SaskTel's Internet Problems Continue

FTLComm - Tisdale - Wednesday, June 2, 1998

For over two months the authentication server has been acting up, slowing down and sometimes shutting down the province's access to the Internet. When you dial up, a modem answers your call and the authentication server asks your computer for your user name and password. This simple process is the front door to the system and though when you call it may be answered in any of the various modem pools in the province the call is then routed to the authentication server in Regina.

The last weekend in May Hewlett Packard send technicians to Regina for the weekend to sort out the new server. While this was taking place the back up authentication server had to do the work and it happens to be the server that looks after E-mail. This explains why you have been finding that it takes so long for e-mail to come through because this server seems to be having to handle most of the work most of the time.

The Internet, for most Saskatchewan people began in May of 1995 when SaskTel began its present service which that summer became known by Telecom Canada's name for the service "Sympatico". The project has grown far beyond the wildest imagination of the people who sit behind the desks in SaskTel's office building's upper floors. Like so many companies during this decade, SaskTel though prospering, has been restructuring. The interesting thing about restructuring as a company programme, it rarely applies to anything but the lower floors in office buildings and only to people who actually provide service to the public. A walk through SaskTel's vast complex in Regina is a lonely experience, this you can experience for yourself by attempting to reach someone in any department and you will discover the wonders of voice mail.

Though our government telephone company has been very innovative in many aspects of the communications industry it seems to have had a severe case of Internetophobia. The project was launched under staffed and marginally funded and that has been the case since. Though higher speed systems have been available for a long time SaskTel has refused to offer ISDN service until this year and only to a few communities. Instead, they have offered dual 56 lines such as is used by TMSS, this is a costly and less then satisfactory solution, yet it is the only one offered. Experiments with ADSL in Saskatoon and Regina were just that and we have not heard if they will follow up.

Much of the problems seems to relate to phrases like "we have not heard." SaskTel is remarkably security conscious, unwilling to openly discuss the needs of users and just as closed mouthed with its employees. The company is inordinately concerned about criticism, suggesting that its leadership and managerial system is extremely hierarchical and definitely out of touch with modern administrative systems.

It is unfortunate that a company that affects the lives of the people of this province in such important ways seems able to make far more enemies then friends. You will discover the representatives of the company are pleasant and open folks, always willing to listen to concerns but they are impotent and you are wasting your breath when you talk to them, because the company pays no attention to what their people pass on to them and seem not to care whatever, what the customers want.

The authentication server went down Monday afternoon for a couple of hours shutting down the system and just after midnight Wednesday it failed catastrophically, collapsing not only the main server but the back-ups as well. It may seem to many that this should not be a serious problem, but businesses of all kinds have come to depend on being able to transfer data via the Internet and a system failure can have enormous ramifications to commerce and industry alike. The Internet is no longer a source of entertainment for a few home users, it is a serious and vital tool of today's world. There is no mystery about operating and maintaining Internet servers, but it can't be done on a shoestring budget and it requires the full attention of a staff. Cutbacks on suitable equipment and manpower result in poor service.