Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Hooptedoodle #242 – They Say the Neon Lights are Bright on Broadband

In which a new gizmo arrives, and British Telecom make one last, bravura attempt to be a pain in the backside.

As I mention fairly regularly, I live in a rural area, and one of the consequences of this is that we have had very poor broadband since forever. This in itself is just a fact of life if you choose to live in the middle of nowhere, but things have actually got steadily worse over recent years – for a start, there are more people online out here, so traffic levels are getting further and further beyond the capacity of the available service, and, for another thing, the global assumption that everyone now has fibre-optic connections which blow your hat off has meant that all the resulting add-on claptrap noise of advertising screws up what bandwidth is left by sending you gratuitous video clips of things you didn’t want to see in the first place. In the last couple of years, it has been a feature of my email that I cannot read it until I have seen some advert of the day – frequently this is a completely irrelevant American advert (this because our ISP, BT, provide an email service which is really just a very poor relation of Yahoo’s), and often it could take up to a minute to reach me from a server in Ohio or similar. Your blood pressure can do some surprising things in a minute.

The fundamental problem has been the distance between here and our nearest telephone exchange. We pay BT for a service which is officially 1 Mb/sec, but it is normally about one fifth of that. Not fast. We were, of course, promised by that nice Mr Cameron that everyone in Britain would soon have superfast broadband, and BT have even published some grandiose plans for implementing this, but no-one was holding their breath around here. BT have finally admitted that there will be 5% of the UK population for whom fast broadband is just not going to be available – we are in the 5%. You may imagine us, sitting around a campfire in our animal skins, playing with bones and baying at the moon.

Well, there is a new game in town. As a result of a local government initiative, a private company, Lothian Broadband, has created a new infrastructure which provides broadband by wireless connection. Our hamlet is now connected. Our broadband is transmitted from the hill of Traprain Law, some 10 miles away, a shared receiver/relayer then sends signals to the individual households, via little aerials – ours is shown in the photo. As broadband goes, it is not especially cheap, but for a total outlay similar to what I was paying BT we now get an effortless 12Mb/sec. This may not seem impressive to you, but for us this is a whole new world.


Very pleased.

I have, of course, taken the opportunity to remove broadband from the services I receive from BT. It was harder to get it sorted out than I expected. As of last month, I was paying BT some £69 per month in total, including a charge for this lamentable broadband service, and – as it happens – my account was some £83 in credit. I spent a fair amount of time on the phone to BT on Thursday, explaining that I wished to keep my telephone services exactly as they were, but to drop the broadband. OK. It was explained to me that my new monthly bill (ignoring any extra call charges that arise) will be £28.74 per month. That seems reasonable – that’s about £40 down on what it was, which compares favourably with the £35 I shall be paying to the new broadband provider.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I received a confirmatory email stating that my new monthly payment to BT from December would be £72. That’s right – though my account is in credit at the moment, and though the broadband will be removed from the service I receive, my monthly payment was to increase by £3. The email stated that if I did not agree with this, or if there was something incorrect about the proposed changes to the service, I should phone 0800 800 150. So I did.

This number puts you in touch with a technical support team (in New Delhi), who do not know anything about the product ranges or the pricing. All they could do was arrange for the Sales people (in Leeds, I think) to phone me back. This was done, and eventually I got confirmation that the revised service will be what I actually asked for, and that the monthly payment will, in fact, be about £30. That’s more like it.

There was a time when I would have been interested to know just why they had been prepared to charge me a completely fraudulent amount, but I no longer care. I don’t get my broadband from them any more. They can, in fact, go to Hell.


  1. My mother has just told me this tale of BT's precursor. My Liverpool Grandfather after serving in the last unpleasantness in the 22nd Dragoons joined the telephone arm of the GPO and rose through the ranks to become a Senior Executive Officer by the time my newly wed parents installed a telephone. As soon as he heard about this my grandfather immediately sent an engineer round to cut them off as they obviously couldn't afford a telephone in 1960 and he didn't want them to get into debt....

    1. Good - nice story. Modern equivalent would be that they were allowed the phone and were allowed to get into debt, but the phone didn't work.

  2. Sounds like you have finally won the campaign. BT's rearguard obviously couldn't resist fire off a few passing shots creating a few unnecessary casualties to the bank balance. (Or should that be Parthian shots?).

    1. Yes indeed. I shall keep an eye on the bank statement round about December time, but it seems we have escaped. The availability of the wireless broadband is just a stroke of luck - somebody spotted a commercial opportunity in a service desert - but it's a game-changer. I think that, like a lot of "tariff" con-artists, BT invent a large number and bill you that until you complain about it. I had a devil of a job sorting out my mother's phone account a few years ago - she finished up paying less than half the amount for exactly the same (minimal) use. Somehow, utility providers can't see anything stupid in that situation - I think they have a surgical operation as part of the training, to remove their commonsense.

      May their piles fester.

  3. Shoddy infrastructure, random pricing and non-existent service seem to be the basic business model the world over. In Australia similar wireless mini-networks are popping up all over the bush to plug the gaping holes in our government-backed National Broadband Network!

    1. BT, of course, will continue to bill me for broadband for a further 30 days after i requested it to stop - terms and conditions - and, of course, they will bill me a further £31 for disconnection, though the phone service will continue through the same wires - presumably this is because some highly-trained chap in a hard hat will need to shin up a lofty pylon to snip a cable or something. You can see there's a lot admin and technical what-have-you required to stop providing me with broadband, even though the broadband has stopped very many times by itself in the past with no effort at all. I don't care - the amount they skin me for is nothing to the ongoing amount I shall not pay them forever for the discontinued service. I laugh at their extra charges - I kick sand in the face of their terms and conditions. I have voted with my feet.

      I will have to pay £5 a month to keep my BT internet address, which is worth it since all our family addresses are on the one account, and all our private and business correspondence archives would be lost if we didn't. The man in Leeds gave me a special number to phone to arrange this - 0808-100-6778. That was kind. I rang this number, made a long series of choices on the voice-server interface, and then was told I would have to phone a different number - 0800-111-4567 - to get the BT Premier Mail service, Did that - more voice-server choices, and eventually I spoke to a girl in Glasgow who told me I have to do this online, and she gave me the URL to do this - again, most kind. Went online, and got rejected because I am already a broadband customer. It seems I have to wait until after I have stopped my BT broadband account before I set this up. I have 30 days.

      Fair enough - silly, though. BT seem to be confused - most of the time they believe that they are a traditional (nationalised?) monopoly supplier, too big and mighty to bother with trivia such as customer service. Then suddenly they will become a fragmented cloud of separate departments and companies, each with their own phone numbers, with very little effort to present a unified public face.

      As for their voice-server comedy show, they should speak to some company that specialises in phone services, to get that sorted out. Oh - just a minute - silly me, they are a company that specialises in phone services, aren't they. Oops.