Earlier this week I said that our flat move had gone well and in particular that our phone line would be activated on Thursday, i.e. yesterday. It hasn’t.
Christine got a voicemail message from BT (with home we have our phone and broadband) asking her to ring them. After being on hold for quite a while, someone finally answered, but initially didn’t know why we ringing. Eventually, we were told that there was a problem with the phone line and that the activation would have to be put back. We could have a working phone by Friday (today), but with a different telephone number, and that the broadband wouldn’t be working until Thursday next week – a week later than we’d been told originally.
To make it worse, we’re not receiving a discount on the monthly bill for the time (nearly 2 weeks) when we’ve been unable to use our phone line or broadband, so we’re effectively paying for a service that we aren’t getting.
Initially I had praise for the way BT handled our move – our first call to them assured us that it would be a quick, simple process which would allow us to keep our number. A few days without phone and internet access would be inconvenient but understandable. But having no internet for the best part of two weeks seems excessive, especially as there’s no financial compensation. And really, does it take a whole week for someone to drive over to our local exchange and press a few buttons?
The problem isn’t necessarily with BT Retail, with whom we pay the contract with, but seemingly with BT Openreach, the subsidiary of BT which owns and operates the telephone lines and exchanges in the UK. To me, they seem to be a very expensive and inefficient outfit which only serves its own shareholders, i.e. the BT Group. Although it’s regulated by Ofcom, other parties have very little say in how it’s run.
In Britain, we don’t have that many alternatives to broadband via phone lines. Virgin Media’s cable network is good, but generally limited to large towns and cities – no good for my small town. Wireless broadband over 3G mobile networks is an option: prices are coming down to be comparable with fixed-line internet, there’s no need to install anything apart from plugging in a Mifi router and they can even be bought on pay-as-you-go contracts. But wireless suffers from latency issues, making it poor for use in online gaming, and again, it’s not always available. We’re also some years away from better and faster 4G networks.
Maybe it’s high time for the ownership of Openreach to change; its shares could be split amongst the other large ISPs in the UK (Sky, Talktalk, Orange, Virgin Media etc.) so that all have a say in how its run; it could be made a not-for-dividend company answerable to Ofcom like Network Rail for the railways; or completely re-nationalised. The last one is a long-shot, but any of those should improve accountability to its direct customers (the ISPs) and regular home users.
In the meantime, I’ve paid for an extra 2 GB of data to be added on to my mobile contract with 3 for this month. Thankfully it only costs £5, and 3 don’t charge extra for internet tethering or using your phone as a personal hotspot, so I’m only partially out of pocket. I’ll still be pointing this out to BT in a letter.
In an age when I can order a book at half 4 in the afternoon, and have it on my desk at work at half 9 the following morning, how does it take so long for phone lines to be connected? Is BT’s equipment really that old and archaic, or is their lack of accountability and need to shore up profit margins the driving force here?