01 August 2010

My Rocky Russian Road to a Better Internet Connection

The Modem Works With No Phone Lines

Petersburg dial-up challenging...

We arrived clueless in 2000 about connecting our Compaq laptop to the internet.  An old boss of Larissa’s invited us to see how dial-up worked in St Petersburg.  Like a child that won’t talk when you want it to, he had trouble connecting.  But he still recommended Comsat as he had good experience with their dial-up system.

So ignorant we lugged our computer to the dial-up office!

We took our computer to Comsat to set up their dial-up card.  On our second trip, the helpful employee Alexei suggested we could buy the card anywhere, and I could leave the computer home. 
I stayed with Comsat a few years, and then got adventurous... pricing cards for the best deal.

Cable in St Petersburg spreads building by building...

Why dial-up?  Easy.  There were no cable companies operating in our building.  Now we have three... Matrix, Eltel, and Inter-Zet.  My daughter-in-law in the next building has Inter-Zet, with WI-FI.

Phone lines rationed, not promoted...

We were still in America when once we were talking about how people can monopolize the phone. 

I said to Larissa, If you and your daughter had problems sharing a line, why didn’t you get another for her use?” 

  Larissa replied, It doesn’t work that way in Russia.  If you are relatives sharing an apartment the phone company will not give you a second line.  They are providing phone service to capacity and see no incentive in providing extra lines.”

In New Jersey it’s easy to get a line just for your computer.  In SPb, Larissa and I had to share one line, checking with each other if if was an OK time to make a phone call or dial-up to the WWW. 

It’s hard to keep a good woman off the phone!

People in St Petersburg love to chat on the phone for hours.   Until recently there was no possibility of extra charges no matter how long you talked.  We have a joke about this...

A Russian man said to another, “My wife spends hours in the kitchen.”  The other said, “So, your wife loves to cook?”  The first replied, “No, that’s where the telephone is.”

 Cell Phone Internet

Last summer a few people in the village had rough reception of the internet by plugging a wire to their cell phone and computer.  This system is hardly worth the trouble as sites take so long to load.

Internet modems new to Russia 2010...

The TV this summer has ads introducing the internet modem, seeking the youth market.   This system is  slower than broadband, less reliable, and  expensive.

But cable or even dialup is still not available in a large part of Russia. Little villages such as ours do not have a phone system, so there is no way to use dialup.

Three major cell phone companies... Beeline, MTS, and Megafon... have put their brand on modems from Huawei or ZTE, China. Typical of Russia, each modem will only accept that company’s transmissions.  Once you buy the modem for around $30, you are less likely to switch to another company. 

In Zaloza, Beeline has excellent tower placement, but MTS is a problem for our neighbor.   He can only get reception if he takes his laptop out of the house.

Being the first year in Russia, the instructions on the web and in the manual are difficult to follow.  It appears that the writer is unfamiliar with modems, can't write clearly, and doesn’t include the small important tips that make the service easy to use.

Trouble In Paradise!

Sasha, a Zaloza friend, said last summer that this technology would be in Russia  by 2010.  I always took a summer break from the internet, but decided that since we planned to be away longer this year I would bring the computer and try to connect.

In Russia, you need to show your passport to buy cellular time.  Larissa purchased the Beeline modem and cellular plan.

OK plan, but wrong personality...

The literature and online instructions talked about megabytes and gigabytes which, along with the Russian, got me confused.  The plan which I figured would last a month I brought down to zero in 10 days!

We buy a new plan I can’t burn up...

Larissa in Peno bought an unadvertised Without Limit Plan from Beeline for the same monthly cost as our cable plan at home, 399 rubles.

I renew the Without Limit Plan with help...

This is a carefree plan that I recommend.  I went to the Beeline office, inside a children’s clothing store, to renew.  Katya runs the one person office, alternating with Marina.  She closed the office so she could show me where to pay.

A teenager sits by the bread in a producti, food store, and takes payments for all the cell phone companies.  She didn’t understand my Russian, so I returned to Katya.  She again closed her store, and accompanied me to the producti, took my money, paid for the renewal.   Now, that’s good service!

My modem stops blinking on July 1! 

I had connection problems before but by hacking and doing work-arounds I was able to use Beeline up to then.  My second plan was to expire July 3, but it seemed  curious that it was turned off with a Connection Terminated announcement on July 1.

