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BT: Must try harder

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I’ve tried to avoid criticising BT and its broadband services as it’s such an easy target but my frustration with the poor broadband service I’ve received for the past five years and the delays in the rollout of the new FTTC (Fibre To The Cabinet) service has reached boiling point.

My ISP is a small independent reseller of BT’s wholesale broadband service. The support team is very good and usually respond to problem reports very quickly but they are required to follow BT Wholesale’s processes when dealing with line problems. It’s obvious why this has to be done but BT’s bureaucratic and unhelpful procedures ensure, in my experience at least, that the customer is sometimes left with a problem that BT appears to have little interest in even diagnosing never mind resolving.

The quality of the line at the house where I’ve lived for the past five years has always been problematic. After a lot of connectivity problems when I first moved in, BT were eventually persuaded to replace the wiring between the hookup point on the house and the master socket. This made the line capable of holding ADSL sync but did little to improve the lack of speed.

The line speed was so bad that BT’s own speed test routine always timed out when I tried to run it and led to a ridiculous Catch-22 where my ISP was unable to ask BT OpenReach to investigate the lack of speed because BT’s procedures required that the customer (i.e. me) ran the speed test to prove that the line was sufficiently slow to warrant investigation. After repeated requests BT finally sent an engineer who confirmed that there was a problem and drove off in his van. He returned an hour later saying that he had found a particularly corroded section of copper cable and replaced it. The connection was noticeably better and the speed stabilised at around 2.8 mbps downstream.

However, there was, and still is, an issue with the line as it periodically becomes slow or unable to hold a connection for more than a few seconds at a time. It’s difficult to know what’s causing this but there seems to be a correlation with the weather. In particular, the line seems to become unstable when there’s several days of rain. The worst example was in the spring earlier this year when the line was so unstable that, in effect, I had no internet connection at all for several days with my ADSL modem reconnecting at anything up to 100 time per hour. Bizarrely, my ISP and BT showed little interest in investigating the problem. It seems that it didn’t fit into any problem category that they were prepared to diagnose.

BT estimate that the line will hold a steady connection at 2 mbps. The problems I’ve had this year have resulted in BT’s line controlling software progressively lowering the line speed until it’s now at 1.5 mbps.

With no sign of an end to these chronic problems, I was interested to see that BT’s FTTC offering, Infinity, supposedly offers a more stable connection as well as being substantially faster. I checked the roll out program and was reassured to see that my local exchange was scheduled to implement FTTC in September.

All through August I checked the availability but it never appeared and then the scheduled date was changed from September to December.

From mid-November onwards I checked the availability of FTTC from my ISP every few days but, again, there was no sign of it. It’s slowly dawning on me that BT is so out of touch with its customers and good business practice that when it says the service will be available ‘December 2010’ it doesn’t actually mean that it will be available by December or even in December. It appears to mean that it will be available after December 2010 in what you and I would otherwise refer to as January 2011.

So, here I am writing this post at 9:30pm on 31 December 2010 and is the FTTC service available ? No, of course it’s not. Will it be available tomorrow, on 1 January 2011 ? I doubt it.

Earlier today I went to the BT Infinity web site to see if the information on FTTC availability was any more up to date than the information on my ISP’s web site. This quickly turned to farce as it first indicated that FTTC was not available and that there was no plan to roll out the service in my area but when I followed the suggestion to register my interest in the service it then excitedly informed me that there was good news! FTTC was scheduled for implementation at my exchange soon.

My ISP’s information is still that the service is scheduled for availability in December 2010 which, with two and a half hours of 2010 remaining, is unlikely. More worrying though, is the estimate on the BT Infinity web site that although the implementation in the exchange is scheduled for December 2010 the availability of the service to customers will not be until March 2011. It’s not clear whether this is the first evidence of another postponement or whether it’s always been the case that the availability of the service to customers is some months after FTTC is implemented in the exchange.

It’s difficult not to see all of this as evidence of a mediocre service from a mediocre company.

Update 04/01/2011

BT’s website now no longer indicates that FTTC is scheduled for implementation at my exchange soon. When I check the implementation schedule, my exchange is now shown as March 2011. So, in the middle of 2010 it was scheduled for September 2010, this was postponed until December 2010, and now it’s been postponed again until March 2011. As well as being disappointed, this raises questions of BT’s ability to manage its customers expectations and how competent its project management is. BT’s poor reputation is well deserved.

Update 05/01/2010

I emailed a complaint to BT yesterday about the postponements and its failure to manage customers’ expectations. I didn’t really expect a response any time soon, if at all, so I was surprised to get a phone call from a BT representative apologising for the delays and explaining that, in part, the recent bad weather had contributed to the need to postpone the implementation until March.

I’m not a fan of BT and remain cynical about it as a service provider but I am impressed that it contacted me so quickly and that its representative was prepared to discuss my complaint rather than just make excuses.

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Written by Sea Monkey

January 1, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Comment

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