Stop Surfing Foreign Sites: How to Deal With a China ISP Service Call

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I'll Have You Up and Running in a Jiffy

A quick bit of advice from someone who recently had to deal with Net connection problems in Beijing. When the service guy talks to you on the phone or in person when he shows up at your door, the first question will be “What’s the problem?” Of course he already knows there is a problem, otherwise you would not be calling the service line, but this is obligatory. There are several possible responses, ranging from “I want to turn on Net service” to “My DSL box just caught on fire.”

Let’s assume your problem is, like mine was this week, a painfully slow connection speed. This part is important, because the primary goal of the guy who answers that phone, or shows up at your doorstep, is to NOT HELP YOU.

Now look, you may think that I’m being unduly harsh in my characterization of the poor state of service at China ISPs. Not at all. I’m just being realistic here. The sooner they can kick your complaint out the door, the sooner they can get back to more important things, like taking a nap or playing Flash games.

So remember, there are pitfalls ahead. If you say the wrong thing, you will fall through the cracks and never get your problem solved. The best example of this comes in the form of the second question you’ll get from the telecom company, assuming again that your problem is a slow connection: “Are you having a problem with domestic or foreign sites?”

This is a trap. If you answer “foreign sites,” you will get the shoulder shrug (or verbal equivalent if on the phone). Obviously foreign sites are painfully slow, as they should be, so there’s nothing we can do about that. Right?

The correct answer: I’m having trouble loading Baidu and Taobao pages. This is intolerable!

The subtle context here is that the “foreign Net” is something that Chinese folks just shouldn’t bother with. It’s slow, for some inexplicable reason, and there’s nothing out there that you need anyway. Want Google? We’ve got Baidu. Need to buy stuff? Go to Taobao or 360Buy. Travel needs? Hit eLong or CTrip.

Since the China-based Internet is self-sufficient, there’s no good reason why China ISPs need to care about connecting folks to foreign sites. This argument is perfectly logical, takes its lead from government policy, and has the added bonus of serving the needs of lazy/cheap ISPs.

8 responses on “Stop Surfing Foreign Sites: How to Deal With a China ISP Service Call

  1. justinchina

    The ISP’s advertised/guaranteed speed, is for local content only…the ‘pipe’ shrinks down considerably once it crosses the ocean, and as you say, they couldn’t care less, probably don’t even measure it as a problem.

  2. RN

    Fighting with China Telecom and my condo for months and for the same problem here in Shanghai. VPN is almost unusable. I have 8Mb FTTH connection but it looks like ISDN. It is a joke and a lack of respect for a premium customer…

    1. Stan Post author

      Eight MB and still couldn’t use VPN? That’s pure insanity.

      FYI, I made some port adjustments to my VPN this week and now am able to use with my slow connection. Not pretty, but it works. Consult with your VPN provider.

  3. lenzai

    Hello,
    I have also experienced several performance and filtering issues with China Telecom in Shanghai and I could never get it fixed. On the other hand I could get full speed 4MB on Unicom even with foreign connections, BT….( this observation where made on several locations) Rush hours do not seem to bring degradation where as I found that early evening with China Telecom was unusable most of the time.

    It seems also that the hotline service are not as efficient in english than in chinese. My chinese friend told me about a “complaint” menu which did not appear in the english version. This choice seems to trigger better escalation.

    1. Stan Post author

      I wasn’t aware they did anything in English. Wouldn’t trust that anyway – would assume worse quality of service. They didn’t give us the runaround or anything, just made sure that we weren’t trying to access foreign sites. Sent a kid over w/in a few hours to check the line.

      1. lenzai

        Indeed, I also have a 3G USB sticks which also seems more stable than the China Telecom.
        I must add that emule or bt could never work on China Telecom but they are just fine with Unicom

        Any other feedback about Unicom ? I am surprised with such a gapwith China Telecom for quality and price.

  4. Old Eyes

    The Shanghai-Jiangsu-Zhejiang area has historically had poor telecom operations (mgmt, DNS, and other issues), resulting in generally poorer facilities for consumers. My office in Shanghai is on a main avenue in the city and for a couple years we have had problems using VPN and getting fast(ish) speeds. In Beijing, things are much much better.

    Sichuan is also a bad spot.

    A solution? I carry a Huawei e5 personal 3G/Wifi router (purchase CDMA services via China Telecom) and I connect both my laptop and smartphone through that in Shanghai and get to use my VPN and gain relatively fast speeds.

  5. Jeff

    Very different from my experiences, though those have mostly been with china unicom, or cnc. IMHO approaching the guy the right way helps a lot. Offer him a beer, act like you have no knowledge at all yourself and appear greatly saddened by not being able go see your sisters wedding on Skype.