PCCW Netvigator – You Make It So Easy to Hate You (and VPN Notes)

PCCW’s Netvigator Internet service enjoys a virtual monopoly for fixed line Internet services in the small villages located all around the New Territories.  And faithful (?) readers of this blog may recall that when I moved from Sai Kung to Lam Tsuen last year, it took PCCW more than a year to figure out how to get a line to my house – despite the fact that I’m in a ten year old house in a large village located right off a main road. I spent much of that year sending complaint letters to PCCW, the telecommunications authority, and members of Legco, not that it did me much good. But now it seems that PCCW is seeking their revenge.

I’ve been paying $190 per month for Netvigator’s Internet service. This gets me an ancient ADSL line advertised as being 8 Mbps, but in practice has never been more than 5 Mbps – and generally quite slower than that. I was told this was a special promotional price because I’m also a NOW-TV subscriber. And then, my contract expired. Even though I still subscribe to NOW-TV, I was told that the monthly cost of my Netvigator service would increase to $298 per month, a more than 50% increase. This is especially frustrating after hearing from a friend in Kowloon who pays $236 per month for a 500 Mbps line from Netvigator.

Me:

I have always paid $190 per month for my Netvigator service.  My contract is finished and I am told it will now cost $298 per month for a new contract. I don’t understand the reason for this price increase. Certainly the level of service has not increased. I am not going to get a 50% faster line, so I don’t understand why I would be charged 50% more.  Can you please explain this?

Them:

Please kindly be informed that our service plan price has been adjusted
as we need to constantly invest to improve our service, in order for us
to maintain a high quality of service. Our company started sending a
notice to customers by post one month before the price adjustment. We
deeply apologize for the inconvenience and confusion that we have
brought to you.

Improved service? I’d gladly pay more for a faster line, but they are only offering me the same service I’ve always had.

Me:

I still do not understand from your answer why I am being asked to pay 50% more for the same service.

Them:

With regards to your email, we are really sorry to learn of your
disappointment over the service fee adjustment. However, we regret that
because there has been a substantial increase in our costs, price
adjustments for some of our services have become necessary.

As soon as I received your email, kindly be informed that I have
immediately passed your contact number to our sales hotline department
for their follow up action and please be patience that our colleague
will get contact you and introduce you the promotional offers on your
interest.

Substantial increase?  Please be patience? If I’m Patience, will you be Felicity?

Me:

No one has called me yet.  

A friend of mine told me that he is a Netvigator customer and pays $236 per month for 500 Mbps.  Please explain to me again why you want to charge me $298 per month for a connection that is 98% slower than that.

After a few days, I received a phone call telling me that if I want to renew the contract, it will cost $298 per month. I said that was too expensive. The guy said, “Okay, bye, see you.” That was a great promotional offer, wasn’t it?

Them:

In regard to your concern, as to cope with constantly changing market
circumstances, we do provide different promotional offers in different
market segments from time to time.

Referring to the record, our sales colleague has contacted and provided
an available offer for your consideration.

Constantly changing market circumstances? Why do they keep throwing these empty marketing phrases at me?

Me:

Your sales colleague called and did not provide me with any promotional offer, just the same $298 price previously quoted to me. Which I have refused. It is too expensive.

Them:

Referred to your message, please note that I have checked with our sales
department and kindly be informed that they will arrange to contact you
again in order to introduce you more offer plans for your interest.

A few days later, another “sales colleague” called and again offered me the monthly rate of $298. When I again said it was too expensive, I was offered a “special promotional rate” of $268. Still too much.

Then it got a little bit weird. The PCCW drone suggested that I could continue to use the service on a monthly basis without a contract. I kept asking how much that would cost me every month and I couldn’t get a clear or simple answer to what I thought was a clear and simple question.  She seemed to suggest that without a contract the service would continue to cost me $190 per month. I’m sure this is not right.

So I’m waiting for my next bill to see how much it is before I decide on my next step.

Side note #1 – You only need service of 3 Mbps or greater in order to efficiently stream Internet video services such as Netflix. These companies have spent buckets of money in optimizing their services so that they’ll work for people with relatively low bandwidth. And even with my relatively slow line and routing through a US VPN service, I’m able to watch Netflix and Hulu smoothly for the most part.

