On the Outside Looking In

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As I write this in early May 2020, many technicians are not allowed to enter subscribers’ homes or businesses, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This causes particularly difficult challenges because the LAN side in the premises become more complicated every day. Talking the subscribers through the install/troubleshooting sequence has always been difficult. Ask any Help Desk person.

Many of us chose positions at one point or another to avoid going into buildings and particularly residences. The heat, rain, cold, and snow are preferable to a house with 20 dogs that are not let outside. We all have our horror stories, and I am sure you can find some on the Internet. However, I do have a story that will not ruin your next meal. Then, I have some tips on how to deal with social distancing and providing service.

Not a Dog

It was cold day, or at least it was by my standards back then. Not cold enough for coveralls, but my thickest coat was appropriate. I was working in rural Navarro county in Texas.

The customer premises, or “house”, was three 10’x12’ portable buildings cut and arranged to fit together. At that time, they were all their original colors; 1 white, 1 powder blue, and 1 pink. Still, the structure was at the end of a long, white rock driveway that was at the end of an old gravel road. Not many people were going to be impressed or appalled by the appearance. Later, after the whole thing was painted white, it did not look too bad.

As always, before I got out of the truck on rural property or a I entered through a fence, I used my false bark. Yelling may or may not work, but a convincing bark will cause any dog in the vicinity to respond. No response, so no dog.

I walked to front door and knocked, but not too hard. I was worried the entire structure would fall. Then, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I am still not sure if I heard something or not. I turned and saw the animal running at me. I thought Well, the bark did not work this time and I was right, but there was a good reason.

Running at me, at an amazing speed, was a Bengal tiger.

Now, hold on. I know that few native-born Texans will allow the truth to get in the way of a good story, but this is all true.

It’s funny how your mind reacts when the seemingly impossible is happening in front of your eyes.

I am awake and fixing a case of trouble. Yep

I am in Navarro County Texas. Yep

There is a tiger running at me. Yep

Anybody that has worked around dogs knows that you never run. That said, it was not bravery that held me in place. I did not have time or space to run. When the tiger lunged at me, I caught a paw in each hand, but the momentum slammed my back against the front door. I was sure the building was to fall after that blow, but that was not as important as it had been 3 seconds before.

Cats are amazingly strong. I have seen a 20-pound cat destroy a 100-pound dog in a fight. I was held fast to the front door with the tiger using only its back legs.

The tiger put its mouth around my left bicep, and I felt the pressure. This scared me, and I summoned the strength to push the tiger backwards to get away from the door. The tiger again used its strength to slam me back into the front door. My arm was really starting to hurt, and I started to wonder if my life was in danger.

I could picture the scene at the Pearly Gates.

“You died how?”

“Yep, fixing a phone in rural Texas, eaten by a tiger.”

Then the front door opened. This caused the tiger and me to come rolling into the living room. I heard “Keisha, leave that man alone!” and the tiger let go of my arm and got off me. Yep, the tiger was a pet, and she was no more than 6 months old.

You can run into anything in rural Texas. In fact, I had even seen a full grown cougar as a pet, but it was in a cage. It never crossed my mind that somebody would let a tiger roam around in the yard.

Can I honestly say that I was attacked by a tiger? No. Even at 150 pounds, had she chosen my throat instead of my arm, I would have really had the Pearly Gates conversation. Can I say I was bitten by tiger? Not quite. The hides of their natural prey made my coat seem like tissue paper.

To put it simply: Keisha was only playing with me.

Afterwards, the subscriber apologized. Thankfully, I only had a bruise on my arm. Therefore, after insisting that Keisha be chained up, I fixed the phone and left. As you might imagine, it was not long under those circumstances that Keisha hurt somebody, and the sheriff became involved.

Back to 2020

Even after a couple of months, info on the coronavirus varies wildly. Mask or not? How long does the virus live in the air? When is a surface completely safe? Do gloves help or not? Can you contract it again? The answers often depend upon your news source. Surely, more reliable information will be available when this column goes to print, and you should use that information as your guideline. For now, I will share what is currently being done to protect the technicians in these areas:

CO, DSLAM, and Cross-Connect Box
These sites can be high-human-traffic areas. The primary danger here is the technicians infecting each other. Since there is no way of knowing when the last technician was touching the surfaces or sneezed into the air, a mask and gloves are commonly used.

OSP to the Network Interface
These low-human-traffic areas are probably the safest part of the network. Naturally, pre-coronavirus safety procedures should be followed, at least.

Customer Premises
For the protection of the subscriber and the technicians, entering the customer premises is absolutely forbidden. Occasionally, under extreme circumstance, it has been allowed with VP level approval and using extreme safety measures.

Naturally, if the root cause is on the network side of the network interface, no customer premises contact is required.

However, what if the problem is inside? Is the customer left with no service? It has happened but it is rare. Some creative measures are being used.

Modems and Set-Top Boxes
If the service is good to the network interface and no physical trouble is detected on the house wire:

1. All possible remote test/fix options are exhausted to the point that only a hardware replacement is left.

2. Any required programing for the hardware is done by the technicians wearing a mask and gloves.

3. The technician leaves the new hardware and a plastic bag at the front door and backs away.

4. The subscriber is instructed by the technician, preferably over the phone, how to replace the defective unit; distanced physical conversations are allowed, but only with a mask and gloves. The technician must remain outside the premises.

5. The subscriber is instructed by the technician on how to test to assure that service is restored.

6. If service is not restored, the subscriber is instructed by the technician on how to make the appropriate changes to the hardware settings and retest.

7. If the new hardware works to the point of accepting remote access, any fine-tuning is completed remotely.

8. The defective hardware is placed in the bag by the subscriber and set outside the door. Note: Some providers have chosen to advise the customer to throw away the old hardware instead of risking infection trying to reclaim defective hardware.

Inside Wiring
When the service is good to the network interface and there is physical trouble seen on the house wire:

1. Instruct the subscriber to unplug all hardware from every jack.

2. If the trouble goes away:
A. If the hardware is provider supplied, follow the procedure listed earlier.
B. If the hardware is subscriber supplied, instruct the customer to replace the bad hardware and do not plug it back in.

3. If the trouble remains:
A. While wearing a mask and gloves, prepare a temporary connection, using a jack and either house wire or jumper wire (CAT 5 or better recommended).
B. Connect the temporary connection to the network interface.
C. Instruct the subscriber to open a window and back away.
D. Pass the temporary connection through the window and back away.
E. Instruct the subscriber on how to connect the hardware to the temporary connection.
F. Instruct the subscriber on how to test the service.

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Again, nothing is 100% safe now, and common-sense best estimates are all that are available. The information included here is based on current procedures being used by some service providers.

In the end your safety is your responsibility. Remember the ol’ Bell System safety creed: No job is so important and no service is so urgent that we cannot take time to perform our work safely.

As a subscriber, sitting safely isolated in my home, I thank you so much for keeping us connected.

 

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About Author

Vernon May is a recognized expert in OSP and ISP Operations. As the Chief Technologist and founder of VMS, Vernon is focused on new technology introduction, from Marketing and Sales to Design Enhancement to Training to Product Approval. Along with writing a quarterly column for ISE magazine, he also hosts seminars available throughout the country. If you have questions comments or column ideas, please contact Vernon at vernon@vmaysolutions.com. For more information, please visit http://vmaysolutions.com.

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