Broadband, the poor relation among utilities

Broadband, the poor relation among utilities

Summary: Broadband Internet is supposed to be a utility -- many people even say it's a human right. But the providers don't see it that way when you move house.


August seems to be my jinxed month for Internet connection (or perhaps this is the cloud's way of telling me I should take some time off). In previous years, I've written about my agonising experiences with mobile broadband while on vacation in Europe. This year, I've taken a 'staycation' because I and my family have been moving house. So my tale of woe this August is all about the difficulties of getting broadband service started at the new address.

Broadband Internet is supposed to be a utility — many people even say it's a human right. But the providers don't see it that way when you move house. I arrived in my new home a week ago. There was energy and power. The water was flowing. None of these presented any problem whatsoever. It was just a matter of changing the customer names on the accounts and reading the meters. But it was a different matter when it came to communications. The phone was disconnected and there was no prospect of broadband Internet until almost two weeks away. That length of wait to get service delivered does not in my view merit the title of a utility, with its connotations of reliable, always-on provision.

What irks me most of all is that I, like a growing number of other people, work from home and the broadband connection is critical for that work. Everyone is up-in-arms when there is so much as a two-hour outage of an online service such as Amazon or Microsoft BPOS. Routinely inflicting two-week outages on economically significant workers like this ought to be a national scandal. (Or is Eric Schmidt right, and the UK simply doesn't take technology seriously enough?)

It wasn't meant to be this way. Knowing how problematic it can be to get broadband switched over when moving home, I had taken great care to book it in as early as possible. The same day we signed contracts on the house, I got on the phone to BT and explained why I needed the service up and running as soon as possible after we moved in. I was delighted with the initial response. I was told to expect the router a few days beforehand and that the service would be installed on the day we moved in.

It didn't happen, and there are a number of ready culprits to blame. The provider is BT, Britain's former national carrier and still sclerotic in many aspects of customer service and internal organisation. Another easy scapegoat are the Indian call centers, who handled many of my calls. Providers would probably want to blame Government regulation, which is designed to foster competition but creates a byzantine maze of hoops they have to jump through when a new customer moves in (though it has to be said, many of these are of their own making). Perhaps it's just that the broadband providers simply don't have any of the public service ethos that was once a proud part of the tradition of the utility industries but which has long since been forgotten in the past few decades' swirling mists of deregulation and privatisation.

Individual agents at BT did their best to help me, but the company's systems ultimately let them down. The first agent I spoke to delighted me, as I said, with a promise that unfortunately wasn't fulfilled. After this setback, a second agent promised a new installation date two working days later but didn't follow through. A third agent did at least succeed in getting the phone service working on the day we moved in. His name is Vijid and he proved himself a paragon of individual customer service, calling me back several times to report on his efforts to advance the broadband installation date, but in the end to no avail.

All the while, I was astonished at how little thought BT had given to keeping me informed as a customer during this process. I was verbally given an order number which I could use to check the status online, but BT sent me nothing by email or snailmail (not even a confirmation of the order number). Nobody contacted me by phone or email to let me know the promised installation dates were not going to be honored. And although I have a working phone line, I still have no idea on what terms the service is being provided and what extras are available. I suppose in that respect, the traditions of the old-style utilities of unresponsive, soulless customer service survive intact (in which case what was the point of privatisation?).

A few years ago, BT ran an ad campaign celebrating the millions of customers it claimed at the time were 'coming back to BT'. I'm a returning customer, in that I had been using the cable provider Virgin Media at my previous address and decided to give BT a try this time. The company has failed miserably at making me feel welcome and I'm sorely tempted to just call up Virgin instead, knowing that they'll put in a line within days. But now I'm off to Dreamforce so I have run out of energy to chase it up any more until I return in September. The broadband is promised to be in by then. It better had be, is all I can say.

Topics: Broadband, Mobility, Networking, Telcos

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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  • RE: Broadband, the poor relation among utilities

    You should try dealing with Qwest/Century Link, I have been dealing with them for 3 months now and it has been a nightmare. In an attempt to lower my internet bill they have managed to raise my bill and prove without a doubt most of their customer service representatives have no idea what customer service is.
    • RE: Broadband, the poor relation among utilities

      Hello JL,
      Sorry to hear of your frustrating experience. Please email us at the following address for help: We will review and advise you of what you are eligible for.
  • Ad's can be very informative

    It has been my experience that ad's and commercials can reveal the corporate culture and quality of services, that is if people "really" listen, watch and read between the lines, per se.<br><br>most often when an ad trashes the services provided by other (un-named) companies, the ad is actually telling us about the advertiser itself<br><br>all in all, ad's are a bunch of spin, lures and misleading. sure through all the noise they will let us know something new and possibly unique about new services or features. <br><br>but we "always" have to watch out for what they are "not" telling us.
  • At least you have an alternative

    Try living where there is no competition at all with only one ISP.
  • RE: Broadband, the poor relation among utilities

    Let me get this straight: You wont have internet service for two weeks, but here is an order number so you can track it online. am i supposed to do this with a service that wont be available for two weeks yet?
    • 3G?


      Now where is that tethering software.....
      • RE: Broadband, the poor relation among utilities

        @rhonin Of course I have been using my 3G card in the meantime but my usage is so intensive I got a 'fair use' warning within days. It's not a full-time substitute for fixed line broadband.
  • Only One ISP

    The are places in Silicon Valley of all places (Campbell specifically) where A T & T is the only available ISP for DSL.
  • RE: Broadband, the poor relation among utilities

    I had one of the worst experiences of my life with BT. Dire dire dire. Took over a year of fighting to get a simple fault fixed. Had to work very long and very hard via Otelo (who were themseves very slow and very tolerant of BT). Otelo finally told them what to do but BT simply waited till the deadline then said they'd done it. They hadn't done a thing. Then they happened to fix a fault elsewhere and claimed that fixed our fault. Extending the battle. Got it sorted in the end but I won't ever go near BT again if there is any possible alternative. I'd recommend keeping very careful records of all communications with, visits by BT people - they couldn't find the relevant engineer's report. Two weeks? I'd have loved it if they'd just taken two months!
  • RE: Broadband, the poor relation among utilities

    I had a nearly identical experience with AT&T in CA Last year. <br>The odd thing is, I've been with AT&T for decades, yes, over 20 years, 1st with my 1st basic land line, then as an 56k isp, then dual line isdn, finally DSL and now mobile too.<br><br> I've lived in several states from one coast to the other but it wasn't until the last few years that I had any problems. Now they just don't care about customers anymore. <br><br>I did learn one handy, and well kept secret. If you have any troubles with your new line, noise, disconnects, slower then advertised speeds, report it asap as they are required to come out and fix it for free if reported in the first 30 days of service. At least in Ca, I don't know about other states. <br><br>The tech that showed up was quite skilled and polite, He identified and remedied 3 different issues with the line to the house and the lines up and down the street. I went from constant disconnecting to rock solid always on dsl for no charge.
    • RE: Broadband, the poor relation among utilities

      @Sqrly Most techs for broadband companies I've met seem to be on the level. It's higher up in the food chain where you've got the annoying fellows.