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Last Updated: Friday, 30 March 2007, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
Broadband and telephone Q&A
Eddie Murphy
Eddie Murphy answers your questions
All your questions, answered by telecoms expert Eddie Murphy.

Jim Monk says, "I have been on Orange Broadband for a long time but over the years I have had an increasing problem when it comes to sending out e-mails to groups. At first I could send messages to groups containing over a hundred recipients but now if I send out a group message containing more than 15 members I get a message saying 'too many recipients'. Is this restriction unique to Orange customers or do other ISPs have their own rationing regime?

This is not unique to Orange, although setting the limit at 15 recipients is rather restrictive. ISPs do this to counteract spammers from launching their traffic onto the net from their network. Anything that reduces spam is to be welcomed. You could try contacting Orange and ask them if they would increase the maximum size so that it does not interfere with your legitimate use of email.

Some questions about BT's new charges from May 1st.

Two main things seem to be getting people's goat. First is the notion of a 5 administration fee when you leave the service. Stephen Wills thinks this is odd. British Gas, Powergen, Barclays Bank and M&S don't charge you if you leave them - how will they collect the charge, he asks.

I received a document from BT on Wednesday morning detailing some changes to the conditions of their telephony services. The version I received didn't mention a 5 charge for terminating their service. I understand that BT had planned to introduce this charge but have now decided not to implement it.

The is also a new clause about contract lengths. The material I received from BT said: "From 1st May 2007, for customers ending their service early, we will replace the existing charges with a policy that requires customers who have ordered a line on or after 1 May 2007 to pay the outstanding line rental for the 12 month minimum term of their contract, up to a maximum of 70 (inc VAT)". I Interpret this as meaning that all customers who have a new contract with BT are expected to maintain that contract for 12 months or pay the outstanding rental on the 12 month period if they terminate early. Existing customers will not be affected unless they move house in which case they will face a 12-month minimum period from commencement at their new address.

On the charge for not being on direct debit, it will actually cost you 6 per year extra over what you pay at the moment. However, you will be 18 per year worse off than if you paid by Direct Debit because direct debit payers get a 1.50 discount per month over non Direct Debit payers.

I take your word that you pay promptly. Some other customers do not. Direct Debit is the safest option for companies charging for services. On the subject of paying money and trying to reclaim it - a Direct Debit must notify you of when the money will be withdrawn from your account in advance (usually about 2 weeks before). If you disagree with the amount you can cancel the Direct Debit and retain the money until agreement on the amount is reached with your supplier.

Ed Kelly is a Virgin Media customer and has recently been informed that they are going to introduce 'unlimited' 20Mbs broadband for 37 per month. It is now fairly common knowledge that most Virgin Media customers who use the current 10Mbs service cannot receive these speeds. He also believes Virgin Media have introduced a policy of so called 'traffic shaping'. This has the effect of providing users with half the advertised speed during so called 'peak' hours. This has been widely debated and complained about on the main Virgin Media forum.

I am currently a Virgin Media customer for broadband having previously been with ntl. There have been problems in the past with connectivity and customer service. My personal experience is that these things have improved lately. However, I know the customer experience is not consistent across the country. The cable network began as a series of independent ventures with varying degrees of cowboyness (excuse the new word). Knitting this hotch-potch into a coherent national network with adequate customer support has been a major headache, particularly when the cable companies spent a lot of time in administration because of enormous debts.

If Virgin is shaping traffic (a practice which is done by many service providers) then they should be honest about it. It will be uncovered if done by stealth and that will annoy customers much more than a straightforward announcement that the terms of service will be changed.

Changing from per second billing to rounding up will add, on average, the cost of 30 seconds to each call. If you make a lot of short calls this will have a significant effect on your bill. If you make a few long calls it will have a minor effect. As a customer you have the ultimate sanction if you do not like what Virgin has done - you can take your business elsewhere. I'm sure BT would love to have you back!

Glyn Bashforth says his father in law has signed up for Talk Talk for telephone and broadband. The telephone is working but not the broadband. There have been phone calls to contact centres where he has been left on hold for lengthy periods of time with no results. Even when he went to Carphone Warehouse they couldn't get through. How long should it take to sort this sort of thing out?