We discover that Beeline has the old “try and get your money back” attitude still found in much of Russia.

In fairness, return procedures in St Petersburg in the large stores are much easier to fulfill.  In all stores, you must have a receipt (often small and easily lost, sometimes with no company name).  No one will apologize for your inconvenience... Customer satisfaction only goes just so far.

Sasha crosschecked our modems on both computers.  My modem wasn’t working.  We sent a package by returning taxi to eventually get to the Beeline office.

 Hurdle 1.  Larissa got a ride into town to get a new working modem.  First they checked my modem, and yes, it was dead.   Then Marina asked for numbers from the original box.

Hurdle 2.  Now, I hate to keep empty boxes... which is the opposite of the Russian personality.  I used sissors  to clip the relevant information and burned the rest of the box.  Luckily, just recently, I found a small sticker in my papers with two long numbers.  This had the numbers Larissa needed. 
Are they making up things as they go along?  They also said they wanted the box.  There is nothing that says that the guarantee requires the original uncut box.

Hurdle 3. The Beeline Office начальника , nachnika, or boss, on a routine trip to the Tver office would ask approval to give a new modem.  Only then would we get a replacement.    On hearing this further requirement, Larissa followed my instructions and said, “Forget it...  Just sell me a new one.” 

The reply, “Oh, no.  You can’t do that because then we can’t use the pin number again!”  Notice the first concern was their administrative needs, not customer centered service.

I insisted we follow my old insurance boss’ advice to not waste time with the lower echelon, but go to the top.  We asked Katya for the boss’s phone number, and to my surprise, she gave us number and name.  In Russia employees are usually instructed to never give such information.

The local Beeline boss sounded scary, but was helpful...

He agreed to my suggestion to sell us a new modem, and if they ruled in our favor, to return our money for the defective modem.  In the meantime they took money for a new modem, but gave us a used one from their office.

A week later the Tver office said to go ahead and give us a new modem.  We were refunded our recent payment and the original card was now at home in it’s third modem.  It was delivered to us unwrapped, just as was the used one.

After 30 minutes it began to work.  Except half a month lost on card for the month, we lost no money.

No apology necessary...

But none of the three employees apologized for the dead modem and resulting inconvenience.  A customer sold a defective product deserves considerate care, not cross examination.  How could anybody profit by returning a dead modem?

If they applied common sense they would see that there is no way to scam Beeline by returning dead modems and that criminals have not found a new way to get rich.

I understand the Beeline modem better.  I’m grateful  the system is working well.  Knock on wood that it will continue to work until we leave the village in September! 


Some questions...

How’s your experience with connecting to the internet? 

Is it always easy in the USA?
When were modems introduced in your country?

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  1. Well, I lived in the rural area close to the biggest Russian city in the Urals. I work in Ekaterinburg, and Internet connection is ok there. It's 2010 and there's nothing to complain about. But leaving the city when the working day is over I go back home to a small town, where you can forget about the modern civilization achievements. For a couple of years, in 2004-2006, I had to use dial-up connection, waiting for hours when my page would open... Then came a happy alternative - ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) Internet... Works very well for those, who have a telephone line, but no broad band. The speed is ok, the phone is never busy and the price is satisfactory... Actually the unlimited Internet access in Russia costs about 500 RUR per month. Then we moved to the urban area of the same small town hoping we would have no problems with Internet connection... But the huge multistorage house turned out to have no cable Internet providers... Unbelievable... So, we had to buy a Beeline modem... Gosh, how slow it was! Plus, we found out that the connection sets up only when you sit in the kitchen with your laptop. How irritating! To send/receive mails it took about half an hour... To work "home office" with such a speed was out of the question. In about a month we moved to another appartment just 1.5 km away from the other one and there we have 2 cable internet providers and our Beeline modem works very well. So, now we are happy having a good speed internet, and when we forget to pay in time for our unlimitied plan, we can use the modem to transfer the money from our internet bank to the account of the provider. The connection is restored within a minute after you call the operator and ask him/her to unlock your account. So, that is the story of the happy user :o)

  2. American Russia ObservationsThursday, August 26, 2010

    Thank you Ann for a very interesting comment! You too have dealt with the vagaries of the Russian internet for many years... with persistence, determination, and intelligence.

    ADSL is new to me, and probably would have saved some years of awkward sharing of one phone line.

    I hope you continue to comment when you see an item you'd like to share about.


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