Last First Opinion: ACT Broadband

Strange, I remembered having written about how I gave up on ACT Fraudband after two months of using it through numerous unplanned outages where entire weeks would go by before they admitted that the whole of Bangalore was disconnected. But looks like that edit was lost in transit. Probably due to ACT's great service itself! How poor was the service? A demonstration would was clearly seen in the post-disconnection phase. They never did come to collect their equipment - the modem, the over 100 ft of cabling (my shattered expectations from a broadband service,) for over two months. And I kept getting bills of zero rupees till I reminded them that they didn't need to remind me about them and that the flyers they kept dropping off ever-so frequently were simply adding to the population of paper balls rolling about at home (thanks Kambili).

ACT sounded too good to be true. 10 mbps for 80 GB of data. No charges for upload (that means whoever is sharing files via Bittorrent on this network gets to spread the joy without any worries about it eating into their data limits). Quite a reasonable fee compared to the other folks. But piss poor levels of service. And understandably so. They are adding users by the bucket load without keeping tabs on their capacity to handle the increased load on their network. And for some reason somebody from BWSSB/Airtel/Bangalore Rodent League(?) kept their taste-testing appointments every week on ACTs cables.

My first month went by like a breeze, with the exception of a single outage towards the end of the month (which they resolved in two days). The second month was mostly voids of disconnectedness followed by (very small) islands of service. It felt like they had gone from offering 90% connectivity to 90% of dissing my connectivity. Every time we called their customer care they would ask us to follow the steps anybody with a knowledge of Google and the ability to use a keyboard and mouse would do, after which they would promptly raise a complaint, give us the ticket number, and assure us that the mythical "Engineer would be conducting a field visit to our residence". The next call would result in yet another ticket number and yet another appointment that would go not be kept. (I wonder if Ridley Scott based Prometheus upon this experience...)

At the end of the second month, after 2 weeks of zero service, the support folks informed us that there was a city-wide outage. That was it. To keep your customers without service is bad enough, but to keep them in the dark about the reasons for the outage is the height of dashery.
Moreover to put the onus for the lack of service on your part on customer is the height of this; they refused to not charge me for all the days I did not have service. ACT BB, I understand, your margins are Angelina-Jolie-post-baby-delivery slim, your costs are ballooning like the Tomb Raider movie ticket sales (were). That doesn't mean you don't take responsibility and treat the customer fairly.
ACT, beating your competition on price is no great achievement when your customers are all cursing the day they signed up with you. Instead outperform your competition by demonstrating your customers are happier to be with you than the competition. Keep them happy and they will support you. That's all you need to do. Be reachable to help out, not just till 10 PM in the night (I used to wait in an endless queue listening to music that sounded oddly enough like this (I think they were mocking me), after 10:30 PM on ACTs support line).

After this I decide to fly back to Airtel. My guilt over having convinced my family to switch to ACT has been absolved. We've have exactly two outages in the past 6 months. And those got fixed within two hours of raising the complaint. At present, Airtel's plans have improved by a fair amount - 80 GB @ 4 Mbps for Rupees 1500 + taxes. Far cry from the paltry 10 GB @ 2 Mbps we were using before we switched to ACT. I guess in some ways, I have a lot to be thankful to ACT for. They were the ones who truly showed us (and mainly my dad) how much we were missing out on by sticking to a lower speed connection. The amount of audio and video content we can see is far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I never used to be able to watch video before. Now I get pissed when it doesn't load.

One more lesson is that the customer should never put cost above expected levels of service. It costs money to run such large, complex businesses, where the costs are ever shifting and the demands of consumers are increasing and the customer should feel happy to pay the right price for the right levels of service. The trouble is our mindset: everybody sees the cost in numbers, but not the value that they get, it being a lot harder to quantify. Also the customer should have a transition period between the two service providers, especially when the new provider's track record for reliability is shady at best. See the forums at India Broadband Forum, What we did was kept Airtel on hiatus, fired up ACT and waited. At the end of the two months, we were able to switch back immediately without any delay.

Now I'm much happier. No more angry calls from my mother and sister yelling at me because ACT decided to close the pipes again. And no more late night mockery from ACT. I hope somebody from ACT reads this and realises:
1)  No need to keep adding consumers if you can't handle them
2) Try to outperform on service, not only on price.
3) Take responsibility for your service delivery - 30 mins Facebook nahi to free!
4) Communicate with your customer - and deliver on your promises - "Engineer" must keep his appointments
5) Collect your equipment when your customer wants you out. Respect their decision.
6) I'm sure there are other ex-ACTion-superstars out there ranting on their blogs. Listen to them and take their advice. They are the ones who have loved, lost and learned from their ACTs.

The content below was posted when I was in my first throes of infaution with the ACTress.

It's been quite a while since I've been wanting this.

I've broken free of the FUP-ping shackles that Airtel has chained me to.

I've now got a new broadband connection from ACT TV. The speeds are good (anywhere between rock bottom 256 kbps up to 10 mbps), the prices are reasonable (Rs. 500 to 2000 per month), and the plan doesn't leave you with the feeling of having test-driven a Ferrari F50 only halfway through the test drive the sales rep tells you that the fuel tank carries only 1 liter of petrol enough to go about 5 kilometers before choking to a stop (data limits offer enough high speed transfer).