These problems should be dealt with promptly. Companies that provide broadband to customers are generally referred to as service providers. There is a hint in the name - they should be able to provide a service. Talk Talk have had a phenomenal response to their telephone/broadband bundled services and have clearly been overwhelmed by the demand. However, they have had time to recover from the huge demand and by now they should be able to handle customer enquiries and complaints competently. If I was you I would cancel the contract and get service from another provider.

A question about the introduction of a 3 quarterly charge for 1571 - the answering service - if customers don't make six chargeable calls with BT in that quarter. Peter Rostron is worried that as he has calls routed through a third party, in his case, Sky, then he's going to have to pay the charge. Similarly, concern has been raised by viewer Dave Man who says BT are going to start charging him for Caller Display if no outgoing calls are made on the line.

I am speculating that BT introduced this, until now, free service as the cost of providing the 1571 service was covered by the fact that customers with answering services make more calls. If these extra calls generate revenues for a competitor then they would be crazy to continue to offer the service free to competitors' customers.

Certainly, cancelling the service is a way to avoid this charge. On the other hand, you can use the prefix 1280 when dialling a number to override the normal call arrangements you have and force the call to be carried (and charged for by BT). Doing this six times each quarter for a short local call would seem to protect you from the charge. The trick is remembering to do it so maybe cancellation is the best option. Your choice should really depend on how useful the service is to you.

Welsh scene
Some viewers have compained of poor broadband availability in rural areas. photo: Tara Reeve
Guy Rennison asks why broadband is so elusive in rural mid-Wales? After trying since last August with Talktalk and BT, he has now been told that Broadband is NOT available.

The cost of dial-up is excessive for OAPs and his property could be worth less without the broadband facility, should this remain unavailable. Broadband availability in rural areas has been a problem for some time. A few years ago the problem was that rural exchanges hadn't yet been enabled for broadband. There are still some very small rural exchanges not enabled but they are very few (only 31 in the UK from more than 5,500 exchanges and only two in Wales from around 400 exchanges). Now we have the problem of those connected to enabled exchanges who cannot get broadband because of the distance they live from the local exchange or because the copper line they have is old and/or damaged.

This is a real problem and one that is tricky to solve. One alternative is satellite services (which can be expensive, require unsightly equipment and suffer from a problem called latency which makes them unsuitable for many real time applications). Another alternative is to see if a neighbour you can see from your house has a broadband connection and is willing to share it - you could establish a radio link to allow you to use their link. This will require you to contact a specialist radio engineer to set up the link.

In the meantime, I know that the mid-Wales Partnership is looking at blanket broadband coverage of mid-Wales using a wireless technology.

Michaela Moody says she upgraded to BT Yahoo 2MB broadband some time ago now but finds herself unable to accept downloads of updated browser software when prompted to do so. She's complained about this to the service provider but has never received an explanation other than an automated response to her Email. She has found that this software has become progressively slower and involves a lot of writing to the computer's hard disk, effectively tying up the PC whilst this is happening. Should she be experiencing this level of degradation in the service? Signing up for 8MB broadband seems excessive when she does not download lots of music or videos. Is there any advantage in moving up a notch?

I'm not sure that being unable to accept downloads of updated browser software is a problem to do with your internet service. That sounds more like a PC problem to me. All the disk writing would seem to reinforce the idea that it is a PC problem. I would try some simple maintenance first like de-fragmenting your hard disk and deleting unwanted files to free up a bit of space on your disk. If doing this does not work then you could try re-installing your browser software from your system disks. If this doesn't work you may have to save all of your data and reinstall the operating system of the PC.

Until you have got to the bottom of the PC problem there is little point in upgrading to a higher access speed as the higher speed will be wasted waiting for the PC to catch up. In fact, if you are not a downloader of music or video as you say you are not then an upgrade is probably not necessary anyway.

A happy tale about customer service. Bryan Henderson gets his broadband from Virgin. He says he has no problems at all with their service, they have been excellent for the last three years. He says he does not subscribe to any contract and would never consider doing so. He can't see why people are daft enough to get tied into yearly contracts when they have no need to.

Most service providers insist on customers signing up for a minimum period because there are costs associated with providing modems and in many cases installation of the service. Are you sure you have never had a contract? It may well be that you had a contract without realising it. It is not unheard of for customers to sign documents without realising that they are signing a contract. This is why many customers get a shock when the contractual terms are brought to their attention when they try to cancel their service. Virgin Media certainly specifies a minimum period of 12 months for its broadband service in its current terms and conditions.

