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Reality Check
May 2003

Robert Vahid Hashemian SOS For OSS


We like to think that Internet telephony technologies have had a lot to do with the positive strides that have been made so far in the telecom arena. Today, the cost of telecommunications is much lower than a decade ago, but not all is rosy. If you want to make changes to your calling plans, add features to your service, or investigate your service options, chances are you need to call your phone company during business hours, endure long periods of on-hold music, wrestle with an agent to correctly identify yourself, and wrestle some more to get the answers you need. If I can do my banking online, book my vacation online, buy cars and houses online, and find a spouse online, why can�t I access -- and manage -- my phone services online?

Here�s a recent story of what it took to change my long-distance carrier at home.

The offer, like many others, came in the mail with the promise of a low cost calling plan. It seemed the right time for us to switch our long-distance carrier and give this new kid on the block a chance to prove itself. We had relatively decent service with our existing provider, but their prices had slowly crept up higher in what seems to be a widespread deceptive tactic by many. So that made the decision to switch easier. What follows is an account of what happened between the time I requested the switch until the time it was successfully made.

Day 1: I alerted the new company to switch over our long-distance service. An e-mail came back indicating that the transfer would take about a week.

Day 4: Received a congratulatory e-mail indicating that the cutover had been successful. Account and other relevant information was included. I could now check my account information and call details online. I was impressed.

Day 5-20: Long-distance calls were going through and the service was fine. There was no evidence of any calls when I checked my account online. Maybe it took a while for them to set it up for new customers, I thought.

Day 21: Received a bill from my previous long-distance carrier. No surprise there. There must have been a few remaining calls between the last bill and the date of the switch. Upon closer inspection, I noticed calls with dates after the date when the switch was confirmed. I began to doubt whether I was really switched over.

Day 22: Called the original long-distance carrier inquiring about the charges. Sure enough I was on their books. I asked for my account to be removed. They directed me to my local telephone company to make that happen. I called the new long-distance company and requested an update of my status. As far as they could tell, everything was fine and I was on their system as confirmed by my local telephone company. How could I have two different preferred long-distance carriers at the same time? The new company promised that a technician would call me back with answers within six hours.

Day 24: They must have meant six Jupiter hours because I still hadn�t received the call, so I called them back and was connected to a technician. He surmised that something had gone afoul with the local phone company and promised to re-submit the request. I had to wait a week for the switch to complete.

Day 25-32: Long-distance calls were still going through but there was no sign of any call details on the new carrier�s Web site.

Day 33: Called the new carrier again and inquired about the progress. �We are your preferred carrier,� the agent exclaimed proudly. �No you are not!� I exclaimed back. A quick check of my call logs revealed that there were no, well� call logs. Point proven, I was connected to a new technician. At least he was honest. After a virtual head scratching followed by a few stammers he conceded defeat. He couldn�t explain why I was on their system, yet another outfit was carrying my calls. He advised I call my local phone company and get some answers from them. He also gave me a carrier code to which my local phone company should have set my long-distance service. Armed with that information, I called my local carrier. It was after-hours; office closed until Monday.

Day 36: Contacted my local carrier, confident that the new code would be my salvation. Imagine my surprise when I was told that the code in my record was correct and matched the one I had been given by my new long-distance carrier. I pleaded with them to look deeper. This just didn�t make sense. How could the code be correct and my calls are routed to the wrong carrier? She speculated that a piece of hardware deep in the bowels of the switch rooms might have hiccupped creating this condition. She re-entered the code and assured me that things would be rectified after four days.

Day 40: Things are definitely not rectified. I am still on the old long-distance carrier�s system. I contact the local carrier. Now it was their turn to concede defeat. And that meant that the whole process was hopeless. Some stubborn hardware was refusing direct commands and there was nothing I could do about it. I wanted to beg them to reboot all their switches, I wanted to cancel my phone number and start with a new number, and most of all I wanted to scream. Ultimately I decided to take one last shot. I requested the local carrier to wipe my long-distance code clean. �Do you realize you won�t have any long-distance service?� they asked incredulously. That night I had to deliver the bad news to my wife. She couldn�t call her mother for a few days. This was a calamity of immense proportions.

Day 45: I was now on borrowed time with my wife and the pressure was growing intense. I contacted the new long-distance carrier and requested for yet another switch attempt.

Day 49: The good news came to me at work in the form of a phone call from my wife. I was in the clear on that front, but was I now with the correct long-distance carrier?

Day 51: Call logs began to appear on the new long-distance carrier�s Web site. The nightmare was finally over.


Turns out that my dilemma was due to the poor execution of the OSS (Operations Support System) at the main carrier that both my old and my new long-distance companies used for routing their customers� calls. The code I was given really belonged to the this top-tier carrier and it was the same code used by my old long-distance company and the new one. This carrier, who has been in bankruptcy for some time, was unable to correctly transfer my record from the old company to the new company and therefore I continued to be billed by the old company. Perhaps the top-tier carrier is short on resources or personnel. But then I started thinking. In this day and age where the Internet has become an integral part of our lives, why can�t I be trusted to manage my telephone services from a Web interface? Why can�t the OSS be outfitted with hooks to give customers freedom to view, choose, and activate their desired services and features themselves in real-time? Maybe someday.

Robert Vahid Hashemian provides us with a healthy dose of reality every other month in his Reality Check column. Robert is Webmaster for TMCnet.com -- your online resource for CTI, Internet telephony, and call center solutions. He is also the author of the recently published Financial Markets For The Rest Of Us. He can be reached at [email protected].

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