I just fought an epic battle with Verizon. I thought I would document it here, and give some tips for power users. Get ready for a confusing and ultimately victorious account.
My Mom and I both moved into condos wired for FiOS already. When Mom called them to move her services, they told her they did not offer FiOS and to install a satellite dish on her roof. She informed them that condos don’t have roofs and called back. The next person told her that in fact they do offer FiOS and transferred her over. Since she had standard residential services things went easily. They did not go so easily for me.
I got FiOS in my old house as soon as it came out in 2009. Since I run a number of services on a Linux machine, I wanted a static IP. They did not offer that through residential and still don’t, so told me to get my internet through their business center. For a while I had that arrangement: a phone and cable bundle through residential, and my awesome unrestricted internet through business. It got a little confusing having two bills, but it worked.
When I moved, I wanted to see about trimming things down, consolidating things, and saving money. They told me what they told me before, and I left my services intact and just had things transferred. I figured I would deal with modifications after the move since I had enough else to deal with. In retrospect I should have just switched everything over to residential then. It would have saved me a lot of problems and money.
The Verizon techs came at 08:30 A.M. on the day after I moved and installed my services. They did an awesome job putting up with my weird demands, such as wanting to use my own router. I also asked them to run an ethernet instead of a coaxial connection, which they did. They also ran a phone cord so I’d have it by my computer. The poor guy expended the most effort installing the stupid cable box. I kept telling him I could hardly use the damn thing anyway since I can’t see its visual menus, but it didn’t matter. He wanted it working! It just would not work and they did not give him the right tools. Verizon take note: your techs feel under-equipped unhappy! Still, the guy did his best and finally left at around 05:00 in the evening.
About a week ago, I got my bill for the business internet. It had a $99.99 charge for the stupid router they give to everyone that I won’t use anyway. It also had a $149.99 activation charge for the internet. I did not want to pay either of these charges. The activation fee seemed especially annoying. They never said anything about that!
The calls started on Monday. I took care of the router easily enough. They said they would send a return kit and I just can send that back and they will refund the charge. Good enough. The activation charge came from the fact that I had a single service on business, the internet. I explained my configuration to them but it mattered not. So it begins.
After a lot of talking, the people in the business center said I could bring my phone over to business, then pay $127.99 a month for those. I would lose cable but I would save money and I don’t watch cable much anyway. That sounded good. They said they would transfer me back to residential, where I would cancel my order for those services. Then, business would pick up that order and move them over to their side. It sounded a little complicated but I did.
It took them ten minutes to disconnect everything. I felt kind of amazed and the tech in business agreed. He had given me his email address and this remained my sole way of correspondence through this madness. At least that worked. He asked if I could move it to Thursday. This happened on Monday. He said they needed 3-5 business days. I called back Residential, but everything had gone through. Business told me that they would proceed as fast as they could.
On Tuesday I got another email. “We have a problem.” I could not have my old phone number, the number I’ve had for over twenty years. It seems residential uses digital voice and business does not. He gave me a choice: either proceed and lose my beloved number, or cancel the order. This would mean reverting to the previous billing configuration as well. I decided to revert and consider my options. I felt angry and needed dinner.
After some time I realized what I had to do. I had to transfer my internet to residential so I could take advantage of a bundle. I would just have to put up with the stupid limitations of a residential connection, including a dynamic IP and port 25 blocking. I’ll go over how to circumvent these problems later. The more I thought about it the more sensible it seemed.
Wednesday came and I had no phone services. I would have to use a low quality cell connection to do everything. The iPhone rules, but a cell phone sounds like a cell phone. I emailed my contact in business and told him I had no phone service, and asked if he had cancelled the order. He wrote back that he had. I figured they just had to get everything connected or whatever. The day ended, but I still had no phone service.
By Thursday I had enough! I got an email back saying that business had cancelled the order, but I would have to call residential to get my service turned back on. Now that I look through previous emails it does say that I would have to call residential, but the full meaning of this didn’t quite hit me until then. So I sat for a day without service just because of this little misunderstanding.
Verizon has a serious communication problem between their departments. The residential side cannot access the business side, and the business side cannot access the residential side. This proved an increasing source of frustration. I began getting bounced around so much I don’t even know what happened or who I talked to. I remembered that part from The Pirates of Silicon Valley when Steve Jobs yells: “You people are a bunch of clock punching morons! I need Artists!”
At one point I found myself talking to someone in residential about my plan. She told me I could do it, and that she would conference us in with the retention department in the business center. This would coordinate the cancellation of my business internet with the activation of my residential internet. That sounded great. The phone rang. A woman from business picked up. The woman from residential had vanished! No! I felt trapped and alone. I could hear Hunter Thompson yelling: “You scurvy shyster bastards! I’m a doctor of journalism!”
The woman in business listened to the story so far and seemed to offer a ray of hope. She said that they could transfer me to business after all, but it just takes a little more work. I began to get excited. She put me on hold. She came back and said some encouraging things. She put me on hold again. She came back and told me that she didn’t realize I had a phone number from another area and that in fact they could not do it after all oh sorry. I told her of my plan to transfer my internet to residential, then get a bundle and have the activation charge waved. She said it would work, but that I would have to talk to someone in residential to get the activation fee waved. Finding ourselves back at square one, she transferred me back to residential. At least she had a good attitude.
