I knew it was a mistake. The moment I decided to ring BT to tell them how slow my superfast broadband was, I knew I would regret it.
Call me brave, call me foolhardy, I rang them anyway. Inspired by the latest attack on BT by a committee of MPs complaining about its terrible ‘broadbad’ service, I thought it was time to tackle the issue head-on.
Using BT’s own test on my computer I find I am enjoying a service of 5.09 Megabits per second (Mbps) though I am paying for somewhere between 27 to 36 Mbps.
So I call them and the first bloke I speak to says (and I quote): ‘You are not on superfast, it’s a basic copper connection you have there and 5 Mbps is the expected speed for your connection.’
He says superfast fibre optic broadband is actually available; I just haven’t got it. I point out I only switched to BT because I was promised superfast broadband so he says he’ll talk to a colleague.
‘You are on copper,’ he says again. ‘You are definitely not on superfast.’
Several minutes later I am transferred to a woman and I have to explain the whole thing once again. She listens and asks if we’re talking about a business line. I say we’re not so she tells me she can’t deal with it and I am transferred one more.
After a lengthy pause I have the pleasure of explaining the situation for a third time. I spend the next 36 minutes, followed by a brief pause to test the line, and a second bout of 23 minutes, in conversation with a woman whose English is not all that clear. This may have something to do with being based in Bombay.
Her first announcement comes as a shock as it completely contradicts her colleague. She says: ‘You are already connected to fibre optic.’
At this point I may have lost my sense of humour.
While I am waiting for her to carry out various tests and listening to something which would once have been called music but which is just a hiss and crackle down the line from India, I have time to reflect on the MPs’ report.
A couple of BT goons got into trouble for laughing at the report but with luck the Government will do something about the plan to separate BT from BT Openreach, the company which owns the nation’s broadband infrastructure. When 121 MPs agree the service is ‘dire’ surely someone will do something.
Breaking BT’s monopoly would be welcome to thousands of people whose lives are made a misery by the company’s bureaucratic indifference.
A self-employed friend spent weeks without any broadband as BT failed to effect repairs. She almost went out of business.
My hairdresser says when she complained about the slowness of her ‘superfast’ broadband she was told it was probably caused by the neighbour’s Christmas tree lights.
Worse still, another friend was visited three times by BT Openreach engineers after he complained about his ‘poor to atrocious’ broadband.
The third engineer declared the problem was the copper wires down the road being aged and fairly useless.
‘He told me to call BT Openreach,’ says my friend. ‘Even though he was from BT Openreach he couldn’t do anything about it himself.
‘I called BT and they said go to BT Openreach, which is part of the same company. Openreach said “You have got to speak to BT – only the provider of the line can talk to us”. I went back to BT who said they couldn’t help, I needed to go to Openreach.
‘This has gone on for six months. Ultimately a lady from Madras rang to ask, “Can we close this case now?” I have given up.’
BT says superfast broadband is available to 95 per cent of us and splitting up the company would leave less money for investment. It also says we’re ahead of most other countries.
If it’s so good, how come it’s so bad?
Ofcom is investigating the idea of splitting up BT but we can be pretty sure it will do whatever the telecoms giant tells it to do.
Meanwhile my friend in Bombay is back on the line saying she can’t find anything wrong so she will have to send out an engineer. If the fault is on my premises, rather than out in the road, I will have £129.99 taken from my bank account.
I balk at this so she offers yet another test which involves unscrewing the cover of the connector which brings BT into the house and plugging the router directly into the socket inside. Yet again the speed is tested.
The good news is it’s now 16.88 Mbps. Not exactly superfast but better than superslow. At the end of it all, Miss Bombay tells me: ‘You have been very patient and cooperative.’
Which makes me wonder how mad her other customers must get.
PS Six months later my BT broadband bill has soared to £26 per month and the speed is back at 3.4 Mbps. I ring to discuss the situation and half an hour later take part in an on-line diagnosis with an operative in India which gets us nowhere. Eventually she transfers me to some other department to discuss my extortionate bill and after a few moments the phone goes dead. Naturally they don’t bother to call back even though they certainly have the number.