How To (Not) Set Up Your DSL Connection
Because I depend on the Internet for much of my work (contact with my editor, my agent, etc.), one of my primary concerns when I arrived in Casablanca was to get a DSL connection, and get it fast. So I went to a Maroc Telecom office on my first day in town, exhausted and jetlagged. I was helped by M., a prematurely balding, slightly overweight man, who was a little grumpy at first, but loosened up after I made a couple of jokes. I asked about getting a phone line set up and a DSL connection working, and was told it would take 48 hours for the former and up to 15 days for the latter. But, M. assured me, in most cases, customers are connected within a day or two.
“Fine,” I said. “I’d like to sign up today.”
M. picked up several forms, a couple of which were in triplicate, and lined them up neatly on the desk between us. “First, we need to prepare your contract.”
“Contract? What contract?”
“For receiving your service. It’s for two years.”
“A-sidi, I’m only here for nine months, to do research. Can’t you just bill me month to month?”
“No, that’s not possible. But you can sign up for one year if you like.”
Of course, it was significantly more expensive to sign up for the one-year contract than the two-year contract, not to mention buying a telephone and a modem. But even the one-year contract posed problems for me. “What do I do after my stay is over? I’m going to be vacating my apartment and can’t bloody well leave the phone and Internet behind for the next person.”
“I’ll tell you what you can do. You can file a change of address form and put down the address of a family member, and then they can have the Internet. When the remaining 3 months are completed, the contract is over.”
“And how do I transfer service to another address?”
M. proceeded to give me an explanation that made my head spin: I could already see that I would have to fill out more forms, in triplicate, and wait in line for hours, at God knew what other agency in town. I looked at the numbers again. I must have looked quite stricken at the choices before me, because M. began to chuckle lightly. “I have a feeling that I am swindling you,” he said.
Ah, finally, something on which we could both agree. “I have the feeling that I am being swindled.”
He laughed again. I did not. I was so desperate that I decided not to worry about what would happen at the end of my nine months here. I just wanted to deal with the problem at hand, so I gave him the money. Instead of giving me my 10 dirhams in change, he suddenly turned to me and asked, “Do you know about the annual campaign for solidarity? We’re selling these yellow badges for them. It’s a very good cause–the fight against poverty.”
I couldn’t say no to that. “How much is it?”
“Only 10 dirhams.”
“Fine,” I said. I took the badge from him. And then I noticed that he did not set 10 dirhams aside for the charitable donation I had just been forced to make. My contribution may well have gone to his personal fund. After we finished all the paperwork, M. finally went to the stock room to get me my DSL modem. I noticed that the box didn’t say whether the modem had an ethernet port, so I asked him if it had one. “Don’t worry,” he said, “it has everything you need to connect.” I thanked him and left.
A technician from Maroc Telecom called my cell phone while I was out, to see if he could come and install the phone line. I called him back at his number several times that afternoon. No one answered.
The technician called again, and this time I picked up. He arrived at our apartment after lunch time, looking sweaty and tired. I offered him some tea, but he turned me down, he was in too much of a hurry. He got started with the phone jack, opened it up, connected the wires, and did the same with the other outlet in our bedroom. Then he installed a DSL filter. I was so thrilled at the thought that we could connect to the Internet soon, that I gave him a nice tip, which he accepted.
Alex and I opened our DSL modem box, and, predictably enough, there was no ethernet port. So we went back to the Maroc Telecom office, together. As luck would have it, I was again sent to M.’s desk. I told him the modem he sold me wouldn’t work because it didn’t have an ethernet port, which I needed in order to hook up multiple computers (mine and Alex’s). He seemed a bit lost, but then he regained his composure, disappeared into the stock room, and came back with another, bigger box. “This modem,” he explained, “is what you need. We sell it to people who open cyber-cafes.”
“But I’m not opening a cafe with 20 computers. I just want something for 2 computers.”
“Okay, look, here’s the list of modem equipment you’re selling, and I can see that a couple of them have ethernet ports. Can you tell me which line on this list corresponds to the box you want to sell me?”
