6 years on Airtel Broadband: The Good, Bad and the Ugly

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My first Internet connection was a VSNL dial-up in Poona which I got on the first day it was launched 1997 or 1998 can't remember exactly.
I also got their console only 'student' account. Because everyone knows that only working professionals need to see imagery.
But I digress, I registered here to let others know how the customer service of Airtel has fallen to rock bottom.

I moved from BSNL to Airtel as they offered faster plans than BSNLs 512K over 5 years ago, a dashingly fast 1M.
The engr. who came to install the line was knowledgeable, well spoken and kind. He sympathized with the lack of broadband speeds and told me that Airtel had a 2M plan which wasn't on their site that I might move to if I called 121. Of course I did, and started paying Rs.2500/month for a 2M aDSL line with an 80GB FUP. Airtel has better connectivity (read latency) to SE Asia which is important to me.

2 months after, Reliance was laying cables and they cut the underground lines belonging to Airtel too. I mean, it's not like they don't know where others have laid lines but let's not go there.
I called 121 and they told me that the lines were cut and would take 12 hours to restore. I was shocked! Having grown up in the Gandhian era with 1 channel of B/W Doordarshan I was thoroughly impressed with the response.
I understand lines get cut, but once you tell me it will take x amount of hours to finish, I am a happy man and will not break my head wondering when it will be back up, it's all I expect.
This compared to BSNL where the CS line just keeps ringing, no IVR, no customer service rep nothing, zilch.

For years I was incredibly happy with my connection, never having had to call 121 and I saw my DSL signal drop like less than a dozen times in all that time. Dandy right?

Yea, but bear with me.

Last year, Nov 2011, I emailed [email protected] and [email protected] asking for a change of plan from 2M to the cheapest plan as I was traveling and nobody would use the Internet.
Perhaps some of the fault is mine, as I expected the same level of customer service, but I didn't hear from them ASAP and I assumed it would happen like earlier when I had changed plans once in the past.
Long story short, I didn't hear from them. So I called 121 making an intl. call and they told me they hadn't received my email and that CS emails had changed.
When I tried to explain that the email was in my Sent items in Gmail and unless Google and I were lying to them, I did in fact send and they did in fact receive the email. How their internal systems route the email to CSRs is outside the scope of my expertise. When I asked why I didn't receive an email informing me of the change of support email address I was told it was on my bill. Sigh. I don't look at the bill, my office looks at it and writes a cheque for the same every month since it's a fixed amount. I mean, who would expect an ISP to use email to communicate and update customers right?

After coming back, on Sept 2012, I ask for my account to be reactivated. There is a DSL signal, all that needs is the account be made active as the DSLAM wouldn't assign an IP.
They tell me I have pending payments that need to be cleared first. So I ask them to check if I had used data for those 2 months before disconnection as I was not even home.
They tell me they can "see data used" on "their system" but cannot share this info with me and hence I have used my connection and owe dues.
Of course, I forgot that I had pulled a copper line from my house over the Atlantic so I could enjoy the same low speed broadband in Chicago as in Poona.

At this point, I should've gone to a lawyer and taken them to consumer court. Big mistake.

Since Airtel offered the best plans (besides BSNLs overpriced FTTH), I decided that I would not argue and just pay the due amount and move on with my life. Welcome back to India boy.
Rs.2800 was paid in cash, after which nothing happened. On calling them again, I was told I still had a balance pending of Rs.2300/-
Then I was told to resubmit my documents, which took a few days till their guy came and picked it up. This was in October 2012.
Fair enough, I paid the remaining amount and then was told that I needed to resubmit the documents again!

After much back and forth with their appellate team, I was emailed that my connection would be restored on 7th November.
Then they call me and tell me it will take one more day and will be done on the 8th.

Today, nothing has changed, and they keep telling me it will happen in the next 24-48 hours. With the weekend approaching I am now taking bets that it will not happen this week.
This drop in service level is shocking. If I wanted an inept bureaucratic ISP I would've taken a BSNL connection.

I have now spent more time emailing their appellate team and talking to CSRs and their escalation officers (who are decent people BTW) than I have talking with my family.

Perhaps, most frustrating is calling 121 and having a CSR take my land line number and name and ask me "How can I help you".
Are you serious? Why isn't my call and complaint history open in front of you when you take my account details? Why do I have to repeat myself every time? Isn't it saving you time and money to have customer calls finish sooner?

The appellate team is their highest level of recourse for a customer and it is downright useless. I can only imagine the level of frustration others have dealing with 121 and nodal officers.
Finally an escalation officer who I had spoken with earlier felt sorry for me, and made a few calls himself and had a guy called Atul Bhansali from Poona call me. Atul was polite and expressed his understanding of my situation (actually all of Airtel says this to me) and told me he will call me tomorrow with a time when it will be reactivated. This is the same line I have heard from others in Airtel. I'm sick of it.

To sum up, Airtel is a good network provider but a terrible ISP with the most frustrating level of customer service.
Getting and cancelling a connection from them is an easy task but anything in between and your experience may vary.

It's time to take the plunge with BSNLs FTTH it seems.

UPDATE: Sat Nov 10th 2012 7:30pm

Atul Bhansali ensured that in spite of there being issues, I was provided a new connection. I don't even wanna know why my old connection couldn't be reactivated. He is from the customer retention team. So I am back with Airtel 4M, 80GB FUP for now.
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Awesome write up and as you mentioned this is the case with lot of people who are with Airtel!
Hmm. Is FTTH available at your place ? Also, you might want to consider rcom's new unlimited plans, assuming they're willing to give you a connection.
Bye the way in my place BSNL worked good in case of changing plans but the pathetic fact is that i got my connection nearly after 6 mnths of applying for it.
In good old touchtel days we used to get Rs100 worth of STD credit for a service distribution of more than 4 hours and that too without asking.

You can view BSNL plans here, no idea if they apply to FTTH:

BB Plan Selector

Rs.3000/month for unlimited 1M which is sad but fits my budget.

The good thing about Airtel is stability and good routing. BSNL will send your packets to Peru and back to the site you wanna see in Turkey, which is cool if you're into that sort of thing but it makes the connection useless for anything sensitive to latency, above all, gaming.

Poona recently got You Broadband which I've only heard good things about, but they're not in my area yet.
YOU Broadband & Cable India Ltd., High speed broadband plans 1Mbps to 12Mbps