both networks) that Glo maintains a more stable network than MTN, even though it has become a less advanced one. You can almost always trust their data services to work as advertised, and they no longer do those annoying port-blocking tricks. MTN seems to block port 25 at will (you might have noticed that randomly, you can’t send email using Outlook while you’re on an MTN connection).

I made the decision to subscribe to Glo’s data services long ago, despite the tempting speeds that MTN advertises in some of their coverage areas. The only problem I had was that information about Glo’s service was scarce. Well, unlike MTN, Glo has customer care offices in many State capitals in this country, but in Abuja, I hardly have time during working hours to go and get a proper lunch, much less stand in line for extended periods of time waiting for someone to attend to me (Glo’s Abuja office is usually crowded). I decided to make enquiries at their Makurdi office when next I was home on a working day. It’s the same company, so they should have the same information.

I did find out pricing information, but beyond that, everything else was paper shredder stuff.

"My needs are simple. I can already browse with my phone, I understand you have a subscription plan. I am interested in it, since it will help me save costs" is how I tried to explain myself.

"You will need a special 2-gig SIM card and a Modem to go with it." The word "Lagos" was thrown in severally.  (Yes, I wondered what "2-gig SIM" meant too)

What part of my French is so difficult to understand? (I thought). "Do you guys have an engineer around? Can I speak with him/her? " I still wonder how I managed to ask that last question without coming off as an arrogant and over-confident customer, the kind who think they are king simply because they are paying for a service :) . I’ve been in customer service before, so I know how annoying that is.

The engineer turned out to be nothing more than the resident computer guru-ess. She was a cool-looking lady in 70s style make-up. She was nice and courteous, and gave me the same line her colleague had given me earlier.

I’m sure you’re getting my drift. I still don’t know how to subscribe to Glo’s data services, even though I know that I don’t need a modem, and I think that "2-gig SIM" is just a euphemism for their bandwidth cap (2 gigabyte), and that it can be technically made to apply to any SIM card at all. As I write this email, Glo’s GPRS network has been down in Makurdi for more than three days now. I am between a rock and a hard place indeed.

It might be interesting to recount here an experience I had with Starcomms, a "CDMA 3G" operator as they like to call themselves. While I was in Abuja, I subscribed to Starcomms nightly plan (9pm to 9am everyday, nightly plans are cheaper). It made no mention of bandwidth caps. I figured they didn’t need to impose any caps, since the speed of the service meant that utilization will almost always be within reasonable limits. You see, I got this service for a purpose. I wanted to download the new Debian 4.0 (Etch) system that had just been released. I set my computer up almost exclusively for this purpose, and every night, I dutifully resumed my download. It was a 4.2 gigabyte download. I managed to pull 1200 megabytes in about a week, and then one night, my Internet refused to work. Starcomms makes it easy to call for support. They have a 24-hour hotline. I filed my complaint, and they told me everything was ok. Well, I can talk very techie, so I didn’t let them get away with that. The person at the other end of the line eventually admitted she didn’t know what the problem was.

I had a good idea what the problem was, and frankly, it annoyed me. You see, how I managed to download 1200MB within a week on an 88kbps line was by constantly keeping the line busy. I lived in a part of town that hardly suffered power failures, so I was always able to get online when I needed to, and to Starcomms’ credit, their service was reliable enough. I WAS A HEAVY USER. I think along the line, someone decided to pull the plug on me.

At this point, my brain started working. I spend nearly all my working day online, in front of the computer. I shouldn’t continue into the night, depriving myself of sleep and other real life activities (such as doing the laundry, or even cooking dinner, and I was getting horrible at these) just to get online again… so, I didn’t need Starcomms. I was satisfied with my reasons, so I never bothered Starcomms with another call. One fateful day, a week or so later, I came home from work and was told that someone from starcomms had called asking after me. They left a message that my service had been restored, and that I could get online again. It was good news, but I had already moved on with my life. The subscription withered, eventually expired, and the mandatory reminder emails kept rolling in, reminding me to renew my subscription… 

This time though, I’m against the wall. It will take stronger and more radical reasons to convince me that I no longer need Internet access… perhaps I should pack a box of books and take with me to the secondary school in the far north of Nigeria, where I will be teaching mathematics, and plunge myself backwards into the 19th Century, where the Federal Government’s ₦9,775 monthly allowance will afford me all but an elegant lifestyle :)

Random quote: Mankind’s yearning to engage in sports is older than recorded history, dating back to the time millions of years ago, when the first primitive man picked up a crude club and a round rock, tossed the rock into the air, and whomped the club into the sloping forehead of the first primitive umpire. What inner force drove this first athlete? Your guess is as good as mine. Better, probably, because you haven’t had four beers. — Dave Barry, "Sports is a Drag"

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