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Online with technical support

"Do you really love it... underneath it all.

"Do you really love it... underneath it all."

I know that Gwen Stefani song is going to be in my head all day, but I have no choice to keep listening - I'm on the phone with technical support, and waiting to hear why I can't get on the web today when everything was working fine yesterday.

Let me back up a bit. My wife and I no longer get paper phone bills, and there was some recent confusion over our pre-authorized payments when the family credit cards were renewed. So we tried to access those phone bills online to see when payments were made, and were informed we needed to enter a user name and number, which neither my wife nor I had used for probably two years. We couldn't remember them.

So my wife called technical support, and in the process of getting a new user name and number she asked a few questions about our long distance plan. The good news is that we didn't use our unlimited long distance plan enough to justify the extra $25 a month, and so we managed to switch to another plan that could save us about $30 a month if we keep our gabbing under 200 minutes. Then we were informed that this plan came with a higher speed Internet service than we had previously been receiving.

The only problem is that the modem we had been using was an older model that wouldn't work with our faster Internet speeds, but luckily we had a newer modem in the house we've never taken out of the box. So we hooked the new modem up and got nothing. Then we hooked the old modem back up and got nothing.

That brought up our second call to tech support that day, where we were informed, eventually, that the system was being switched over and should work fine tomorrow.

Tomorrow came and still no Internet. I called technical support, but was cut off by accident when we were put on hold. Then we called back, and spent half an hour telling the technician on the other end which lights on the modem were blinking. We tried it with the wireless router plugged in, by plugging the cable directly from the modem into our Mac and then to an HP laptop. No dice.

In between we had some fun figuring out different IP addresses and switching between Automatic and DCHP settings, while they tested the connection from their end.

Long story short, they arranged to send a technician to our house the following day to test our outlets, which were working fine the day before, but I managed to get the old modem working with a bit of technical wizardry (no idea what I did) and cancel that visit after spending another 25 minutes on the phone with technical support.

I'm slightly more computer literate than the average person, but I confess that I'm still baffled when it comes to setting up something that seems so simple - Step 1) Plug wire into phone jack, Step 2) plug other end into ADSL modem, Step 3) plug Ethernet cable into modem, Step 4) plug other end of Ethernet cable into my computer's Ethernet port, and Step 5) turn the modem on.

But something that should work as automatically as a phone or electrical socket never actually works the first time. When I do finally get it to work, usually after three calls to technical support, I have to go through the whole process again anytime I change up a piece of hardware or add something like a wireless router.

Why? Is the bottleneck at my ISP, some kind of software security feature to ensure that I am indeed a paying customer and that I'm not somehow sharing my connection with 30 neighbours?

And why is it so difficult to configure my connection through my computer? Probably 99 per cent of home users get their Internet through an Ethernet port or wireless port these days, originating either with a DSL or cable modem, so why isn't that a default option? You can always customize if your using Bluetooth, or a LAN, or dial-up.

If I want to set something up simply, why do I have so many confusing options in the setup window? TCP/IP, PPPoE, DHCP, DHCP Client ID, IP Addresss, Subnet Mask, Router, DNS Servers, IPv6 Address, and so on and so forth. I can look up any of those things on for clarity, but knowing what they are doesn't really help you tap into the Internet any easier. This is information that the vast majority of us don't need, and makes our lives unnecessarily complicated.

Computers have simplified things for us in so many ways. They intuitively know if we're writing a letter, or what website we're navigating to. They fix our spelling mistakes. They let us do almost anything with a click of the mouse, or get more specific with a right click. Everything has been designed to be user-friendly and, to some degree, idiot proof.

Everything but setting up and maintaining a home network.

If your modem is working you should be able to get on the web without any configuration at all, or some really basic configuration where you're asked some simple yes or no questions.

Why can't it be that simple? After all, with a working wireless network all you have to do is click on the connect button and enter a password if the network has been secured. Everything else is automatic.

Usually there's a simple explanation why something isn't working. Why can't our computers figure it out without calling technical support?