Grumble No.54

Are you happy with BT?

June 2006

 I recently installed broadband for a neighbour a couple of doors away. It turned out to have 3Meg download speed.
"Mine's only 1Meg I retorted… and I'm paying more than you!"

"I'll ring BT and ask them why".

Later that evening I looked up the number for Broadband Help. It was an 0870 number so I first logged onto the website "". Here you get FREE numbers instead of the type you have to pay for while you wait in a queue.

The last time I tried one of these free numbers, the chap was really friendly till he realised I wasn't a member of the BT pension fund enquiring about benefits.

The website gave me about 20 different free and lower cost numbers and I started with the first. The usual numeric options were paraded before me, but after ages, pushing buttons and waiting, nothing really fitted my enquiry. I was advised to try a second number by the recording.
This went on until all 20 or so numbers were exhausted and I hadn't managed to actually get to speak with anyone.

I called the operator and explained my predicament. She was very nice and said of course she could help. I heard some key clicks and familiar recorded voices in the background…
"That's all I got", I said. "There seems to be no evidence of human habitation at any of the numbers".
After some initially reassuring and sceptical words and then ten minutes she gave up too.

I decided to try a number I knew would be manned. I tried the one about opening an account, ie, or one from which BT could expect to take money from me.

I was answered very quickly but all my questions were blocked and I could get no answer except that I should try their website. I said I was fed up and really annoyed that I couldn't find anyone to listen to my complaint.

I had in fact, already tried the website, but because of a cookie placed on my computer by BT, presumably, all the BT web addresses I tried were magically converted to Yahoo Premium Mail.

I gave up and decided that it was not on the cards for me to get 3Meg broadband.

About a week later I got a phone call from a nice lady in Gateshead. I said Gateshead was a pretty grotty place when I last visited it, but as that was about 45 years ago maybe it had improved?

"Do you mind answering some questions about a complaint you made to BT she asked?"

"Who are you exactly", I enquired? She told me her name and said she was calling on behalf of BT from a company called FDS Market Research.

"What does FDS stand for?", I asked.

"Nothing", she said. "Maybe it used to but it doesn't stand for anything now.
Do you mind answering some questions about your complaint to BT?"

"Go ahead", I said.

I explained all about my fruitless attempt to find out why my 1Meg broadband was dearer than my neighbours new 3Meg.

One question was, "Have you told anybody about your dissatisfaction with BT?"

"Well I do write up my moans and groans like this on my website so people can read them".

"How many people have read about this complaint she asked?"

"I don't know", I said, "but I can tell you how many people have visited the site".

"How many?"

"Hang on",…. I looked at the record on the home page… "44,530", I said.

"The box only has up to ten in it", she said. "I'll put ten".

The next question was, "Out of 1 to 10 did you eventually sort out your problem?"

"I should say zero as I didn't find anyone that would listen. Apart from the operator and the lady looking for new customers, all I could find was recordings".

"What have you done since you made the complaint?"

"Well, nothing really… except a nice man in the Post Office said he'd take over our phone line and charge us less than BT, so I agreed.

And finally, she said, "do you mind if someone from BT calls you and can I pass the recording I just made to BT?"

"You mean I can actually ask a real person in BT why my broadband is only 1Meg and why it costs more than my neighbour's 3Meg?"

Some progress to report... I got a letter dated 29th August telling me that BT is dealing with my complaint. One of the BT Dedicated Complaint Handlers will contact me by telephone to "fully resolve your issues". Maybe they're all on their holidays or handling too many dedicated complaints? No telephone call yet and its already the 8th September.

As I never did get the promised telephone call I sent an email to the address on the letter. After all, two to three weeks is long enough to cover the expression "in the very near future".

The next morning, 16th October.. I got a phone call from a charming young lady from the Wirral working for BT in Newcastle that apologised profusely and said she would arrange for my broadband speed to be increased to 5Megs, AND my bill to be reduced by a fiver a quarter. Not only that but she'd send me a nice new modem/router with all the bells and whistles free of charge.

If all goes well my speed will be up from 1 Meg to 5 Meg with a 6Gig download limit by next Monday and I'll have a router with a dongle (whatever that is) in place of my simple modem...