However, 4K streaming is coming soon. That will required a sustained bandwidth of at least 15 Mbps. On this Akamai chart of which countries are ready for this kind of service, Hong Kong places third globally, because 26% of the population does get this kind of speed. (No surprise, South Korea is #1.)

I think this is good news. If PCCW wants to sell this service, they’re going to have to do more network upgrades. Though I’m sure such an upgrade for my village would be years away.

Side note #2 – So why continue my Netvigator service if my 4G service from SmarTone is working decently? I’m not sure this is entirely logical, but on my last visit to the US I bought a Roku streaming stick (it’s half the price of a Roku box). I want to watch Netflix and some of the other channels they stream on my TV, not on my computer monitor. There is no way to configure the Roku for a VPN or a proxy; it has to be done at the router level. But I don’t want to route all of my Internet stuff through a US-based VPN.  So to me, it seems to make sense to have one relatively low-cost Internet account and router dedicated for this. $190 a month is probably already crazy but I was prepared to go with that. At $268 or $298 a month, I need to decide if it’s really worth it.

The alternative, I guess, will be for me to give up the Netvigator account, get a small network switch, and still have a separate router with the VPN configured in it and use that for the streaming. I’ll save a bit of money, but I’ll be sharing that Internet connection with two other people in the house and not yet sure how consistent my speeds will be. I will test this out within the next few days.

Side note #3 – In terms of VPN providers, Unblock-Us requires you to log into your account via a browser every day. That’s because their service gets tied to your IP address but your IP address is dynamically allocated by your ISP, so it changes. Logging in via the browser authenticates this change.

VyprVPN looks very attractive (their US$9 a month service includes “Dump Truck,” their Dropbox-like service, with 25 gig of online storage) but they require that your router be flashed with dd-wrt. The process is not trivial  and for whatever reason, when I tried to do this with my router, I did not succeed and had to restore my router back to factory defaults (a very good example of a time when having multiple routers came in extremely handy).

If you’ve subscribed to a VPN in order to get around geo-checking, which one are you using?

PCCW / Netvigator – A High Quality of Service?

Following my previous post on Netvigator, I wrote an email to Netvigator customer service asking why they wanted to increase the price on my service by 50% while still offering the same service. Here is a part of the canned response I received:

Please kindly be informed that our service plan price has been adjusted
as we need to constantly invest to improve our service, in order for us
to maintain a high quality of service.

Said “high quality of service” where I live is an antiquated copper line advertised at 8 Mbps but in actuality never more than 5 Mbps for downloads, and well under 1 Mbps for uploads. For this they now want me to pay HK$298 (almost US$40) per month. I’m curious to know what this investment is. But I will never find out.

Bye Bye Netvigator

Netvigator is the name of the Internet service provided by Hong Kong’s largest phone company, PCCW. They have a virtual monopoly on delivering fixed line services in Hong Kong’s New Territories. Since they don’t face any substantial competition, they have no reason to upgrade their lousy service.

So while people on most of HK Island and in most of Kowloon can receive 1 Gigabit per second Internet service for around HK$200, up where I live we are offered an 8 Megabit per second Internet service for HK$298.  And Internet speed tests show I am lucky to get 5 Mbps download and well under 1 Mbps upload speeds.

Meanwhile, I have the 4G USB modem from SmarTone. I pay HK$220 per month for the 4G Internet service. Mobile Internet speeds can be affected by many factors, from weather to a double decker bus passing in between my house and the cell tower. But on average, I get better than double the speed from this than from Netvigator.

Actually for the past couple of months I’ve bridged my two Internet connections but I’ve only ever received a moderate boost from this.

So when I got the call from PCCW telling me that my contract had expired and asking if I want to renew it, it wasn’t a hard decision to make. The only real decision was how derisive to be on the phone to them. Since I’m in the office at work and screaming might attract unwanted attention, and since the girl had a cute voice, I just said “No thanks.”

Yes, I Still Hate PCCW

8 days since my last post?  I guess this is how it’s going to go for awhile, or maybe not. Things have been busy at work and in my spare time I’ve been busy with my Hong Kong Ink project. And my birthday’s coming up in 10 days and it’s a big one so I think I’ve been suffering from a bit of old-life crisis. So I tag a lot of things as potential blog posts and by the time I can circle back to them, they’re already too old and meaningless. But here’s one.