I'm talking about you Airtel. If any of you haven't seen what a joke the so called new plans from Airtel are, please check it out, I'm sure if you haven't had a laugh in a long time, you surely will. (Long story short: the new plans offer 8 megabit pipes with up to 150 GB of high-speed data transfer and a drop to 256 kbps for the greedy ones who cross that sacred limit - and that's data going both into and out of your network. The price per month is close to 2600 including taxes - 2399 excl. Now do you see where the Ferrari ki sawari came in? Okay, good.)

The Equipment

There's quite a lot of cable involved. There's a optical cable from the neighbourhood node to the rack box in the house. The rack (that's what they called it) is a modem-like equipment installed in a metal box (mounted on the wall) outside the house. This is what converts the optical signal to a digital one and vice versa. An ethernet cable sneaks out from here all the way around to the other end of the house where my router is placed. There's quite a lot of cable snaking its way around the house now.

The Features

Streaming videos coming through like streaming videos should, with minimal to no buffer time and no pausing in the middle. This is the stuff that streaming dreaming is made of.
This is the stuff that streams are made of - that is playing at 720p with about 3 stutters, that's probably because this is only 2 mbps.
Not bad for a 2 mbps plan from a non-name provider... Of course, depending on which server you try to test your connection with, your mileage may vary.

I like their service so much, I'm actually thinking of upgrading to a 10 mbps package from them.

And the best part:

UPLOADS don't count against your quota! This means you could backup everything on your hard drive without worrying about going over limit.

I'm not sure when all this is going to change. Hope I'm not dreaming.

I changed my tariff package to ACT BB DOUBLE PREMIUM (10 mbps upto 75 GB download and 2 mbps thereafter) package two weeks back.

Nowhere near the symmetrical 10 mbps upload... but as they promise in their ads which show up right next to the speedtest result, I see zero buffering for most videos. YouTube especially is awesome... 1080p comes in just like that. Mind-blowing!

The only downside I've seen is that transfers between us and Apple's servers seem to be sluggish. Not sure why Akamai isn't able to deliver as I expected it should.

Depending on where you are... you can get much-lower-than-expected speeds:

I'm still happy. I've not even managed to use up half the expected FUP quota, I'm still on high speed after 3 weeks and I'm watching full-length movies just like that.

I'm happy. There have been minor service outages though. Not sure whether it was because of my router. I switched from my old linksys that's been serving us for 5 years and switched to the Belkin model I'd bought as a backup.

An interesting thing to note is, I had to change the setting on the router to authenticate via PPoE to Dynamic IP with all the connection details obtained from the network via DHCP. No userid/password required in case you change routers. Select dynamic connection and things should work fine.

Now or Never: Every Buy Is A Best Buy

I was upset at having missed a discount on this notebook.

However I picked the right time to buy it, what with the rupee going down and all, it costs about 2000 more than when I bought it two months ago.

INR 2000/- minus the 600 spent on the additional warranty. 1,300 not bad at all.
Now, I'm not so sad.

Playing With Matrices and Sorting

Something's not right about this picture:

This is a portion of the product of two matrices computed using the Strassen Algorithm, which despite it's edgy name is quite risky to pull off. Point to be noted: all elements of the NxN matrices used were positive, so there is no explanation for the presence of those negative signs here.

Guess there is more work to be done here.

Pure Clarity

When some code that you've been working hard to get running actually runs giving you a result that doesn't resemble something keyboard cat would have come up with, this should always play in the background:

That's Wake Up by Rage Against The Machine as heard in the Matrix as The One takes flight at the very end showing off his skills as The One. Perfect song to set the tone for the sequels. The last lyric:
"How long/not long/'cause what you reap is what you sow" seems to be letting the Machines know that their time is coming, and soon. In the era before the post-credits-scene-riding-on-the-coattails-of-the-summer-action-blockbluster-which-was-also-postcredit-trailered was used to announce sequels, this was pretty powerful stuff. It took 4 years to make the next two movies, but this was brilliant. Speaking of other Wachowski movies, I should watch Cloud Atlas. The trailer reminded me of the Mahabharata. I never got a chance to see it in theatres, as it was never released here. I guess it is the kind of movie most audiences wouldn't have had the patience to sit through: an epic, but then again, people did sit through 8 Potter films and 5 Twilight ones. :) All kinds to make a world, I suppose. I digress. The satirical tones and sticking-it-to-the-mannishness of this track notwithstanding, it's a pretty powerful track.

It's been a while since I've seen The Matrix. Time for another viewing. I see it even today and it doesn't seem like a bad movie to have liked. My parents had videotaped the worst of all the Christoper-Reeve-era-Superman-movies and I used to be such a big fan because I actually believed that if you believed enough you could take flight and be Superman. I remember one of the fancy dress competition's back in kindergarten, I was dressed up as Superman, cape and all. I'll post a photo when I can dig it up from the archives.

It's sad that Superman IV, no matter how great I thought it was doesn't stand up to the test of time.

Funny thing about Superman 1, I thought the whole rewinding time thing was ridiculous even then. Wonder if the movie jumped the shark (or went around the space-time-continuum bend), even before the end of the first movie.

Back on topic, that track should have been called Rage Against The Java Virtual Machine. Take that StackOverFlowException for stopping my recursions!