Whoo, I'm back online!That's a good month after it should have happened, and I only got there today because I followed Francis Sedgemore's advice and complained to the chief exec of BT Broadband, after a series of experiences documented here and here.
The chief exec of BT Broadband, by far the largest ISP in Britain, set the head of his technical support service, Janice, to follow it up.
Janice was easily the most sympathetic of the legion of people I had encounters with in this saga. She had just the right tone of gritty North of England sincerity, near-distress and urgency in her tone of voice as she listened to my rambling accounts of the online disaster I had been visited with. I could see why she had got to her exalted senior position.
She not only gave me her personal mobile phone number and urged me to send her progress reports on it, even as she went off on her holiday leave to enjoy the Leeds festival. , but it became clear from what some of the underlings down the line said that I had been turned into a high level complaint, which jet setted me to somewhere near the head of the queue.
That's when I found out that there are something like 2,000 customers of BT Broadband are stuck with similar problems and marooned in limbo for months. Janice had discreetly said, we have some other customers with your problem.
People I knew started telling me of their colleagues, friends and relatives who were stuck in a similar hopeless limbo with BT Broadband, involving months offline and endless fruitless and insanity-inducing calls to Bangalore call centres.
Janice had already given an explanation of why it was all happening. It involved all manner of technicalities with acronyms like LMU (she had picked up that I had some sort of experience as an IT professional). But what it boiled down to was this: when broadband started up in the UK, BT were able to establish and maintain a near monopoly as an ISP because they controlled the phone exchanges and so were able either to refuse access to other ISPs or set them up to experience months of delay in getting their customers online. When they were forced to give up their monopoly, it seemed to be replaced by non-malicious but entirely effective incompetence.
After some years of this, the UK regulator made BT loosen up its grip on other ISPs, and promise to treat all ISPs and users equally fairly. BT responded to this by setting up an arcane series of separate companies. BT Openreach. BT Wholesale. Etc. But the upshot is that they devised systems of such incompetence that half the problems I was visited with were not soluble. For example, there was one part of the system where, if there was a fault in getting online, you reported it to division X. But in order to get your fault attended to by their techs, you had to be already online. A true Catch-22.That explained why for the first two weeks, all the assurance I got from Bangalore was so much vapour.
Last Friday, Janice phoned me up with something like triumph in her voice. The leap through the Catch -22 trap was being made by her high level intervention. I would be online by the end of the day. I was not. It seemed there was some sort of mechanical problem from my exchange. They were actually going to send out a BT engineer to my new home to sort it out. I would be contacted by the end of the day, as there was going to be a public holiday on Monday. I wasn't.
But today, Dave from BT arrived. It was fascinating to eavesdrop on his phone conversations to his colleagues, which went something like, that's another of these. You think they'd sort this out. Seems like job creation to me.. Dave told me there were large numbers of BT broadband customers who couldn't get online because their main phone input was fitted with old radio suppressor equipment which turned out to suppress broadband too. And there was no way in which BT's elaborate online support systems could detect the fault without a direct physical inspection. With the air of a man who's caught a respectably sized trout, Dave showed me my own phone input with two of these suppressors fitted on it.
He tried the connection. It still didn't work. In fact it wouldn't even allow him to access his insider's BT account to speak to his colleagues.
Dave was not deterred. It seemed the previous resident had had broadband from a different ISP. My own system was therefore still seen by BT as a different provider's account. Or they hadn't switched it over properly. Off went Dave to the local exchange, swearing he would sort it out and return.
Nothing happened for half an hour. Then --- whooaa--- I noticed my brand new wireless Macbook was busying itself downloading a new Microsoft Office update. And there was my Adloyada page on my other computer.
Dave reappeared. He explained that this last fault was basically the equivalent of someone putting a plug into the wrong socket. They had missed out one of the relays in switching over the system.
All this should have been detectable and fixable within hours of my first efforts to get back online on the 31st July. Instead, it took endless phone calls to Bangalore, three exchanges of emails to the chief executive of BT Broadband, hours of the time of the head of technical support, three specialist BT support engineers directly testing the equipment, and a month of my being deprived of my most basic daily work and communal/leisure facility.
And I seem to have had special privileges in getting action on my case. What of the other 1,999 or so poor saps wondering what on earth has happened to the service they were promised.
Meanwhile, you can see adverts everywhere in London eagerly trying to sign you up to BT broadband. During the time I've been offline, I've had two circulars inviting me to experience the joys of BT broadband (if only!); even my mother, deep in the grip of dementia, has received letter from BT broadband inviting her to experience a life transformed by super-high speed broadband.
BT was for years the byword for a Stalinist-style state monopoly. You used to have to wait up to a year to get a telephone line. They made it clear they were doing you a great favour by granting you one. They charged (and continue to charge) unbelievably extortionate prices for overseas calls. Yet there were always the jokes about being able to spot a team of BT engineers taking their customary afternoon sleep in their vans parked on the laybys of the British road system.
What happens when a state monopoly becomes privatised? It seems that BT Broadband has taken on the worst characteristics of a shifty and devious private monopoly whilst retaining the chronic incompetence of the old jobs-for-the-boys state monopolies. I feel for the Janices and the Daves left to try to make sense of a system that doesn't work, but continues to recruit customers who don't know the score.
I've no idea how long the chief exec has been in post. It was certainly impressive to emails from him almost by return.
Meanwhile, if you're on broadband in the UK, try if possible not to move house.