BT PRICE HIKES 

Switching our Internet Service Provider

Over the years I've been paying steadily more and more money for our phone and Internet. During the last year BT, who supply us with our broadband, has been getting too greedy; maybe because they're over-stretched having started their own TV broadcasts and mobile phone network?
Whatever it is has made me really annoyed. How much is our broadband? Well, it's £32 per month and whoever I speak to, including everyone at BT via their help lines, agrees. Sometimes a BT person can get too cocky and promise to reduce this figure dramatically, but once they start busily typing away on their computers it invariably ends with… "I don't seem to be able to get into your account", or something similar.
Then, usually I'm transferred to queue up again to speak to another person "who can", but who can't help either. I reckon, barring hopeless Indian call centre people, I must know most of the BT staff by now. Mostly very friendly and courteous..Hi Eileen, Hi Maureen…up in Merseyside. Maureen used to go to my old school, Holt High School (20 odd years after I left when they let girls in that is.. small world)

Why am I a puzzle to BT staff? Well, I'm what's referred to by BT as a "Solus" customer. In my case it means I've had my Internet with BT for ever. So long in fact that they didn't even recognise my account number. Ages ago my better half decided to switch our phone line to the Post Office when they went into the red. She imagined that this would somehow help to keep our local post office open. I must say though that the Post Office charged us less for our line rental than BT and gave us lots of goodies like making foreign phone calls free of charge and free mobile calls at weekends.

Sometimes a BT person would advise me to bring back our phone line to BT and that this would dramatically reduce our broadband price. The snag was always that the new price could be calculated only AFTER we'd transferred the line to them and not before. As I no longer trust BT when it comes to cash you can imagine why their offer was rejected. "Tell me how much now and if it's low enough I'll switch", I said... but all to no avail.

One obvious solution would be to switch broadband to the Post Office. Not possible it seems, unless we wished to downgrade our speed by a factor of 7. I suspect the Post Office, who are really the GPO, can get to grips with copper wire used from Victorian times but don't understand these new fangled fibre optics.

A better solution is to switch both phone line and broadband to a third party; neither the Post Office nor BT.

The story that follows is long-winded and still in progress but here goes...

About 6 months ago when our broadband went up from £17 to £30 I rang BT and tried to get the new figure reduced. If you've tried something like this it can be very wearying and time consuming. Mostly I got nowhere, but one time I spoke to a lady in Enniskillen. She was very helpful and said I could re-negotiate my broadband without transferring my line because she was able to bypass the official channels and just change my payments with a few mouse clicks. A call would be made to me the next day confirming it had all been resolved like magic.

As you might guess I didn't receive the call and, it transpired all record of the promise was redacted or expunged from the BT computers. I waited a fortnight just in case the Irish branch were very busy (note "we are VERY busy" is the automated excuse BT use when you call them). I then tried to get back to the lady in Enniskillen. I think that either she or the person due to call me back were the team that kicks into action when you mention, "looking at Sky special offers".

After lots of phone calls I was unsuccessful so I decided to make a formal complaint. This was not easy. "Complain to me", was the frequent response… "No, I'd rather escalate my complaint", I responded. This is because a complaint is often quashed because the BT person was said to have been following their script. "My complaint is that I failed to receive a promised call which would confirm my reduced broadband price", I explained. With lots of aggravation the BT person passed my complaint further up the chain.

I was called back and was informed (as I'd forecast) that my complaint was unfounded because the BT person had done nothing wrong… "Please escalate my complaint", I said, "I insist", and after a few days I received a phone call from a nice lady who apologised and listened to my story about the promised reduction in my broadband price and the call confirming this which had never materialised.

At this point it was discovered that no record existed of the original phone calls. "How much exactly was the promised price?" I said I couldn't remember exactly but I think it was around £23 and I was paying currently about £30. I also said that while I'm at it I wasn't happy with my BT TV payment. Before I go on I'll just give you a potted history of our BT Sport experience.