Les Waldron says he recently tried Virgin's 8Mb service but it never made it beyond 2Mb in his part of Norwich so he just went back to the original 1Mb speed. He assumes the fault lay with the original BT cables as he believes all the providers rent bandwidth off BT?

Many of the service providers in the market rent bandwidth from BT. With the exception of the cable company Virgin Media which used its own cable where it is available, most of the other service providers rent the copper cable from the exchange to the customer from BT and provide their own service. It sounds like the copper wire to your house is not capable of running at speeds of grater than 2Mbit/s.

Based on what you say, your problem with your current supplier seems to a problem of contention - that is an inadequate bandwidth from the exchange back to the Internet which causes a bottleneck when users on the exchange generate traffic. This is a problem that is easy to fix by upgrading the link capacity from the exchange. If it is required and it is not being done then you need to start shouting for a discount ever more loudly until you get what you are paying for or your service is improved.

Rob Mansfield has says he's just discovered that Virgin Media who've taken over Telewest Broadband phone lines won't send me an itemised phone bill unless I pay 1 for it. This was never the case with Telewest Broadband. I happen to need the itemisation since they've made a mistake on my tariff and their calculation of minutes used is so complicated that I can't claim against them without the evidence extracted from my itemised bill.

The terms and conditions of most service providers allow them to change the terms and conditions as long as the notify customers of the change. So Virgin Media can probably do this under the terms of their agreement with you.

This leaves you in the dilemma of to pay or not to pay. It sounds like it might be worth 1 per bill to be able to check the validity of the charge they are making. I have personal experience of ntl billing cock-ups (ntl is one of the cable companies which merged to form Virgin Media) in which they mixed me up with the account of a County Council - that took months to sort out. Therefore, I would keep an eye on them if I was you.

Maybe, the best policy is to pay for a while and check the bills. If they are consistently getting things right then you might consider whether or not to continue with paying for itemisation.

My broadband internet connection supplied by Orange has been down since 20th February. We used to pay 17.99 a month up until nine months ago when we arranged a mobile contract for 30 a month with free broadband. I've spoken to the helpline on over 20 occasions and all I get is someone telling me that there is a fault on the line and to phone back in 48 hours. The helpline says they cannot give a firm time scale for repair and that it could be up to four weeks. When I said I would cancel my agreement the answer was fine we'll cancel your broadband but you're still contracted to us for the mobile phone. Surely that's not right? Paul Craven.

This is a sorry tale of poor customer service. However, it is worse than that. Orange tells you that you cannot cancel the mobile contract. I would beg to differ. I am not a lawyer, but is seems clear to me that the package you are paying for is a combined broadband and mobile contract. Please ignore the word free - it is completely misleading. You are paying for a bundle of services which includes broadband and mobile. Failure by Orange to deliver service to you on any part of that contract puts them in breach of the contract and you are entitled to tell them where to get off.

Mel Maidment is a visually impaired mobile phone user. She wants to know why blind and visually impaired mobile phone users are effectively charged twice to use their phones. First to buy the phone itself and second to buy the screen reading software such as TALKS and Mobile Speak (costing between 125 - 150). If she wants to change her phone she then has to buy the software again to use on the new phone.

This is a problem faced by many customers with special requirements. I haven't had much time to research this but I did manage to speak with the RNIB who were very helpful. It seems that Vodafone does offer specialist software installed free when you subscribe to one of their services. However, the RNIB has found that many of their distributors are not aware of the scheme. Indeed, when I tried to call Vodafone on Thursday (Mar 29) to clarify what they offer, the number listed in Vodafone's own material was 'temporarily out of service'. As far as RNIB knows none of the other network operators offer this service although there are other deals available from service providers.

As to why none of the other network operators do this - I can only guess because they are businesses out to make a profit rather than offer a social service. Vodafone has made significant capital in the corporate social responsibility section of its annual report on its work with the visually impaired. Presumably the other operators have chosen other focuses for their good works.

For further impartial information, the RNIB has a specialist team which deals with such issues and they can be contacted on 0845 900 0015.

The opinions expressed are Eddie's and not the programme's. The answers are not intended to be definitive and should be used for guidance only. Always seek professional advice for your own particular situation.


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