Close encounters of broadband kind

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WARD’S WORLD: By John Ward

I am led to believe, along with millions of others, that the wonder of the age is the almighty broadband and it is fast, reliable and there at the press of a button, but sadly, that thing called reality creeps in and disproves the marketing departments of assorted communication companies with this assumed premise.

I will explain. Our supplier is BT and the “service” we have is like a coconut shy, sometimes a hit but then more often, it’s a miss, only with BT, you don’t get a free go unlike with the coconut shy owner who takes pity on you after shelling out a fair bit of your hard-earned with no results. This has been known, as I once won a one-legged, one-eyed teddy bear called Lucky this way.

We seem to get a bad deal all things considered. Consider the number of Openreach vans, the broadband section of BT, that are forever about in our area – with engineers sitting on their stools beside junction boxes almost on a daily basis. If you don’t see one within a mile of leaving home, fear not, as there will be one at the next box along the road. A few months ago there were three vans and engineers congregating at one such box and, assuming they were not having a reunion or comparing their size of screwdrivers, take it as read they probably had mega problems within.

Over the past few weeks, seemingly if it’s been warm weather, the orange light on our “hub” glows and flashes. With broadband, it means “doomed”, till whatever happens, but then if it’s wet, as in pouring with rain, it also does the same – so one can assume the wiring at some point may well travel through somebody’s greenhouse, yes?

It’s not unusual, with not a hint of Tom Jones warbling away to the same tune, to get total meltdown, so we ring Customer Service (assuming the telephone is not affected, of course) and this is where you get the chance to kill an hour or so (my best was one hour and 27 minutes, so get a plate of sandwiches and a drink ready as it can be a long wait to get nothing constructive from it, believe me) as you get to speak to somebody in Mumbai and get close to strangling yourself with frustration as we now enter the Meaningless Babble section of the game.

I start by giving our name and telephone number – being in the forefront of digital communications, this should come up on their screen anyway, as confirmed by a BT engineer unless they told him fibs, but once over that hurdle, the next bit can go on for quite some time as you will be asked questions from the “crib sheet” they read from.

“Can you tell me please what your socket looks like on the wall that your hub is plugged into?” (Once I said our wall with the socket on it was away being painted, two undercoat and one gloss, and still he wittered on undeterred, bless). Be warned that when supplying the answer, as you want the problem fixing and have no reason to mislead, the chances are the voice thousands of miles away will not usually accept this as you will be asked if you are sure ... and at this point I will say that my own personal best was being asked seven times – that is SEVEN times – what our socket looked like before I got an “okay, then”, which can be either reassuring or make you want to take up the art of assassination.

During one conversation, the person at the other end started by telling me his name was Michael, but shortly after he was calling himself Andrew, and I suggested he wrote a name down he was happy with 
and pin it up so he could see it.

A word of caution at this stage, as you will be constantly “warned” that should an engineer attend to your problem and it is found to be within your home, said with a really deep voice as in death threat mode, there is a charge of a hundred and so many quid, but it’s free if found on the outside of your abode and all the times we have been graced with the presence of an engineer (eventually), it’s always been on the outside, blaming the cable or the wires within it stretching due to heavy rain, snow or rows of dicky birds sitting on it. On hearing the last bit, I tried ringing Sir David Attenborough or his stand-in, Bill Oddie, but due to a bad line or connection, got no reply.

It seems whatever supplier you are with, as I have had good and not-so-clever reports regarding other suppliers from people, it generally seems to be a case of them trying to attract new customers. The constant “deals” being offered are to entice others to their brand as we get supposed “celebs” appearing in assorted (VERY expensive) adverts to plug their deals, whereupon in the real world they ought to focus on getting those sorted already paying for something they can’t get now, as opposed to getting more people on board.

With all these “sporting events” they are gobbling up to impress new customers with, more effort should be placed on sorting the problems out for established customers, as it seems it’s a case of not letting the shareholders down, never mind the loyal customer, unless pushed to do so.

I have just read BT’s pre-tax profits were up 13 per cent to £717million between March and June this year, and no doubt that will make the shareholders happy, but perhaps now would be the time for an enterprising author or printer to publish the Observer’s Book of BT Phone Sockets, if nothing else.