I thought all my issues with PCCW were over and done with. I think the last time a collection agency called me to say that they are after me for money that I “owe” PCCW for the year long period in which I got no service was about a month ago.

And then on Sunday night, around 7:30 PM – Easter Sunday, by the way – a phone call from 1000.  I take the call. I get some girl, very heavy accent, who tells me I owe them around HK$1,000 for NOW-TV service for the period ending in September 2013. I tell her I don’t owe them any money because I didn’t receive any service. She’s at a complete loss for words. Either she has never encountered this excuse before or she just doesn’t understand what I’m saying. So I tell her to go look at my file, and of course she doesn’t have that.  So she says she will call me back if she has any questions.

And then 10 minutes later she does indeed call me back. “Hello, this is PCCW again.” At that point I confess I lost it a little. I don’t believe I actually yelled, but I did say to her, “Do you realize that you are calling me on a Sunday night and that this is Easter Sunday?” “Oh. When should I call …” Click. I hang up. I may not be a Christian but it seems that I have to grab onto any advantage that I can at this point.

After that, I sent a string of emails to the telecommunications authority, Emily Lau and various PCCW managers, asking them how much longer I can expect this harassment to continue. It took until today (Wednesday) to receive answers, which include various promises that my account records have been corrected (for the tenth time) and also that I will not be charged for my NOW-TV and Netvigator service for March 2014 (when I actually did have service).

So that’s all good.

Except conference call tonight and we couldn’t get a decent connection going on Skype so I gave the people in Texas my land line number and then I ask my wife to pass me the phone and then she tells me that the landline hasn’t been working all day. And so, after I finish a couple more things tonight, I’ll have the joy of speaking with PCCW customer service yet again.

At least now (or in 10 days) I’m old enough to officially qualify as a cranky old man.

PCCW Sucks Even Worse Than Ever!

Oh, great. So now I get a letter from a collection agency telling me I owe PCCW $1,027 and have to pay within 7 days or face legal action. This $1,027 is for NOW TV and covers part of the period in which I had no NOW TV service but they continued to bill me. I had been told those charges would be cancelled but apparently not so much.

So I call the collection agency and they say I have to call PCCW. I call and get a guy and I say I have a problem with a bill. How can I help you with that bill, he asks.  Um, don’t you want to know who I am and what my account details are first? Oh, yeah.

So I give him this info and he says he will put me on hold to look up my profile and what is my phone number in case the connection is dropped.  So let’s get this straight. He has to put me on hold while he types in my 8 digit ID. And PCCW has so little faith in their phone lines that he needs my number just in case.

So he comes back on the line and then informs me that he is sales and needs to transfer me to customer service. “And is there anything else I can help you with today?” No. “Oh, and belated happy valentine’s day to you sir.” What. The. Fuck.

And so they transfer me to someone else, after 10 minutes of waiting. And he says he has my whole profile in front of him. That he can see the complaint letters I wrote. And that he can’t help me. That a “more senior person” needs to call me back.

Yes, I’ve also written yet another complaint to the OFCA, for all the good that will do me.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention, earlier today I received an email from someone at PCCW whose job title is Customer Experinence Advocacy.” What hope do I have if the guy can’t spell his job title correctly in his .sig?

UPDATE UPDATE: After emailing to PCCW (and copying in the OFCA), I received a reply tonight from PCCW (copying in the OFCA) apologizing and telling me that the waiver is “in progress.”

PCCW’s CNY Present to Me – Service

Well, the epic saga comes to an end. We now have a landline, Netvigator and NOW-TV.  It’s not all peaches and cream – you didn’t think I would suddenly become Little Mary Fucking Sunshine, did you?

PCCW timed it well. We returned from Paris on Tuesday morning and they called me when I was still at the airport. (Did they somehow know my flight itinerary? Do they have access to NSA data?) They booked the appointment for Thursday morning, between 10 AM and noon – which of course means that the guy didn’t show up until 2 PM. By 4 PM everything was connected and working. Thanks to the holiday eve, I was home from work by 6 PM to check things out.

