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May 17, 2007

Sympatico bites

After six years as a Sympatico high speed customer I am about to cancel my account. For years, Sympatico was a unique brand under the Bell umbrella for providing excellent reliability and technical support albeit for more than twice what some of its new broadband competitors charged. The combination of excellent support and the bother of changing to a new internet provider kept me a loyal customer even through the last six months of increasingly poor reliability.

Sympatico is now truly a Bell product. The last three weeks of rude and incompetent technical support has destroyed years of brand loyalty. Last night's performance left me reaching for the blood pressure medication after I was told that not only could Sympatico not get my four day old modem working but that the issue would not be forwarded to another technical support agent, to Bell Canada for a line check (this was the problem on Sunday and we have had a storm since) or followed up in any way. This combined with no reply whatsoever to Monday's emails to Sympatico Customer service means this is the end of the line. And now I am no longer bound to Bell for my telephone line I expect I will switch it too just as I switched to a competitor's long distance service several years ago.

Bell: This is why you are going out of business.

I would be grateful for Toronto-based Flea-readers for suggestions regarding an alternative high speed internet carrier. I would prefer to avoid Rogers but any port in a storm. At least with Rogers you know exactly how bad the service is going to be in advance. My apologies in advance for any disruption to Flea-posting.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at May 17, 2007 07:31 AM


Oh Sympatico sucks.. Royally.

We moved to the sticks two years ago and tehy promised me high speed availability in 6 months.. from that point on they would not give me a firm yes or no as to when the hell I would get it. Then, they cancelled satellite high speed availability via ExpressVu as it cut into their dialup revenue.. They treat you like garbage and a moron when you call and they are now bound at the hip to MSN which further sucks.. argh

Posted by: Gorthos [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2007 09:27 AM

I wondered why the installation disc for the non-working replacement modem included an MSN package. Though seeing as the software will now not accept my six year old log-in password it is a moot point.

I have now called and canceled my account; this after a perfunctory, meaningless apology from their customer service. My second clue was the dedicated voice mail line for canceling accounts. My first was the fact the post office recognized my modem swap package before I made it to the counter.

See you in Hell, crap high speed service providers!

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2007 09:40 AM

I have bounced my wireless and internet services from Rogers to Bell to Rogers to Bell to Rogers in the past decade and a half. Throughout the Nineties and early Aughts both service providers were pretty thoroughly annoying when it came to support or customer service.

I'm not going to say Rogers is flawless now, but they have improved a lot. Internet-wise, I called them once after the move to High Park (to coordinate the addition of the roommate's e-mail account on to our service) and haven't had to call them since.

I have seen one (1) DNS outage on Rogers so far and that was last summer, lasted two or three hours. Other than that, no technical issues that can be pinned on them.

There are two caveats I would offer for Rogers net service:

1) They do monitor and meter usage, so if you go over your monthly 60 GB allotment on a regular basis, you will be compelled to step up to a more expensive plan with greater (100 GB) bandwidth limits.

2) They do bandwidth shaping, which is to say, a certain peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol is intentionally limited. You can get around this by using a client that encrypts its feeds, or by switching the client to use port 1720 (which Rogers uses for VOIP and doesn't limit). Given how easy it is to get around the shaping, I don't understand why they even try.

Some of my less careful pals have been involuntarily upgraded to Hi-Speed Extreme (100 GB/mo limit) because they routinely blow through the 60 GB/mo limit for the other Rogers plans. If this happens, Rogers will send you an e-mail enumerating what your usage has been for the past couple of months, and why you're getting shoved onto the Extreme plan whether you like it or not. A one-time overlimit will not get you upgraded but if you do it pretty consistently then it's all but inevitable.

I haven't been compelled to do so because I monitor our net usage like a hawk, and even with a daily Skype user and near-daily VPN user on premises, the bandwidth totals for all three of us rarely exceed 15-20GB a month. This month we'll probably top out at 50GB but that's only because I could not avoid a giant, one-time 30GB network transfer to the office.

