I hadn't recognized the voice, though I regularly talked to the people at that supposed location. I figured that somehow the phone line was connected in a locale other than the remote office. I thought it would be simple to verify and an easy fix for the phone company. Wrong!
I called the phone company, but the rep said it had to be someone in my building answering -- which I was very sure it was not. I said I believed that the phone side of the copper line was connected elsewhere in the city. The phone company assured me that was impossible and the line checked clear from its tests.
I asked the phone company to verify the physical location of the actual drop for the line, but the rep refused, insisting the tests showed the line to be fine and blaming any problems on the DSL provider. The DSL vendor also claimed immunity, stating it only used the copper line the phone company had provided.
Now I was between a rock and a hard spot as the two accused each other, with neither doing anything to investigate the problem and instead passing me to higher-ups. To further aggravate the situation, the phone lines were governed by the state PUC, while the Internet was governed by the FCC. Neither of these agencies knows the meaning of the word "speed."
I began filing complaints with both agencies and contacted state and federal congressmen. I was flabbergasted that I could identify an easily verifiable problem, yet all institutions refused to help and kept blaming the other party. I remained enough of a pain that I was able to finally get to the bottom of the situation.
What happened was that the copper POTS number had been installed in an apartment building, and it wasn't disconnected when the prior tenants moved out. When we received the line, the phone system "reactivated" that number and the apartment building number functioned as an extension on the line. The apartment remained empty for months and we didn't use that phone line, so the oversight went unnoticed for a while. What I'd been repeatedly told was "impossible" was, indeed, "possible." However, it took the phone company almost three weeks to resolve this nightmare and reimburse us for the back charges.
Now I'm even more vigilant about double-checking everything -- and never, ever assume something will work as expected even if it's been fine in the past. I always go on site after any install, plug a cheap phone into the system, and call my cellphone to verify proper porting of any number. I also make sure I have the number contracted and not take the phone company's word for it.
I learned it seems that the larger the institutions involved, the more they seem to be able to shrug off responsibility. Hopefully, I won't have to deal with any for a long time.
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This story, "Phantom phone line stymies network sleuth," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.