“We are experiencing technical difficulties…”

Those of us “of a certain age” or older (born before Apollo 17, the final NASA manned moon landing) remember when a television network feed was interrupted by weather, solar flares, mechanical issues, or occasional human error. A “Please Stand By” graphic appeared on the TV screen and an announcer would intone in a deep, serious, ceremonial voice “We are experiencing technical difficulties…please stand by”. The announcement repeated every few minutes until the station either regained the feed or switched over to alternate programming. They acknowledged the problem, worked on a resolution, and used the announcement to let us know they had not forgotten about us.

Technology improvements through the decades have nearly rendered technical difficulties obsolete, at least for “Over The Air” (OTA) broadcasting. The same is not true for cable TV transmissions or streaming video. Once signal drop happens, there is no warning, no acknowledgement of a problem or a resolution; it just stops working. Compounding the matter is many cable subscribers have Internet, television, and telephone bundled together. When it works, it works well, but when it fails, it fails completely.

Business class Internet provider service level agreements (SLA) usually stipulate 99.9% availability. I was an IT manager for almost ten years and signed several of these agreements. Simple arithmetic shows that the 0.1% allowed downtime per day is 86.4 seconds (60 seconds per minute × 60 seconds per hour × 24 hours per day = 86,400 seconds; 0.1% = 0.001, so 0.001 × 86,400 = 86.4). During a standard contractual year of 365¼ days, the allowed downtime is 8 hours, 45 minutes, 57.6 seconds (86,400 seconds per day × 365.25 days per year = 31,557,600 seconds; 0.001 downtime is = 31,557.6 seconds; 31,557.6 ÷ 3600 seconds per hour = 8.766 hours).

Consumer class Internet service does NOT have SLAs. I have Comcast for my cable, Internet, and telephone services, and there is no uptime guarantee. If I need an uptime guarantee, I could upgrade to their Business Class services for considerably more money per month. I could not find consumer SLAs for Dish Network, Charter, Century Link, Frontier, or Knology, though it is possible SLAs exist. The providers assume “it just works” and that people can call in and navigate several minutes of automated phone before being queued to a human in a call center 10,000 miles away. After all, everyone has a smart phone and a smart phone provides voice service in the “unlikely” event something is amiss. This is not a rant against Comcast, for until last Friday they provided reliable service, and the replacement cable telephony modem appears to have solved my issues. However, I was surprised at the dearth of consumer SLAs for these services even though a consumer is locked into a contract for a prescribed time frame.

Service level agreements are based on trust. The service provider trusts the service they are providing meets or exceeds the SLA parameters. They trust outages rarely occur, but are quickly resolved, oftentimes with no noticeable interruption to the customer. The customer trusts the service provider to honor the SLA. Because of this trust, the business customer is allowing the service provider to handle a critical piece of the business’s communications infrastructure. It is puzzling why Comcast et al. do not seemingly trust their consumer services enough to back them with an SLA. Perhaps they know something that we do not know.

Trust is very important to us. We trust our family to nurture us and love us unconditionally, and I am fortunate that mine does. We trust health care providers to care for us when we are vulnerable because of illness or injury. We trust public safety to protect us when we are in peril. We trust a particular product brand because of reputation. We trust a service provider to provide the best possible service. Trust is difficult to earn and easy to destroy.

Finally, we trust our friends. Trust in our family may have its origins in preservation of the species, but we choose our friends, and we hope we choose them wisely. We trust our friends with critical pieces of our internal infrastructure: our hopes and dreams, our worries and fears, our strengths and weaknesses, our secrets. We trust our friends to cheer us up when we are feeling down, to celebrate our victories, to help us see things from a different perspective, to listen when we need to talk, and to be good company when we are lonely. There is no formal signed contract needed because our friends provide these services willingly. Any unresolved violation of our perceived terms of service result in the friendship terminating. This is why ending a friendship is almost as devastating as a loved one’s death. Our friends become part of us.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow in the United States. My post from last Thanksgiving is still timely. We should take time and be thankful for the people we chose as our friends, and for those people who trust us to be their friends. That trust helps us get through our life journeys.

Give your loved ones a meaningful hug, try to stay away from retailers open on Thanksgiving Day, stay warm, don’t eat too much, and celebrate your thankfulness for being together! If you have a friend or loved one who cannot be with family tomorrow, try to give that person a call or better yet, try to include that person in your celebration. Those people make your life better by being part of it, and that is definitely something to celebrate. You can trust me on that.

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