Speed is good even if one of us is on Skype and the other two are listening to net radio. If you have flatmates who like to do peer-to-peer file stuff, note that it is absolutely horrid on bandwidth and will (even on a full-duplex gig ethernet connection) make it pretty impossible to email and do other net work. So that needs to be bandwidth-limited within the client configuration.

The most limiting factor is whether or not you have gigabit ethernet on the internal network, and whether your router has to step down from gigabit to 10/100mbit to go to the cable modem. Since I've replaced the old 10/100 connection to the modem with gigabit, I have noticed an increase in regular net traffic speeds.

Posted by: Chris Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2007 10:40 AM


Let's see... Even given my prodigious internet use for video, internet radio and all the music work I do I doubt I would blow the monthly 50Gb limit; it would be great if Rogers sent a warning email at, say, 45Gb rather than a post-facto notice though I expect that is contrary to their business interest. The main thing to figure out is the cable itself. I am not a cable subscriber so presumably I am looking at an internet plus cable package rather than internet on its own. My life without CNN has been wonderful and I am reluctant to bring the television monster back into my home! That said, I want a service I do not have to think about except to pay them and the regular service you describe would be a blessing after the last six months of constantly having to reconnect to Sympatico's server.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2007 10:50 AM

You can have their internet service without being a cable TV subscriber. So if you really don't want the TV bits you can do without it.

From the Rogers FAQs:

Do I have to subscribe to Rogers cable to get Rogers Yahoo! Hi-Speed Internet service ?

No, this is not mandatory. Should you wish to subscribe to Rogers Yahoo! Hi-Speed Internet, please call 1-888-ROGERS1 (1-888-764-3771)

... yadda yadda yadda. I am trying to figure out what Ted did to the organisation to make this sort of stuff possible. Whatever it is, it hasn't trickled down to the wireless side where we're still being bled dry for wireless data services.

Posted by: Chris Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2007 11:28 AM

Uhm I screwed up the HTML somehow there in the blockquote... sorry.

Posted by: Chris Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2007 11:29 AM

That is interesting as I have also had a wave of craptastic Sympatico highspeed servine including a simple inability to even connect. I take it as a sign that I have failed someone somewhere most days but maybe I should consider another supplier. I am a cable man, myself, baseball being all things so maybe Cogeco would be better - but how would I know. Is the shaping such that my nighbourhood might just get poor service no matter what? As usually, I know little about these things.

Posted by: Alan McLeod [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2007 11:49 AM

Note to Bell Sympatico Customer Service: In case you decide to read my correspondence with you and follow the link to this post you may be delighted to learn I have just purchased Rogers Express internet package. They gave me ten dollars off even though I did not subscribe through their internet offer - this more or less covers the installation fee - and will be arriving with my new modem on Saturday morning. That's Saturday morning of a long weekend, mind you, and I admit I am impressed.

More important, their customer service representative was a great sport when I explained my hostility to the entire Rogers brand and all their products. And how this was only countered by my newfound greater hostility to Bell Canada.

So that is C$600 dollars of business you are losing this year so far. Next up: Canceling my local Bell land-line.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2007 02:22 PM

The traffic shaping is not going to affect your TV or HDTV service at all. It is really only a factor for internet services, specifically one particular peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol. Some guys like Geist are complaining that it affects all of their encrypted traffic (e-mail, secure http, VPN etc) but I personally do not see any evidence of that. And I do a ton of VPN work from home all the time.

I don't know anything about Cogeco in Easlakia but friends in Weslakia (Oakville, Burlington and points west) seem to like it a fair bit. You should check around and see if there are reviews of Cogeco cable TV and net service, like these.

In the olden days the big caveat to cable was that the bandwidth was shared amongst everybody in a neighbourhood. And the big caveat to ADSL was that your bandwidth was your own, but you had to be within a certain range of the telecom hub in order to get the best service. Those are not as big a concern these days because Rogers and Bell have spent some dough expanding their capabilities. The DSL thing will still get you if you live out in the sticks (i.e. neighbours are cows), though.