I was one of the first customers for BT TV. Why was this you might ask? Well my better half enjoys watching baseball. Donkeys years ago we watched baseball on Channel 5. This was tricky because at that time our Channel 5 local station was transmitting at very low power and about 30 degrees off our local TV transmitter on the IoW. We had a large aerial specially erected for Channel 5, a powerful amplifier and a notch filter and often the picture (analogue of course) would fade into noise. Oh, and did I mention that baseball was transmitted between midnight and 6am? Recording this transmission resulted in one of the above… a perfect recording of the game, the game continued after the published time and we missed the ending, the signal faded out and we recorded noise or a French station appeared and messed up the recording. Another problem, which came later. BT needed to "renew the viewing card validity" periodically and, as luck would have it, chose to do this by making an automatic recording starting at 4am so this usually messed up the ending of our baseball recordings. Live baseball was transmitted from the US in our small hours…

When we started BT TV it cost about £7 and for an extra £10 we bought a card for the now defunct Sentanta Sports channel. After a year or so Setanta was replaced by ESPN. Both had baseball (which was the reason for taking up BT TV and the fact that Channel 5 had dropped baseball). Over the years the price for BT TV changed. It went up regularly until one day it reached about £12.50 and for some reason no longer included their sports offerings. These had become free of charge to BT broadband customers. So, essentially we were paying for all sorts of things we didn't watch and not paying for things we were watching until a letter arrived. I'll explain...

Back in November 2014 BT wrote to me and said that soon you'll lose BT Sport. It was moving from digital terrestrial to the Internet and as my broadband speed was rubbish I'd lose BT Sport.
Not so fast though… if I rang 0800 678 1968 I could get an engineer to sort out our line and we could get BT Sport after all. I'm not sure how exactly this could be done because it says, "On their visit they'll assess your line from the exchange to inside your house and get an improved connection", but anyway I rang the number and, you've guessed it, no-one knew anything about the letter.

I persevered and an engineer was booked. He duly turned up rather mystified. I showed him the letter and he remained mystified. He tested the line and said it was really good but not fast enough for BT Sport.

I rang BT again and this time I was offered a dongle. This is the answer I was told. It's a Google device that lets one watch, on your TV, BT Sport received on one's computer. But I can't get BT Sport because the broadband speed is too low I explained. The lady pretended not to hear and went on to say the special miracle device is worth £30 and you can have it for nothing. OK I said wearily.. send it and I'll try it.

It duly arrived and of course the problem wasn't solved.
After more phone calls I was offered super fast broadband. You'll get 37Megs and, for a bit more you'll get 75Megs. I explained to the Irish lady that anything sounding too good to be true probably wasn't true.
Later our local exchange began to get converted for fibre optic broadband and I was told a cabinet was near enough for me to get 13Megs using a copper link to the local fibre optic termination.
I jumped at the chance and duly received a new hub and the service began. I could now get around 13Megs and I could receive BT Sport.
Unfortunately a price hike then raised my bill for broadband from £17 to £30. I was now paying £12.50 for TV plus an extra £13 (a total of £25.50 per month) just to receive BT Sport which was FREE to BT Broadband customers. That's £306 per year for a free service.. so I rang BT. So, continuing with the saga… the complaints lady had called.

I explained about my unhappiness regarding BT TV and she listened to my story. I said we only moved to faster broadband so we could receive BT Sport. That was supposed to be free so why was I being charged an excessive amount for broadband? Problem solved… she said that our broadband price was now £23 instead of £30 plus she'd reduced our BT TV to £2. "Unfortunately", she said, "the computer system isn't amenable to mouse clickable reductions so I'll credit your account with cash to make up the difference"… and she did.

But all that happened months ago… now we have a bill of £32 per month for broadband and £2 for BT TV PLUS £5 for what was our FREE BT Sports. Oddly that equals £7 which is what we used to pay for BT TV Sport from Sentanta and ESPN.
In addition we're paying about £18 for our phone line. That equals £57 in total or £684 per annum.

At this point I decided to abandon BT and move my line and broadband to Sky.
Since June 2015 this process is handled completely by the new provider so I'm now waiting for it all to happen…
My line rental drops to a basic £10.66 plus all free UK calls including mobiles for £8 and my faster broadband (fibre + copper) drops to £10. Setting aside the TV bits and pieces, that's a saving of £21 per month AND we'll get free phone calls including mobiles anytime instead of just evenings and weekends for the former and weekends for the latter.
In case you missed that… it's a saving of £252 per annum.

Next… what happened after I requested the switch…?
And young Dominic arrived in his van to install Sky TV….

Having established with numerous BT advisors that under no circumstances could they reduce my payment of £32 per month for broadband without initially transferring my phone line to them I decided to move to Sky. I queried BT over the pricing. It's exactly the same hardware so how is it that BT consider they must charge £32 whilst Sky can charge only £10? Surely Sky must pay a wholesale price for the line and the broadband facilities to Openreach from whom BT are also supplied?

