Mac Musings

Not @home

Daniel Knight - 2001.12.03

Live by the cable modem; die by the cable modem.

For weeks there were rumors that the bankrupt Excite@home service would be shutting down. AT&T Broadband had an offer to buy the service, but @home, bleeding $6 million a week, didn't think it was good enough. Last week a judge finally agreed to let @home shut down their servers after midnight Friday.

That's surreal. Would the federal government or the state public services commission let the phone company - any phone company - shut down the lines between your home and the telco or between your telco and the ones surrounding it? Not in a million years - yet this judge allowed millions of users to lose their Internet access when @home shut down.

I know. I was one of them.

I didn't really think it could happen. Sure, an ISP here and there will go belly up, but your phone lines are still there. Besides, except in the most remote locale, someone else is bound to offer Internet service.

Cable Is Different

The world has changed a lot over the past five to ten years. Almost everyone has a cell phone, and a lot of people are freeing themselves from the land lines of the local telco. If they don't have a fax machine or use a modem to connect to the Net, they don't need a land line. A coworker has been trying to figure out how he can have just a cell phone and high speed Internet access. That's the state of service as we enter the 21st century.

In short, for some people there is no fallback position. If they have no phone line, when cable Internet service goes down, they have no options. Users like these have been stranded by one judge's ruling that @home could shut down.

I know. I was one of them.

In our case, it's not that we don't have a land line. We do, and my wife depends on it to send and receive faxes and phone calls for her business. But when we woke up Friday, we had no phone service. It made for a quiet day, although a lot of her clients do have her cell phone number. Saturday, same thing. Sunday, still more of the same.

Here we are in a fully networked house with no Internet access. Zero. Nada. None. Nothing.

AT&T Doesn't Quite Get It

While I'm wondering if and how I'll be updating Low End Mac this week, AT&T is feverishly attacking the loss of Excite@home. They have been creating their own infrastructure and switching customers over to their new service - bravo!

I know all this because they sent an email about it last week. The email even included URLs to access for information in the event @home close up shop. These pages ( didn't exist on Friday, but AT&T Broadband would post them if they had to. Dumb question: How do I access those Web pages without Internet access?

That's like sending everyone an email to let them know the mail server is down.

Okay, it's not quite that bad. AT&T Broadband will phone with instructions. They'll even leave a message if nobody's at home. Of course, this assumes you have a phone line - which we do, but it's out of service.

What the nice email from Susan K. Marshall, Senior Vice President of Advanced Broadband Services doesn't include is a phone number for contacting AT&T Broadband. They can't reach us due to phone line problems, and they haven't provided an easy way for us to reach them by phone. That's poor planning, especially since a lot of broadband users may have switched from land lines to cell phones, obtained new phone numbers, and never told AT&T Broadband about the new phone number. (Why bother? They have my email address.)

Funny thing is, we had @home service on Saturday morning before I left for work. I handled some email, left for work, and came home to hear from the boys that we had no Internet connection.

I guess I'll have to dig up the phone number for AT&T Broadband, use the cell phone, and try to get things going....

Well, I've done that. Good news: They now have a cell phone number to reach us in case the land line stays down. Bad new: It may take up to 14 days before all AT&T @home customers are transitioned to the new service. Sorta good news: They will credit customers two days of service for every day of service lost.

Last I knew, the Sprint PCS cell phone we have doesn't support USB, just the old fashioned PC serial connection. Then again, their software only works with Windows (or did last time time I checked), so that's not an option for Internet access.

Looks like I may be taking my TiBook somewhere with a working phone jack so I can check email and do site updates. :-|