Well, it's 23rd October 2006 and on Saturday I received a nice new wireless router with an integral ethernet hub... gratis.. and when I checked my broadband speed today it was 5.7Megs... later it dropped to 5.2Megs before a quick burst at 6Megs. It is now very smooth and sticking at 5.2Megs. It was worth all the hassle of trying to get as good a service as new customers wasn't it?

Not only is the new service faster, I got a package of free software thrown in as well.. and to prove it pays to persevere with one's valid complaints... all this is £3 per month cheaper than I was paying for the 1Meg service..

Interesting, after a week of using the new BT service I find it usually logs on in the morning at 6.1Meg, dropping sometimes after disconnecting, to 5.7Meg and then after 6pm it goes down to 4.5Meg. Presumably this is due to changing local exchange capacity? I'm still using the old ADSL Voyager 100 USB modem as I haven't sorted out my new 100M twisted pair network. I currently use an old 10Meg coax system which is not compatible with the new modem. The new modem comes with a wireless output and 2-port ethernet hub and may make the service dropouts, at speed change steps, more or less transparent.

The second week was eventful. After running at around 5 Meg all day, suddenly at about 6pm, the line connection dropped out. The ADSL lamp was still on, showing that the modem was sychronising, but try as I might I couldn't log onto the network. I even rebooted, unplugged and replugged the modem, but either got error this or error that... I tried calling BT by phone but clearly the system was in dire straits. Even dialling 100 was terminated with a curt announcement to try again later. I eventually found a recording telling me that "some broadband customers in the Orkneys", were having difficulty logging on. This went on until 00.45am, at which point I gave up. Next day all was well except the line dropped frequently. Now it's working reasonably well but I notice that there is often a delay before some websites respond and, every so often the line drops and comes back at a slower speed, usually dropping step by step throughout the evening to 4Meg. Maybe it's teething troubles?

The third week brought a rebuilt computer. I decided to use a RAID 1 system in order to provide a method of keeping my data on the loss of a hard drive. Why was this? The answer is partly to do with the experiences of my customers. Although loss of data is more often associated with software problems, failure of the hard drive is not unknown. I've supplied a few RAID1 computers now and I thought that I'd better practice as I preach. Unfortunately my motherboard would not let me switch to a RAID 1 system so I purchased a new one that did. At the same time I upgraded to a dual-core 3.4G Pentium 4 from my old 2.8G version. To see how I organised this look here.

At the same time as updating to RAID 1 I fitted my new BT router/modem. I found that the new modem seems more robust than the original. Maybe this is because the Hub Manager tells lies, but maybe the firmware is better at handling the line? Each time I've checked I'm told that the downlink speed is around 5.3Meg and the uplink around 450K, and of course, because the router is accessed via the Ethernet, dropouts are invisible to me and I no longer have an annoying redial message flashing up..

Re-reading all this I see I'll have to update things.. This is now April 2nd 2015, nearly nine years later..

We signed up to BT Vision when it was in it's infancy and have sometimes struggled to stay with it.

We're on our third set-top box which is definitely showing its age. Basically, it's just not fast enough to cope. There's been lots of firmware upgrades, some downright bad. The worst was the one that stopped you skipping through adverts, no doubt this was due to complaints from commercial interests?

They've been trying to make BBC i-Player work properly for ages. Once you find a program it's not too bad, but getting there is not easy because the box is so slow and gives you zero feedback. Did the button on the remote work? I noticed that HD films are now watchable due to some clever buffering method, but watching live HD is impossible and even some SD programmes buffer regularly, stopping and starting in an annoying fashion. I know this is due to the BT Vision box because my computer which is linked to the TV works OK on i-Player and a new purchase, a Samsung blu-Ray player with all the bells and whistles lets us watch HD i-Player perfectly. Our broadband speed is now 5MByte down and 1MByte up.

Recently we received a letter from BT. It said that the Freeview service for BT Sport 1 and 2 is changing. Sure enough BT Sport 2 disappeared. BT Sport 1 will go soon and the letter said that my broadband speed is not good enough for receiving BT Sport via the Internet. If I wished an engineer will visit foc and make sure our speed is improved so we can continue to receive BT Sport. OK, sounded good so I booked an engineers' visit.

The engineer arrived and tested the line. Perfect he declared. You won't get better, but why did you call me? I showed him the letter. Don't know anything about this he said and went away. Later a young lady called. Is everything OK now? Not really I said.. our line tested OK and we can't get BT Sport over the Net. Why not upgrade your line to BT Infinity she asked? Can we do that? I'll check she said, then reported back she'd have to talk to someone.

