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« With Apologies To All The Blondes Out There | Main | Could Someone Please »

OK, Enough Is Enough

It has now been two days since I've been able to access the Bellsouth's NNTP server, at It's been flaky ever since I started using it over a year ago, when I got my Bellsouth DSL connection, but now it doesn't work at all. When I try to log in to it, I get a message box from Agent saying that there is an "error reported by server: 502 authentication failed." It's done this periodically in the past, but never for this long.

So, have I talked to Bellsouth about it?

I have. I called them three times yesterday, two of which resulted in contact with human beings, and talked to numerous people, both in India and stateside, none of whom knew what to do about it, and most of whom wanted me to reboot my computer (that's their first-resort solution to everything, even when it clearly has absolutely nothing to do with my computer--for instance, I was trying to reconnect my router to my modem the other day, and the nice woman in Bangalore told me to reboot my computer).

The first person I talked to in the morning said that they would have to try resetting the server, and that it would probably take about twelve hours to take effect. I was dubious. In fact, I'll go beyond that and say that he was probably lying (or to be more generous, misinformed), but figured that I'd wait and see if anything happened.

I should add that all of these phone calls were preceded by attempts to find some solution on the Bellsouth web site, one of which was a help form that I started to fill out. It demanded the number I was calling from, and the number that I was dialing up on (I have a DSL connection, remember), and refused to accept the form until I would tell it. In addition, it demanded the time and date of occurrence, but the pulldown menu for "year" contained only the years 2002, and 2003, so apparently the folks at Bellsouth aren't interested in any technical issues that have developed within the past two years.

Also, there are often long delays and sometimes timeouts when attempting to get to the various web pages in the technical support area. But hey, that's to be expected from one of the largest telecommunications companies in the country, right? I mean, it's not like they have a lot of bandwidth, or money for servers, when they're only charging me a paltry hundred bucks a month. After all, that quality tech support over in the jewel of the Empire doesn't come cheap. Of course, I should mention that my confidence in tech support at Bell South (at least when it comes to solving, or even comprehending, problems more complex than those that can be fixed by rebooting your computer), hasn't been high since the DNS incident a year ago.

So I called, and got passed from one person who didn't know what was going on, to another (having to give my phone number to each one, of course, except once, I caught them, and determined that they already knew it--it was all just part of the fun ritual hazing that all Bellsouth customers go through). At one point, I was told that I was going to finally be transferred to a specialist in this area. The moron who picked up the phone started by asking me to fire up Outlook express, so we could determine what was wrong with my email (I guess that I should have been grateful that he didn't ask me to reboot my computer). Ignoring the fact that I don't now, never have, and never will use a Microsoft email client, I didn't have an email problem. I told him this, and told him that I thought he was going to help me with the problem with the NNTP server. He had never heard those four letters in that particular combination before.

I finally managed to get him to pass me on to a tech who actually had heard of NNTP, and explained the issue, once again. It was not authenticating my username and password. It had done so for months, with intermittent failures, but that it had not done so since the previous morning. The culmination of this consversation, and the hours of others that I'd had throughout the day (combined with more time perusing a cryptic and slow tech support web site) was that I finally managed to get him to admit that there was nothing that he could do, that in fact Bellsouth didn't actually have an NNTP server. What they had was a contractor who ran their news server, and they just forwarded the domain on it. They had no administrative control over it. His recommendation was to send an email to, and report the problem to them.

I did that last night. I have not yet received so much as an acknowledgement of its receipt--it seems to have simply disappeared into the black hole that is tech support at whatever second-tier rackhouse they've hired to provide their customers with Usenet news.

Am I an unhappy Bellsouth customer? You guess.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 05, 2006 06:55 AM
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It's sad that news servers are nowadays held as something of an anachronism (because the average dumb users don't need/know about them), but really, at best the newsgroup discussion brings knowledgeable people from beyond vast distances to talk about interesting subjects, of which they probably couldn't exchange one word with their layman real-life acquaintances.

I suggest you switch over to some other provider.

Posted by meiza at January 5, 2006 07:30 AM

Sorry to hear about your issues with NNTP. Perhaps you might want to investigate using a third party service such as It costs money, but it beats frustration.

Posted by Joe Latrell at January 5, 2006 09:08 AM

Yes, I'm considering that, or Giganews.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 5, 2006 09:10 AM

it seems to have simply disappeared into the black hole that is tech support at whatever second-tier rackhouse they've hired to provide their customers with Usenet news.

Outsourcing is a cost effective measure how again?

Posted by Brian at January 5, 2006 09:21 AM

Outsourcing is profitable because it would have been more expensive for BellSouth to pay some BellSouth employee to deal with the problem than than to tell Rand to send an email to a BellSouth service supplier that never gets answered (or even dealt with probably). The business reasoning is that if your competitors are equally bad at support, then there's no reason to do more.

This is a perfect example of the slow downward spiral of quality in a non-critical service. It happens when something is no longer a major piece of the revenue generating part of the business. Another way to put it -- if the DSL connection displayed the same problems, BellSouth would be losing customers right away. Usenet doesn't affect BellSouth in the same direct manner.

The only customer solution is to pay more for better service. In this case, it means a separate Usenet provider (where Usenet availability is central to the business), assuming you don't decide to change ISP's over this issue (and assuming you even have a choice on broadband providers in your area -- most of us don't).

Posted by David at January 5, 2006 09:55 AM

I had similiar frustrations with sbcglobal in regards to a 15 megs webserver space I have available through them. I've had the page since I originally signed up with SBC. Since then they merged and re-merged with this and that conglomerate and although the page is still there I can no longer log into it. Calling support was a nightmare because the only password login they were familiar with was your email/PPOE login account.

Rand, does your NNTP login use the same password as your email/PPOE login? Because it could be that the they have their password linked across multiple systems using a enterprise distributable authentication system. In essence when your password is reset it is copied out to all the applicable systems. In fact, they should even have a process that doesn't change the password but initiates the password copy/unsuspend process without needing to change your password. That should get all the systems synched back out. If not then changing your password maybe in order. Also, have you tried using multple newsgroup clients to attempt to login? That one tech that took you into Outlook express was kinda on the right path but may not have know it. Outlook express has a newgroup reader built into it and you can setup a profile to connect to the newgroup server to see if a different newsreader client can authenticate.

Otherwise, yea I was never impressed with the thread replication on the NNTP from my provider. So, I used for several years. My downloads would burst to over 215 KB/sec on standard DSL and their post were kept super duper up to date.

Posted by Josh Reiter at January 5, 2006 10:46 AM

I've tried it using Outlook Express. I've also tried it with Pan on my Fedora box (that one has never worked, even when Agent could access it). No joy.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 5, 2006 11:07 AM

...and yes, the username/password is the same on both POPD/SMTP servers and NNTP.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 5, 2006 11:08 AM

Gee Rand, don't hold back, tell us how you really feel.

I left SBC DSL service 5 years ago. Imagine my fun when a young lady called and demanded I pay my bill 3 months after my service was disconnected. They are not to swift.

Posted by Leland at January 5, 2006 11:16 AM

Perhaps a few posts about Duane Ackerman, the CEO and how poorly his company is serving you?

Posted by Bill Maron at January 5, 2006 05:43 PM

As competition dies, so dies the internet. Monopolists want central control and pay per minute/byte fees. When we move to IP6 (the smarter internet) the game will truly be over.

It was fun while it lasted.

Posted by ken anthony at January 5, 2006 06:35 PM

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