I have written before about the trouble we have with our telephone line whenever it rains or the weather is damp or humid. The problem always starts with crackling and static which eventually become so loud they drown out the dial tone… followed by an overwhelming background hum… and then the line just goes dead. When the rain stops and presumably whatever has gotten wet dries out, the hum gradually goes away and the crackling and static decrease. During dry spells the phone line is noisy but usable… until the next time it rains again.

Golden glow (Rudbeckia laciniata hortensia)

This problem has existed for over six years now, although the noise on the line has gotten worse with each passing year. I can’t even guess how many times I have reported this problem to the telephone company over those six years. Usually they respond by sending someone here who earnestly declares that THIS time they are going to “fix it.” Unfortunately the repairmen never arrive earlier than two days after I report the problem, and by that time the line is already starting to dry out and has already somewhat repaired itself… usually the repairman concludes that they will have to wait until the next time it rains and the next time the phone goes dead again. A few times they have told me they have made repairs to a connection and those repairs would take care of the problem. They never have. We now seem to have reached the point where even a light rain like the one we’re having today will cause the phone line to go dead… except, that is, for the periodic power spikes that still come through the line. During these past six years (and despite surge protection), those power spikes have blown out four modems, two telephones, and a fax machine.

Recently our telephone company was bought out by another company, so I have been hopeful that perhaps new management might do something to actually get rid of this problem. A few days ago we had one night of heavy rain which has been followed by several days of light rain. Our telephone (and our dial-up Internet connection) has been virtually unusable since the first rain. Unfortunately for me, I am in the middle of some really important business transactions and I need both the Internet and the telephone, so another outage coming right at this time has probably caused me to be slightly less tolerant of the problem than I have been in the past. In an effort to see if the squeaking wheel really does get the grease, this is what I have done over the last seven days.

First I reported the problem AGAIN. I made sure they were aware that this problem has been going on for over six years and that not only has the problem not been fixed, it is now worse than ever. The customer service representative I spoke to was able to test our line… said I have a real problem… and that it sounded like the classic symptoms of water getting into either the connections or the phone line itself. She also said I should report the problem every time it happens until the telephone company actually fixes whatever is wrong, because the more complaints I make, the more likely it is that the phone company will actually replace whatever isn’t working instead of just applying what she called “another band-aid fix.” (The repair people had used the exact same words.) This was actually in stark contrast to our previous phone company’s attitude that the bad phone line was something I would just have to learn to live with. The customer service representative assured me that a repairman would be dispatched the very next day to troubleshoot the line, and that a company manager would also be contacting me.

My second call was to the state public utilities commission… the organization that helps regulate the telephone company. Since I could only talk to voice mail, I left a message giving my name and telephone number and explaining the problem in some detail. I also asked what recourse I had if the phone company still didn’t fix the problem.

To my surprise, a few hours later someone from the public utilities commission managed to call me back during one of the brief periods when we did have a dial tone. The static and hum on the line were so loud that we could barely hear each other… she told me “You really DO have a severe problem”… and she promised to call the phone company on our behalf and to “stay on top of the situation until it is resolved.”

At about nine o’clock the next morning, a phone truck pulled up outside our house and a repairman knocked on the door. I explained the problem again and he said it sounded like a classic case of water in the connections. (Apparently everybody agrees about that.) He told me not to worry, that he would fix the problem for me if he “had to check every inch of line between here and the switching station.” He said that our telephone service would be intermittent at best all day because of the testing he would be doing (and he was right, it was), but that he would definitely get to the bottom of this situation, fix this problem once and for all, and get back to me. That was yesterday.

By this morning the repairman still had not gotten back to me and the quality of our telephone line had not improved… so I called the phone company repair office again to see if any progress had been made. I had to speak to a different customer service representative this time, and she said that yesterday’s repairman had been unable to find the source of the problem… and apparently he had given up trying. She suggested that I open a new trouble ticket which apparently means that she made a new entry on our account requesting one of the phone company managers to get in touch with me. I wonder if this is the manager who was supposed to call me yesterday and did not. She said the manager would be able to discuss what options I have to correct the problem.

I’m wondering… what do they mean, options? We pay for phone service… the phone line isn’t working… which means it needs to be fixed… isn’t it as simple as that? The first customer service representative and the woman from the public utilities commission both stressed that I need to keep complaining and keep pushing the issue until the phone company realizes that it is in their best interests to fix the problem and “make us go away.” This time that is what I am intending to do.

Also this morning I called the public utilities commission again and left another message updating them about our current situation.

So that’s where we stand right now. The manager from the phone company has not called back, and neither has anybody from the public utilities commission, but how could they when the phone is mostly dead? The last time I managed to connect to the Internet took over an hour of repeated dialings, and then the connection was terminated almost immediately… not a good thing when our livelihood comes from a business that is conducted through the phone and the Internet. During the last seven days I have been occasionally able to connect to the Internet long enough to get e-mail, and once or twice I even stayed connected long enough to send a message in response, but aside from that my work has pretty much had to come to a standstill. This can’t continue.

But it remains to be seen if the squeaking wheel really will get the grease. I’ll let you know if things get better. Right now I’m going to try again to connect to the Internet long enough to post this. My chance of success is better now than it will be later… heavier rain is forecast for this afternoon.