“I think it’s this one,” he said, pointing, a little hesitantly, to one of the lines.
“And how much is it?”
“Look, I can’t spend that kind of money and then find out it’s not the right modem.”
“Let me check.”
He turned to his colleague, a helpful young woman named S. She said she thought it was a completely different line on the form. So now I had two opinions from the Maroc Telecom agents, and no idea which modem they were trying to sell me, or whether it did indeed have an ethernet port. Alex joined the conversation at this point, and we had a four-way, three-language discussion for a few minutes, and still no solution. Finally, S. called someone she knew, a young man who owned a cyber-cafe. “Having lived in the States for many years,” she explained, “he will know what you two need.” Great. We thanked her, and went outside to wait for the man, who arrived in his car about two minutes later. We climbed in, and he drove us to his office, where we explained what we needed. He found us the right wi-fi DSL router, and said he’d even come and install it.
S. arrived mid-afternoon and installed our new router. We tested the connection, and it appeared to work. Disappointingly, however, it seemed quite slow. Later that night, it went down.
We still couldn’t connect, so I called the help line. The man at the other end was hurried, but very polite. “Madame, I see that you connected this morning at 8:46 am, so from my perspective it seems like everything is fine.” I checked my computer. Yes, it looked like we had been connected between the time I picked up the phone and the time I was helped.
“When did you install your DSL connection?” he asked.
“Day before yesterday.”
“They might not have finished setting you up, hence the complications. I would wait a day or two.”
We stayed connected for about 30 minutes, and then the connection went down. I called the help line again. This time, I got a very angry young man, who barked at me that everything was fine.
“It’s not,” I said. “Our connection is unstable. It’s up for half an hour at a time, and even when it’s up, it’s not fast.” The angry young man told me to check my connection speed by clicking on the appropriate icon of my Menara software, and then hung up. Big help that was.
Problems continued. We could not connect, or when we did, it was at a speed of 32k. I called the help line, and the young woman at the other end wanted me to click on some icon on my desktop that I did not appear to have. “If you installed your software right, you should have 4 icons.”
“I have 2.”
“Then you need to reinstall.”
It didn’t occur to her to ask me whether I was on a PC or a Mac. On my Mac, I only had the two icons. But I didn’t back down. “Look I don’t think it’s an installation problem. Can you please just send someone?”
“All right, Madame. Someone will be there within 72 hours.”
Days 7 and 8
We attempted repeatedly to connect. Whenever we did, it was at the ridiculous speed of 32k.
The technicians showed up just after lunch time, looking very grumpy and impatient. I tried to explain our problems, but they barely listened. They seemed to be following their own script for how to deal with customers. “You need a filter,” they announced within seconds.
“The one I have there,” I pointed out, “is the one that your colleague at Maroc Telecom installed.”
“He’s not our colleague. You need a filter.”
They rummaged through my modem box and found a different filter, which they plugged in. We tried to connect, but failed. Return to Start. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. They asked if we had any PCs at home. “No,” I said. They heaved a sigh, and pulled out their laptop PC from their bag and tried to connect. They managed to get on the Internet, but at the speed of 32k. Then one of them picked up our phone and made a long-distance call to the Rabat office to complain about the connection speed. While he was on the line with them, the connection went up to 1meg. He hung up. “It’s fixed,” he announced, and then they left hurriedly. The connection stayed up for about 3 hours after that, then went down.
By Day 10, I had resigned myself not to have a fast, reliable internet connection. I took my coffee into the living room and started to read the newspapers, having decided that I’d rather slit my wrists open than deal with a 32k connection. But Alex kept testing and trying to figure out what the problem was. After about an hour, Eureka!, he found that whenever the phone is off the hook, we can get a stable, 1 meg connection. Whenever we hang up, we are back down to 32k, or we get disconnected. This was why it was so hard to replicate the problem for all the agents and techies. Armed with this knowledge, we went back to the Maroc Telecom office one last time, and told them that we could only get connected if our phone is off the hook. They said they would send a tech. That was a week ago. So I am not holding my breath, I’m just keeping the phone off the hook. Don’t call me, people, I’m on the Internet.