I found myself talking to a new woman in residential. I explained my story for the seventy-eighth time. She sympathized, and we talked about the various bundles they offer. She sold me the fastest internet they offer (35 mbps up/down), telephone, and cable for $99.99. This sounded great. SHe understood about transferring the business internet. She gave me a temporary phone number, and assured me that I would have my old number back in a day or so. She told me I could keep the DVR I already had. This sounded great. I asked her about getting a refund for the activation charge. I told her what the business people had said. She told me that I had to talk to them since the charge happened on my business account, but they would do it now that I had placed this order. I began to get a headache. This did not sound so great. Back to Business.
The guy in business seemed to have a problem with his computer. It “crashed” for lack of a better word. I sat on hold for a while looking at dynamic DNS providers. After a while, he came back on and said that he had to reboot the system. After more time past, he said that he would have to try to place the order later. He assured me that he would have it placed by 08:00 AM, in time for the residential internet. I could only hope for the best, and say a quick prayer to Goddess. The image of a crazy woman goddess of confusion ruling over the material world made perfect sense, completely reaffirming my faith in Discordianism.
I then brought up the $149.99 activation charge, since now I had proof that I had internet through them in the form of the order number. He brusquely told me that they could not just credit my account. I explained that I had simply transferred my service, and at no point did anyone mention anything about a $150 activation fee. If they had, surely I would have just gone with residential to start with. He insisted that he could not credit me, since I had purchased a new installation of a single service. I insisted that residential told me that business had to credit me, since the charge happened on a business account. That made logical sense, so it meant nothing. After bantering back and forth, he finally agreed to roll back the order to the beginning of the month, which would credit me for that month’s worth of internet, around $109. We said our good byes. By this point I had to take a shit, so did.
On Friday I woke up and to my delight, found all my services working, though with a few little glitches. I had to reconfigure my router which went flawlessly. I also had to update addresses in a few servers, perfectly normal. I still had my temporary number, but that would get resolved. I had done it. I had won the battle and with a few easy technical tricks, retained my power. Now I will show you how.
First, I will share a tip anyone can use. It involves updating your DNS server. If you don’t know how a DNS server works, then for the sake of the internet’s freedom please learn. Basically, a DNS server takes an internet domain name such as “behindthecurtain.us” and resolves it into a string of numbers called an IP address like “126.96.36.199”. To find out these numbers, your router contacts a DNS server. By default, Verizon FiOS routers come configured to use special Verizon servers with some nasty little surprises. Thiese servers give Verizon an easy way to know every single domain name you visit. They also help target the advertisements you see when you type an incorrect URL. Fortunately, you can fix this rather easily.
First, log into your router. You do this by going to a web browser and opening its address. If you don’t know the address try 192.168.1.1, or check the documentation which came with it. Now find where you enter the DNS servers. If you use the shitty router they give you, just go to the My network icon, and then click Network Connections on the left menu. Now find your connection. Look for something like “Broadband” which shows as connected. Go down to settings and choose the DNS servers from the drop down menu. I ripped off these instructions from this article. By contrast, if you use Tomato USB as I do, go to Basic, then Network. So simple. If you have a different router, just find where you’d enter the DNS. If you used the settings Verizon gave you, then you will see a sequence of numbers ending in “.12”. Change the 2 to a 4 so it reads “.14”. This uses Verizon’s DNS servers without the nastiness. You could also use a service like Open DNS. if you wish. Bottom line: get off the default servers.
Now we will discuss IP addresses, the things domain names resolve to. Business FiOS offers static IPs. This gives an easy way to refer to a machine which would never change. Residential does not offer this service. It offers dynamic IPs. These addresses come from a pool, and renew often. I knew I would need to use a service which would give me a constant domain name which would resolve to my changing dynamic IP.
A number of these Dynamic DNS services exist. I worried about using one. Would a stream of data continue without interruption? Could I get it working easily? Would it cause everything to break? I wrestled with these questions and battled with CAPTCHAs. I finally settled on NoIP, because they had a number where I could talk to a human who helped a blind user set up a free account to get free services. Very nice! Tomato once again came to my rescue, as it has a NoIP client built right in. THis means that I do not have to run some program on a computer which could fail, it runs right on my router. And I feel pleased to say that everything works flawlessly.
We will now dive into the mysterious world of port 25 blocking. Most residential internet service providers, including Verizon, block port 25, used for sending email. They had to start doing this when lots of Windows machines began getting infected by malware which turned the machines into hapless little spam zombies, running their own miniature mail servers and pumping out spam. Once again Windows caused the problem! THis block means that you can send email through Verizon’s servers, but cannot connect to any other mail server. This means if you use your own mail servers you run into a problem. I did not invest hours of my time just to use some other mail server, so I resolved to fix this.
The easiest way around this problem involves not using port 25 at all. Using SSL uses alternate ports, and gives you a more secure connection. If you use Postfix, just uncomment these lines in /etc/postfix/master.cf. This will allow you to connect on port 465 and 587. Remember to update your mail clients to use SSL.
smtps inet n – – – – smtpd
If you use another mail server, you could always write a port forwarding rule in iptables. To do this just run:
# /sbin/iptables -t nat -I PREROUTING -p tcp –dport 465 -j REDIRECT –to- port 25
Which redirects all requests from port 465, the alternate SMTP port, to port 25 internally.
That will do it for the tech tips. I hope you enjoyed them and learned something useful. I also hope you learned something from my battle with Verizon. You know you’ve talked to them too much when you have their hold music in your head.