Landline: I’d previously had two landlines. The reason for this was that I was carrying a second line for my domestic helper, long story. So when we told them we just needed the one landline in this place, the number they gave me was the number that my helper was using rather than the number I’ve been using since 2001 and the installer said he could only use that number. I can call PCCW and see if they can change it back. Should be fun. At least we managed to make them take back that useless Eye-TV crap they forced on me “for free” two years ago.

NOW-TV: Of course my wife is thrilled to have GMA-TV again. But several years ago, for reasons I no longer recall, I’d subscribed to a whole host of channels that I no longer have any interest in getting. I’d told PCCW that I wanted to drop those channels now. They told me – they insisted – that I should wait until after it was all installed. I’m sure they have some Machiavellian scheme to make me keep all these channels.

Netvigator: I’ve got mixed emotions on this one, that’s for sure. It’s a matter of the better speed of my 4G connection vs. the presumed stability of a wired internet connection.

To recap, here’s what I’ve used for home Internet for the past year. Keep in mind that HK village houses are constructed of steel-reinforced concrete, which does an amazingly good job of blocking mobile signals and WiFi.  I get a 4G signal when I’m outside on my deck but as soon as I go in the house it drops to 3G. And the strength of a WiFi signal seriously drops between floors.  So:

  1. Outside the house, a 4G USB modem from SmarTone
  2. Plugged into a 4G WiFi router (TP-Link – and I gotta say, dealers will knock TP-Link as being crap made in China, but this sucker has been sitting outside for a year and gotten rained on more than once and still works flawlessly.)
  3. Inside the house, the WiFi signal gets picked up by a WiFi extender positioned by a window, direct line of sight to the outdoor router.
  4. An ethernet cable runs from the extender to a Powerline network adapter
  5. A second Powerline network adapter is upstairs in my office
  6. An ethernet cable runs from that Powerline to my PC

I know, it sounds incredibly kludgy, and it probably is, but it works. I get decent Internet for my desktop PC and we also get strong WiFi for the ground floor of the house. Here’s a screenshot from Speedtest that I did just a few moments ago:

Fullscreen capture 1312014 52419 AM

 

I’ve actually registered download speeds of up to around 17 Mbps at times but of course a 4G signal is subject to a lot of external factors. Also every few days I’d need to run around the house and reboot all the devices to keep things working well – actually there would be times I’d come home, go to my PC and see the little icon showing no internet connection, and then I’d also have to run around and reboot these devices, sometimes more than once, to get things going. But mostly it worked.

Here’s the Speedtest result I got with Netvigator a few minutes ago:

Fullscreen capture 1312014 52151 AM

 

So, just to emphasize, these two tests were done within a minute of each other, at approximately 5:20 AM today (I’m still jetlagged, okay?)

PCCW advertises their DSL service at 8 Mbps but no one actually gets that. My 5.89 Mbps is probably one of the better readings that DSL subscribers in HK get.  Bearing in mind once again that if one lives in the urban areas of HK one can receive a 1 Gbps line for less than us suburbanites pay for DSL and that PCCW has no interest in moving to fiber in the NT villages and other companies find all sorts of mysterious roadblocks that prevent them from running fiber to village houses (HKBBN wanted to do this).  And look at how PCCW throttles you on uploading – holy shit.

So mixed blessings indeed.  I’m keeping the 4G USB set-up for the ground floor since it does provide strong WiFi there and the monthly cost is trivial. And I suppose I will keep that line available in my office for when I have to do a lot of uploading or when I’m downloading larger files.  If someone knows of a way to bridge these two lines and then manually select between them, that might prove helpful.

So, Happy Chinese New Year, Kung Hei Fat Choy!

PCCW – I’m Still Waiting

Oh I don’t know why I even bother at this point.

In an earlier post, I had a picture of a post that PCCW put by my house, the idea being they could run some wires to that post and then from there to the house – except it turns out that they had erected this pole on private land that may soon be cleared for construction.

So now they’ve moved the post across the path. They have run some cables underground to the pole and it’s just been sitting there for a week or so. We asked what the situation is. They’re going to wait three weeks to see if anyone complains about it. If no one complains, then they’ll finish running the cables.

