Getting Connected – Frustrations with Internet Service in Italy

Two months back, I wrote about the pleasant surprise of finding Telecom Italia easier to deal with than they’d ever been before. Well, “easier” is a relative term. The phone line did get turned on immediately and all the plugs are working. The first bill also arrived immediately, and was twice what it should have been; they had forgotten to give us the discount for rolling over service from Milan to Lecco. So I had to call and straighten that out – strike one for Telecom.

I had also ordered “Alice Flash Mega,” Telecom’s top of the line ADSL Internet service, which would include a wireless router to network the family laptops to my big Dell desktop machine, so we could all be online simultaneously (increasingly an issue in this family). Obviously, this couldn’t be done until the phone line was installed, and I wasn’t in a hurry since I would be travelling; what little time I was home, I could limp along with a dial-up connection (these are offered free in Italy, since we pay by the minute even for local calls).

I planned to call Telecom and remind them once I got home, but, to my surprise, the modem was waiting for me when I arrived. The first part of the instructions actually reflected reality, so I was able to get the hardware and software working very easily. I stalled where the instructions referred to a username and password that I would need to connect; none were included in the box. I figured I would have to call Telecom on Monday.

However, when I fired up the Dell on Sunday to do some non-Internet things, Windows XP informed me that my modem was connected at 831 kbps. I supposed it had to be connected to something, so I opened Internet Explorer, and was taken immediately to a sign-up page for Alice, where I was able to make up my own username and password. I was then presented with “Alice’s Room,” where I could get into some cute services like online TV, or just go straight onto the ‘net.

This Dell had never been online before (I long ago gave up the struggle to get my previous service’s ADSL modem to work under Windows XP), so I spent the rest of Sunday preparing it to face the Internet. The steps included:

  • An hour or so of Windows XP security updates.
  • AVG Anti-Virus; I’ve been using the free edition for over a year, and it seems to be effective.
  • Zone Alarm (Basic edition, also free); this is a basic, fairly simply to use firewall. Once installed, you’ll be amazed (and probably alarmed) at just how often strangers come knocking at the “door,” looking for something left open so they can come in and mess up your computer home. Or steal your data. If you keep sensitive personal data on an Internet-connected computer, especially financial data such as credit card numbers, you should be paranoid, and you should have a firewall.
  • Ad-Aware. Cleans out the tracking software installed (silently) by many websites – it’s nobody’s business what I’m doing online, least of all the advertisers’.
  • The Google toolbar, which adds Google search right into the Internet Explorer toolbar (I can’t live without this now). The new 2.0 version is currently in beta testing, and includes pop-up blocking.
  • After installing everything, I went to <> and used Steve Gibson’s Shields Up! to see whether my computer was leaking anything to the outside world. So far, it doesn’t seem to be. NB: The GRC site is somewhat intimidating and confusing, but worth the effort to understand what’s going on, so that you can ensure that your computer (and all the data in it) is closed off to hackers.

I called Telecom Italia on Tuesday to find out when to expect the network router. Turns out they had screwed up the order and given me the most basic ADSL service, which doesn’t include networking. Strike two for Telecom. So I had to put in an upgrade request, and am now awaiting a call (“within 10 days”) from the technician who is supposed to bring the network router and install it. Installation is included in the price, otherwise I’d just tell them to bring the router and let me deal with it. I have a feeling that the technician will do no better than I could myself, and a stronger feeling that I will have to upgrade the two laptops to Windows XP in order to get all the machines to talk to each other; I had a terrible time trying to do it with a regular, wired network, and gave up in the end.

I’m also waiting for another technician to come and check the line, which is very noisy when the modem’s attached, even with the ADSL filters on the phone plugs. Not supposed to be that way. Strike three for Telecom. Oh, well. At least so far I haven’t needed a bottle of whiskey.

(later on, I needed it. Read the full Telecom Italia saga)

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