To cut a long story short, we could upgrade to mixed fibre/copper and expect 13 to 17 Meg broadband. Sounds good to me and how do we go about this? She seemed unsure and quoted several upgrade prices but soon realised our line rental was not paid to BT, but to the Post Office. Now this leads me to an anomaly. We pay the Post Office about £16 per month for line rental and most of this goes to BT because they're the owners of the line which they presumably "lease" to the Post Office. Let's say the Post Office gets £2 and BT get £14.

To upgrade to copper fibre will cost me over £32 per month. I currently pay £17 per month for unlimited broadband (over copper). That's an extra £15, but if I switched my line rental to BT it would be £18, an extra £1. Something illogical here?

So, I said, to continue to get BT Sport I need to cough up an extra £15 per month, despite BT Sport being free to broadband subscribers? Yes that's about it. I'll swop to Sky I said, then I can get BT Sport via satellite. Ah.. in that case I'm sure BT can help she said. You'll get the new super-fast broadband for lots less even £13 per month. I'll get our "special" department to call you next Thursday.

Thursday came and went. I must add that the letter had arrived before Christmas 2014 and the Thursday call was due in early January 2015.

Ages later the same lady called me back. Everything OK now she asked? No, nobody called me to make an offer I couldn't refuse I said. I know, she said, I'll send you a special device that will let you watch BT Sport on your TV without using the BT Vision box. Is that a satellite reciver I asked? No it's called a Chromecast device. I was slightly surprised but accepted the offer of a free £30 dongle, which duly arrived. Alas, as I'd expected all it did was to send BT Sport received via the Net to my TV via wireless. The grotty picture on my computer monitor was now visible on my TV. Too grotty to watch; however, after fiddling around I managed to make my Desktop visible and films also any played on my computer. Interesting but 90% useless.

Ages later I was called again by BT. Everything OK she asked? No I said, how can I get BT Sport free of charge on my TV? Round the buoy we went again. It will cost you £32 per month. That's unfair I said. I would like to complain formally. Not to be put off by remonstrations my complaint was registered and ages later a lady called me, only to explain my complaint was falling on deaf ears because everyone had followed BT procedure so my complaint was unfounded.

Let me speak to your supervisor. I've already done that she said and it will still cost you £32 per month plus a charge for a new box and a charge for work at the exchange. You're a "Solus Customer" and we have special prices for you. What's a Solus Customer? Ages ago you could get broadband without having to pay line rental and that's no longer possible. You mean an old loyal customer of long standing has to pay through the nose? Yes.

I'd like to raise the complaint to the next level in that case.

Ages later a nice lady called. I'm sorry you were offered super fast broadband for £13 she said. It was a mistake. How much do you want to pay? I said £22 seemed reasonable. I'll call you back later she said.

Next day she called back. You can have super fast broadband for £22 she said. We'll bill you £32 but I'll credit your account with the difference of £120, so you'll be paying £22. And we'll reduce your BT Vision payment from £13 to £5 and send you a brand new faster set-top box plus a brand new superfast router. Is that OK? Yes please I said and now I'm waiting for things to happen... Surprisingly, the reduction in BT Vision and the increase in broadband charges results in a net gain to me of £3. It pays to persevere. The only slight worry is that the last call from BT was on the 1st April 2015.

My new Home Hub 5 arrived today. I unplugged the old Home Hub 3 with its two mobile phones and plugged in the new hub. A long illuminated strip at the bottom came on and changed colours a few times and then stayed on RED. Not so good as "This shows that there's a problem somewhere".. "Press the Reset Button and release it when the light goes orange". It didn't go orange but went to flashing red, "There's a problem with your broadband line".. presumably not synchronised. After another minute however the illumination changed to blue, so all is well.

Before switching to the new hub, I tested the line which showed as 4.09MB download speed. This is a couple of MB worse than it used to be when we got HH3. The new HH5 is even worse at 3.68MB but the booklet says the speed may increase over the next few days...

My E-mail didn't work so I rebooted the computer. It was OK then. I also had to change my network to "Home" from "Public". The booklet doesn't mention E-mail or Network problems.

I bet a pound to a penny that BT Sport will switch from being free to extortionate soon...

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