Lets add together the phone line and broadband prices. BT would be roughly £50 per month and Sky roughly £18.66 per month (including £8 for the cost of all UK calls) . That means that the wholesale price has to be less than that... let's say £16. Sky's margin therefore equals 13% and that of BT must be 212%. To the layman that must mean rip-off in fact extreme rip off. BT may say... but we are offering the deal to new customers for £23 plus £19; but that's still a margin of 85% and why should a long-established loyal customer be forced to support BT to the tune of 212%? That's nonsense, and if BT managers are aware of the discrepancy they must be balmy.

BT may say that the broadband and phone line charges are interlinked but I pay about the same amount to the Post Office that BT have quoted. The Post Office in turn pay Openreach a little less. So Openreach is an independent company then?

No, it's part of BT. Therefore BT lose only a couple of pounds because my phone provider is the Post Office. This is patently absurd. Whoever I pay for broadband and phone whether it's Sky or BT, most of the cash ends up in the pocket's of BT; so, previously I was paying £32 plus £18 for broadband and phone and soon I'll be paying £10 and £10.66. In the first instance BT took £50 and soon BT will take around £17 with Sky taking £3.66; so BT will be out of pocket by £33, yet refused to cut my price of £32 for broadband. Absolutely crazy.

Or is it?

The Government needed to invent a market for broadband and phones. BT had a monopoly which means they could charge whatever they like for providing the services. So, BT should supply at wholesale prices these services to other service providers who can then charge whatever they like. Well, to stay in business they need to be competitive which means they must quote lower prices than BT. In other words these providers must either be more efficient than BT or make less profit. But there's still a monopoly because BT can set their prices as high as they wish. So, we'll invent Openreach. They can sell services to BT and other service providers at much the same prices. That way it's an even playing field? Not really because Openreach is part of BT. All that's happened is Openreach holds the monopoly not BT. But as BT = Openreach there's really no change at all. None of this explains why BT refused to reduce my £32 for broadband.

I blame Libby Barr because she signed every letter I've received from BT; although I have doubts that she has ever read any of these letters because they contain silly errors and surely a Managing Director wouldn't make such silly mistakes? In fact, speaking to a BT person the other day, he said these letters are generated automatically by computers. This being so isn't it strange they should carry a signature?

The last letter said I would have to pay £108 because I was ending my contract early. Is this the exact amount of the rip-off due from now to the end of the contract?

As I understand it, Ofcom have said that a price rise provides grounds for leaving a contract without penalty, and you have 30 days to make the decision. I contacted BT and they told me I can leave without penalty, so having got that information I began the switchover, so why does this Libby Barr person believe otherwise?

All's well that ends well. The new router works much the same as the old one except it's network address is 192.168.0.1 instead of 192.168.1.254. This meant some changes where any network addressing wasn't set to "Auto" and of course our network printer stopped working until I'd manually reset its address in its menu. The Post Office and BT have both told us there's a refund pending.. so no penalties. Since July or August of 2015 all the previous problems of switching broadband provider have magically disappeared so don't forget... if your ISP hikes up the price within an existing contract you can switch to another and gain the benefits of special offers without a penalty for cancelling the contract. The only slight drawback is your email. Each ISP has their own email system. This is based on a server which responds to whatever email address you've chosen and naturally the details are never "standard". Dropping your old ISP means losing your old email address if it was with the ISP and going through the process of modifying Outlook or Outlook Express or whatever you use, not to mention letting everyone know your address has changed.. Not necessarily though because at least one ISP allows you to keep your old email address when you switch broadband provider. BT give you 30 days grace and then for a little over £1.60 per month you can retain your old BT email address. In fact I believe you can have up to ten different addresses.

LATER

I'm now writing this note in March 2016. My next door neighbour popped over last week to ask if our phone was working as he had no dial tone. I checked and it was fine so he called his phone provider and a day or two later an Openreach van and cherry picker was outside our gate (that's where the telephone pole is). A second Openreach van was parked round the corner.. not too far away. I stood by our gate and the chap up the pole shouted that the line was OK, then corrected himself... sorry... wrong line. A day or two later and it's my phone that's missing dial tone. Is this a coincidence or did the Openreach chap forget to tighten the screws on the "wrong line" I wonder? I contacted Sky, to whom we pay the line rental. The Sky chap said one of the phone wires was disconnected and Openreach will fix it within 5 days....

