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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 September, 2003, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Always on, except when it's off
Broadband offers the salivating prospect of a fast and always-on internet connection, until something goes wrong, as BBC News Online's Gary Eason found out.

We like the internet. We use it for all sorts - news obviously, weather and travel information, maps, shopping, digital radio and so on.

home pc
Going nowhere fast
So we got "always on" ADSL as soon as it was affordably available in our area of Buckinghamshire last year and soon could not imagine being without it.

Until Wednesday 30 July this year, that is, when BT Openworld suffers a major fault at an exchange in Reading which also affects many other exchanges. We and numerous others lose our ADSL service.

When it is still not back next morning I ring BT Openworld Technical Support - press 2, press 2 again, and listen through interminable recordings telling me things I already know.

When finally I get a person he tells me we should be back online "by lunchtime or early afternoon". We aren't, but at least he has given us a dialup modem number so we can connect.

Closed

We are out most of the Friday, but when the ADSL line is still not responding by that evening I ring Support once more - press 2, press ... you get the idea.

This time, to my astonishment, I am told our account has been closed. The problem in Reading is a coincidence.

There is just a nagging concern in my mind that no one has been able to explain why or how this happened
"I don't understand why they've done this," says Dave, the support man. "There's no explanation."

I like Dave. It feels as though he is on our side. Unfortunately there's nothing he can do to help except to suggest we contact the Billing department on Saturday morning.

Adrian in Billing doesn't understand either and can only apologise. If we do want to have an ADSL line, he can put us through to Sales so we can order one.

I embellish the phrase "you are joking" with strong language and end up apologising to him.

"What I can do is escalate this up to our Complaints team," he says. Someone will call me that day. But they do not.

Compensation

On Monday morning my wife rings me at work to say they refuse to talk to her because the account is in my name. I phone and extract a promise that someone will call her and sort it out.

She rings back to say Alistair has called. She likes Alistair. He says he will get our ADSL line back within two days and is giving us two months' free rental as compensation.

And, sure enough, on Wednesday 6 July everything is back to normal. Popping of corks.

There is just a nagging concern in my mind that no one has been able to explain why or how this happened.

Anyway, on Friday we set off for a family holiday. But if this were a movie, the backing music would have a sinister edge.

Back with a vengeance

A week later we return and fire up the PC to pick up our e-mail. "No dialtone," reports the ADSL modem. So I phone Support - press 2, press etc.

I am asked to unplug any phones and swap microfilters and given a reference number. With a leaden certainty that this will make not a jot of difference, I nevertheless go through the motions and call back.

BT engineer
Hold on Mr Eason, I have support for you now
You know how it is when Support people are just working through a checklist? I snap.

At this point - tap tap of keys down the line - I am informed that our ADSL account was closed the previous day.

There is a note saying a new one is being opened. The work is due to be completed on the 19th. Four days away. You may imagine the ensuing exchanges with the Complaints department.

I remain incredulous that reactivating an account isn't simply a flick of a switch somewhere, but they insist an engineer physically has to go to our exchange and insert some piece of circuitry.

At 6.30pm Steve rings to say the work is progressing well and might be completed later that evening or early on Saturday - keep trying the line guys!

I call Complaints again on Saturday morning. This time Gary tells me the engineers would have stopped work at 6pm on Friday so nothing would happen over the weekend anyway.

And then

An hour later my wife is on the telephone to our bank when the line goes dead in mid-sentence.

A technician rings later, checking the line. Bemused by our saga, one fault he does pick up is that our account is due for reconnection on 1 January 3000
We are now reduced to one mobile phone, on which we ring BT Faults. They claim the loss of the land line is sheer coincidence. "A fault at the exchange," the man tells my wife.

Magnanimously he arranges to divert incoming land line calls on to the mobile "at no extra charge to you".

I am not convinced he has this power, because our call billing is handled by an alternative provider, and can see that is a battle to which we might have to return.

Apparently our contract with BT says they will fix faults "by the next working day". As the next real day is Sunday this means they won't do anything for two days.

Change

Sure enough, the line is restored on the Monday morning. But still no ADSL. Never mind, only one more day to wait now.

But Tuesday morning comes and goes - and still no broadband. By mid-afternoon - I am at work - Mrs Eason pursues the issue with Support.

At first they say there is "no date for activation of the service". When she starts whimpering, they suggest she contact Order Management - a new one on us.

They tell her we just need a new username to access the account. Why didn't anyone get in touch to tell us that?

Complaints should have done, she is told. So, finally, we are back up and running in glorious, not-quite-so-slow broadband.

Confusion

Convinced we could not be the only victims of such a shambolic system, I take up the matter with BT Openworld's press office.

They refer it to someone called Sarah Jane. While she is trying to come up with explanations, however, we lose our ADSL connection for a third time.

It returns three and a half hours later, before anyone at BT has begun to figure out what is wrong.

A technician rings later, checking the line. Bemused by our saga, one fault he does pick up is that our account is due for reconnection - it says here - on 1 January 3000 [sic].

Eventually Sarah Jane gets back to me. We are victims of "human error".

Apparently the Easoms (spot the letter "m") had asked for their account to be ceased.

No cross-checking with phone number or address was done, in a clear breach of what should be basic procedure, and our account was stopped instead.

The second cessation was merely a continuation of the first, she says.

Our phone line was cut due to storm damage - apparently we weren't the only ones.

And the third, temporary loss of the ADSL service was due to BT's systems being overwhelmed by the MSBlast worm virus - even though we ourselves had taken precautions and were not affected.

She apologises again and offers us another two months' free service. Are we reassured?

Put it this way, if your surname is even remotely like anyone else's and you have a BT Openworld account, you might be dangling by a thread.




SEE ALSO:
Broadband access leaps ahead
19 Mar 03  |  Technology
Urban broadband frustration mounts
24 Sep 02  |  Technology
BT, broadband and me
28 Jun 02  |  Science/Nature
Broadband faces slow future
18 Jul 03  |  Technology
Broadband net speeds ahead
10 Jul 03  |  Technology


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