The myth of one-stop shopping

One of the favorite conceits of competitive local exchange carriers is that they're nimbler than the fat, old telephone companies and more adept at putting together one-stop packages of cool, new services.

But in the telecom world, claims of fleet-footedness run up against two harsh realities. One is that new carriers usually have to get most of their local loops from old carriers. The other is that no matter how slick the executive team, new carriers' front-line troops are often greenhorns.

These facts hit home for me and my colleagues at Network World and Computerworld's joint Washington bureau in our disastrous move earlier this month into a new office building operated by realty firm CarrAmerica, part-owner of the freshly minted carrier BroadBand Office (BBO).

We moved our furniture and equipment on Friday night, Nov. 17. But as I write this column at home a week and a half later, we still don't have enough voice and data lines for all of our people to actually go to work there.

We signed our lease with CarrAmerica on Sept. 20 with assurances that the building would be wired to the gills by BBO and ready to go before move-in. What happened next is the typical gory tale of runaround phone calls, faxed paperwork revisions and number-portability fights with our old building's provider (WorldCom) that you telecom managers may recognize.

But here's the killer. Ultimately BBO is just selling us resold local dial-up lines from Verizon. How many times have you heard new carriers whine about the need to hook into Bell companies' automated provisioning systems? At BBO the order, when ready to go, was a piece of paper awaiting a move by somebody to call Verizon and place the order.

As Gary Turner, BBO's director of field operations, admitted: "We had a change in procedures here, and it sat on a person's desk for two weeks and nothing happened."

After some final inquiries, we were told a few days before the move that the lines weren't in. BBO then put in an emergency order -- essentially starting all over -- with Verizon.

Incredibly, we had separately ordered Covad Communication DSL lines through its partner UUNET, and much the same thing happened. A Covad technician showed up before the move but found an unoccupied office with insufficient wiring and security and left -- forgetting to tell us. It is a story wonderfully laid out by my colleague Denise Pappalardo in her ISP newsletter.

Our staff has dealt with these various carriers, exponentially increasing the level of vendor doubletalk. So where's the one-stop shopping?

As this column has pointed out before, "bundling" of services is not necessarily the big deal that vendors and analysts make it out to be. It even appears that when a carrier promises "one-stop shopping," it's really sort of a service aggregator, meaning there are more vendors involved, not fewer, and more chance for mistakes. Is that the future of carrier services?

This story, "The myth of one-stop shopping " was originally published by Network World.

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