I get most of my work via the phone so it looks like I'll be getting a few days off... time to catch up on some gardening.

Fortunately broadband works, albeit only a quarter as fast as it should be. Signs of losing one of our pair of wires between the pole and the house? Something a little odd... when you ring my number you can hear ringing but the phone remains as dead as a dodo, and of course there's no dial tone... but when you hang up the mobile a red LED next to a button carrying a picture of an envelope on the landline phone lights up and if you press this my mobile phone number appears on the dial. Apparently there must be some signalling going on that doesn't rely on both wires being connected?

Well, the Monday following the weekend we lost our phone at around mid-day broadband lost sync for ten minutes and when it came back we had dial tone again.

AND A FEW DAYS LATER

I received a letter from BT, from "Yours Sincerely Libby Barr" stating that as from 6th May 2016 our Premium Mail price was raised from £1.60 to £5 per month. This is an increase of 312.5% and is certainly more than inflation. Of course it's plainly a ruse to make me switch ISP to BT. Fat chance as this must be the third time they've used Mafia methods on me. I've sent them a formal letter of complaint and also contacted OFCOM. Watch this space...

A few days later the phone rang a nice Indian gentleman from BT said he'd received my email and said the charge could be discounted (whatever that meant) and, could he "close the complaint". I said he could close the complaint once the price was put back to £1.60 so he said he'd transfer me to "accounts". After lots of music and ringing and messages about "we are very busy" a nice Irish chap answered. I explained the position and after lots of questions he finally said I could have my email free of charge and a letter will follow. Too good to believe? We'll wait and see....

Next, I got an email telling me that from now on I wouldn't be charged for BT Premium Mail, "and this is constant". Great, it was worth complaining.

Oops, now, 5 days later I got another email telling me I'd be paying £5 instead of £1.60.

I rang and after an eternity in a queue I spoke to an Irish chap who said he'd find out what was going on and was it OK if he put me on hold.... the line went quiet and then.... I was back in the queue for another 28 minutes. Eventually an Indian lady answered and, after explaining all over again, I was told the order giving me my free email hadn't been processed properly and would I wait while she spoke with her supervisor for two minutes. She returned after 5 minutes and said the order for my free email hasn't been actioned despite the fact I have it in writing that my email will be free, plus the following statement. Quote "Please accept the above statement as true and consider this e-mail as confirmation and evidence of the same".

I re-opened my original complaint....

That was quick... the nice chap who'd been handling the complaint said the foc order he'd raised had gone wrong but he'd now raised a new order. This was copied to me and indeed shows free email for 12 months before reverting, not to £5 but to the original £1.60 after 12 months. The order was signed by Libby Barr, so if I need to open a Small Claims Court dispute I know the name to use. Below is part of the new order. I included the very unfriendly T & C which is getting very common these days and hopefully will eventually be ruled unfair, then illegal, before too long.

 BT Premium Mail
Thanks for choosing BT Premium Mail, which gives you:

Unlimited storage for large files and emails
Protection against viruses, spam and other online threats
Technical support to help you when you need
Up to 11 email addresses for you and your family
Access via webmail, internet-enabled mobile phones and email programs
You'll get BT Premium Mail free for 12 months (starting from the activation date), then it's £1.60 a month by Direct Debit.

"Our prices and terms may change at any time while you're in contract with us
We'll let you know about any important changes before they happen."

Clearly the statement that a price increase can be made willy nilly must be unfair. In these days of price comparison websites it is patently absurd that, having selected a new provider one day, that provider can bump up his price the very next day by any amount is wrong. I always understood that a contract lays down, in concrete, the terms and conditions to be valid for the length of the contract and, as price is the most important part, it is wrong to make this a variable quantity.

Although everyone sees this as unfair, Ofcom, who are supposed to be looking after public interests have merely wriggled a bit and said all they can do is to make this unfair stipulation a valid reason for a customer to leave the contract within 30 days of notification without penalty. This basically gives the green light to anyone wishing to attract new customers by offering stupidly low prices in the hope that the customer won't notice if the price goes up, or just can't be bothered to swap a second time (customer inertia). You can click here to see here what Ofcom's solution is. As my new contract with BT gives me email "Free" for 12 months I can't see how this can be subject to a price hike. Time will tell.

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