One thing that cannot be predicted is how environmental factors (above/below-ground cable/phone lines, weather, critters) may have a huge effect on your cable or DSL service.

In my old Scarborough hood, the squirrels would routinely eat away the shielding covering the phone connection from the street to the house. After three or four repeat calls on successive weeks Bell started dispatching a van every two weeks whether I called them or not. You'd wander out back to BBQ something and some Bell dude would stroll into the backyard, wave 'hi' and start climbing the utility poles. Good on them, but you can imagine how infuriating the regular disruption in phone/data service becomes.

Similarly the cable lines are also aboveground and the squirrels would eventually get to them, too. For some reason they seemed to like them less, so I only had to call Rogers a half-dozen times to repair the lines.

You could always consult the neighbours and see if anyone is using the services/ISPs you have in mind, and if so, find out what they think of the service.

Posted by: Chris Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2007 02:26 PM

I am convinced half the problem with Sympatico was the physical connection to the building. Things are always worse when it rains... this explanation cut no ice with the Sympatico technical rep who wanted to religiously follow his checklist and have me boot to a saved configuration: Easily the worst feature of XP in my opinion and turned off in any case. This despite the fact the modem was only operational (briefly) after a call to Bell re. the line on Sunday. He checked the report and read it back to me as if somehow this would help.

But such is to wander into high blood pressure territory again.

I assume that by some time Saturday afternoon I will once again remember my loathing for Rogers. But given it is my impression most DSL providers are just renting Bell's lines - thereby adding another layer of incompetence to addressing any future problems - I will take my chances with cable for now.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2007 02:33 PM

Yeah the rain/outage correlation was something that led to my last Scarberia-based call to Rogers. That and the cable failing entirely not long afterward (both TV and data), resulting in cable dude being dispatched.

The exterior connection point had essentially rusted out after 10 or 20 years of service, and that whole junction-thingy got replaced. Service was fine afterward, rain or shine.

What I find most interesting is that High Park must have two or three times the pest-density of Scarborough-Southwest, and yet there's no squirrel-related service disruption that I can see. And this is despite the fact that the High Park neighbourhood is well-stocked with crazy old men and ladies who like to feed the pigeons, squirrels and raccoons right on their lawns. Acclimatising the pests to receiving food, gratis, from the human inhabitants.

Hmmm. Maybe that's the answer right there. Perhaps I didn't coddle the Scarborough squirrels enough.

Hey speaking of high blood pressure I should relate my all-time-favourite call to Sympatico HS tech support.

The modem had literally fried itself (although I didn't know it yet). Its indicator lights were functioning and it would maintain a connection for a couple of days but if you hit a couple of websites at once it would freak out and drop the connection.

So after an evening of powering it on and off and going through the Sympatico support basics on my own, I called Sympatico HS support. Get some French guy taking me through the basics, give me your Sympatico ID, make sure there are no splitters on the line, no other devices using that line, power the modem off, power modem on, etc. No change. Go through all the steps with the additional instruction to unplug the phone line completely. Done. French guy gets all indignant and says "If you have unplugged the phone line... how are you speaking to me now?!" On a mobile phone, jackass. Do you think I'd be stupid enough to call up on the land line when I know full well you're going to ask me if other devices are sharing that line? Geez.

Anyway it took about three months of calls like that before Bell dispatches a guy to check it out, thinking the line is bad. Takes him about 10 minutes to look into it and say "line's ok but the modem is toast. Here's your replacement." Gah.

To be fair I also fried a cable modem (Shaw, not Rogers), but the current Rogers modem (Toshiba pcx2600, probably the best of the Rogers-inventory DOCSIS 2.0 line) has been going strong since initial installation a couple years ago.

Posted by: Chris Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2007 03:27 PM


"You can get around this by using a client that encrypts its feeds, or by switching the client to use port 1720 (which Rogers uses for VOIP and doesn't limit)"

This does not work anymore, Roger truly is the borg and they have adapted, resistance is futile.

Posted by: Anrky [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 20, 2007 11:25 PM