Which begs the questions that no one has been willing to answer so far – if originally they told me things would take at least six months because they had to apply to the Lands Department for permit to erect the pole, how did they get permission to put the pole on private land? How were they able to move the pole to a new spot and not have any idea if that is public or private land? Why didn’t they erect it directly in front of our house, on our land? (Our landlord gave them permission to do that.)

Today I got a call from PCCW. I figured great, they’re going to schedule an appointment for installation. Except the woman who was calling didn’t speak any English, so they had to transfer the call to someone who did – well, he spoke it, but I’m not too sure about his comprehension. Because it seems that he was calling to tell me about a special promotion for my landline and their useless piece of shit “Eye” tablet.

So when I told him I had no service and wasn’t interested in hearing about any promotion related to service I don’t have, he was a bit confused. “Isn’t this your number?” “Yes, but you didn’t call me on that number, did you? That number doesn’t work.” “Why doesn’t it work?” “Because I have no service.” “Why don’t you have service.” “Because you don’t run any line to my house.” “So this is not your number?” “Yes, it’s my number.” “Then why don’t you have service?”

Basically Who’s On First, but not as funny.

If you’re new to my almost year-long tale of woe, you can kill a few minutes catching up with the story here.

 

This Picture Shows Why I Still Don’t Have PCCW

DSC00388

 

DSC00389

 

So after waiting 8 months, PCCW put up a pole next to my house. Hooray! RIght? Maybe not so fast.

It’s been two weeks and they haven’t run any wires to this pole and they haven’t called me up to schedule an appointment for installation.

Then I noticed this sign taped to the pole. I asked someone to translate it for me and it basically says:

Telecommunication Engineering Department Technician to note (stop work) / This is a private property; house construction will commence soon / this antenna pole is inside the property / Any questions, call

I think this means that PCCW will have to take the pole down. (Though why the Lands Department would give approval for it if it’s one someone’s private property is rather odd.)

And that means they’ll need to figure out a new place to put the pole. And then apply for another permit. Which will take at least another 3 months. So we are never going to get service.

And the never-ending ineptitude of PCCW continues …

PCCW – No Service, No Surprise

So the PCCW guy showed up at the house today to install service, only to say that he still couldn’t install anything. At least that’s what my gf is telling me; I was already on the plane to Chicago when the guy came.

As far as why they would bother to make an appointment and make someone stay home and then send someone out to our place only to do nothing – well, I guess that’s about par for the course, eh?

PCCW – Is My Long Wait Almost Over?

On Thursday I had a missed call from PCCW, a “duty manager” saying that they could install my Netvigator internet service. I called the guy back 4 times today and got voicemail 4 times. Finally he called me back after 9 PM.

He said there was now one line to the house and that they could install the internet service now and the NOW-TV and land line later. How much later? He didn’t know.

So I said to him, if there’s just one line, do the NOW-TV first and I’ll wait for the internet. He said, the line is not the right kind of line for the NOW-TV and if I want that first I have to wait for them to change the line. How much longer would I have to wait?

Then he typed for awhile and said, “Oh, it’s okay, we can use that line for the NOW-TV.” Then he typed some more and said, “Oh, it’s okay, we can install the Internet and the NOW-TV at the same time.”

Which is going to be this Sunday morning. If it really happens.

And as it happens, Sunday morning is when I’m flying off to the U.S. Odds are I won’t be here when the installation dude shows up. But my gf is thrilled – now she’ll have her GMA-TV again and she can watch Eat Bulaga* every day while I’m away – and after I get back too.

In terms of the Internet, Netvigator’s service will be 2 to 3 times slower than the 4G service I’ve been using for the past 8 months. But the 4G service is volatile, for lack of a better word. Some days it’s slick and silky, but others not so much. In the past week it’s been very unstable, cutting out frequently and often slowing down. Presumably Netvigator will be more consistent, even if it’s just a crappy 8 Mbps compared to the 1,000 Mbps people in the more urban areas of HK receive – at the same price.

* Presumably they won’t be mentioning the scandal or sex tape featuring Eat Bulaga’s rotund (and married) Wally Bayola and EB Babe Yosh Rivera, but it’s on Youtube for anyone who cares to dig around a bit.

wally-bayola-and-eb-babe-yosh-scandal2