Excite@Home teleworkers face dial-up despair

A free 10-hour per month dial-up account, toll-free customer service and Web site news updates: Small consolation for the four million broadband customers facing the loss of service since Excite@Home Inc. filed for bankruptcy Sept. 28.

On Nov. 11, Ryan Anderson received an e-mail from his @Home service provider, Comcast Cable Communications Inc., stating he'd be losing his @Home broadband service. But as of this writing, the full-time teleworker for Turner Consulting Group (TCG) still has service. Thus far, the only customers affected were a reported 850,000 who received @Home service through AT&T Broadband.

Anderson, a senior interface designer who lives in Trenton, New Jersey, has enjoyed @Home cable service since launching his home office in February 2000, less than a year after Excite Inc. merged with @Home Corp. in May 1999. Since the letter arrived, Anderson's relied on e-mail and Web site updates from Comcast. For its part, Excite@Home isn't corresponding directly with users.

"And [Comcast's] information isn't real definitive," Anderson says. "They're saying they're doing everything to continue service. But they've just set up as a back-up free Juno dial-up access, limited to 10 hours per month. For anything other than checking e-mail, 10 hours a month is useless."

In recent weeks, Excite@Home's financial woes and souring relationships with its resellers have shone a spotlight on the reliability of broadband service - and teleworkers' dependency on it for Internet access speeds rivalling those in the corporate office. Uploads and downloads are fast, and wait times are minimized. That is, unless service is threatened with interruption, or in the case of Denise Hawkins, cut off cold turkey.

For four months, Hawkins, a home-based quality assurance manager also with TCG, has relied on her broadband connection to check client Web sites, move files and correspond with customers and coworkers. Then last Monday, she awoke to no service in her New Market, Maryland, home.

To make matters worse, Hawkins spent three hours on hold that morning awaiting an explanation from customer service - only to be disconnected.

Since Hawkins lives in the remote mountains of Maryland's Frederick County, a quick search on DSLReports.com revealed DSL service was unavailable. As a result, she's now trying to work using an old AOL dial-up account and suffers busy signals, crawling downloads and persistent logoffs. For a quality assurance manager this situation lacks, well, quality.

Even so, TCG President Dan Turner doesn't plan to reel disconnected workers back into the office. He believes Hawkins can do her job without broadband. "Ninety percent of the time, people don't need broadband to be productive," he argues. "It just makes their work get done a bit faster."

For his part, Anderson waits and wonders when (or even if) he'll lose service. On dialup, his large client graphics will move at a glacial pace, and an AOL account won't offer the security his business needs. Sure, Comcast has offered him a free Juno account. But Anderson doesn't even know where his dial-up modem is: "My modem's in a box somewhere. I never throw hardware out until I know something is going to be stable."

Stability in broadband? Not this year.

Next week: Sensible solutions to disconnected broadband.

Jeff Zbar is an author and speaker on telework, free agency, and small or home office (SOHO) issues. His books include Safe@Home: Seven Keys to Home Office Security (FirstPublish, 2001) and Your Profitable Home Business Made E-Z (Made E-Z Products, 2000). Jeff works from home in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Questions or comments? Write him at Jeff@goinsoho.com.

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