BT, Broadband failure and why Sir Michael Rake should be concerned

You may have noticed that Artelogical has been strangely quiet for over a month. Let me tell you why. You might remember back in January it was snowy. It has been snowy since, but in January it was seriously snowy in Hastings and our road did not have the benefit of grit or salt or anything like that and so on the 21st, a date now embedded in my mind, a car skidded and bumped into one of those little dark green boxes that you see about. I now realise how important those boxes are. They hold a jumble of cables that provide phones and broadband to the surrounding houses and I can tell you in all seriousness, they do not appreciate being bumped into.

A green BT junction box
The junction box – the cause of all the trouble

So on January 21 our broadband went off and we assumed that someone would quickly come to fix it. Ah I was young and foolish then. Of course we didn’t know at that point what was wrong but we phoned the BT help line which put us through to the call centre India and were promised an engineer. He duly came and declared our line OK and told us the sad tale of the junction box. The broadband didn’t get better; it would come on for a bit and go off again sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for hours and every time it went off for more than about eight hours, we rang the help line in India and spoke to a different person, who, I kept reminding myself, was an underpaid young graduate doing the worst job in the world, taking calls from irritated customers in what for them was the middle of the night.

(Incidentally, I really tried not to sound irritated – I know I didn’t succeed. Then when you rang off there would be an automated call asking you how satisfied you were with the call centre operative, fairly satisfied; with BT – very dissatisfied; would I recommend BT to a friend? – absolutely not.)

Anyway, the poor underpaid graduates would apologise for the inconvenience, promise to help and insist on sending out another engineer to check our line, even though we assured them that the line was fine and it was a problem with the junction box. When we told them there was no point, they would say they would report that we were refusing to have our line checked. So out would come yet another engineer who would explain that there was no power in the junction box and that EDF, not BT were the villains.

It turned out that what was happening was that somebody, we never did find out who, was putting batteries into the junction box; the batteries would last eight hours and then, like those drumming rabbits in the Duracell ad, would go off till somebody else came and put in another one, which could take some time. It was truly unsatisfactory but not as bad as it was to become.

Time passed and then, about a month ago, the broadband which had been intermittent stopped entirely.  The call centre people in India sent out another engineer, who told us that he had found what the trouble was and that he just needed a spare part. The fibre optic cables had degraded because they didn’t respond well to batteries. Then he rang us to tell us that the matter was being transferred to another team and that he couldn’t have the part.

After that the stories started getting more fantastical. It was not the fibre optics, we were told by a supervisor in India, we had gone up the food chain by that point, but a health and safety issue. It wasn’t safe to put the batteries in because somebody might get electrocuted. And it was all EDF’s fault. We contacted our MP, Amber Rudd, who was incredibly helpful,  who contacted the chairman,  Sir Michael Rake, and a very nice lady called Mandy, from his office tried her best to get to the bottom of it and provided us with a dongle which meant at least we could check our emails but not really much else.

Another engineer told us that power would be resumed on the 17th – it wasn’t. Then I saw another engineer working on the junction box who told me that the batteries were being replaced and we should be getting broadband at least some of the time and if we had a fault we should call the help line and complain. We called the helpline and complained. We also told Mandy – but, even though she was in the chairman’s office, she couldn’t find out what was going on. We complained to Amber Rudd that EDF wouldn’t restore the power and despite every engineer having blamed them for weeks, it turned out it wasn’t EDF at all – they were completely in the clear; it was Eon – or that is what they told us. Who knows?

Finally, on Wednesday, 66 days after the accident and at the point we were about to break the contract and see if Sky could do any better, the power was restored to the junction box but the broadband still didn’t work.  And we would still be without broadband today had not an extremely helpful engineer called Graham, who deserves company recognition, decided to take responsibility for the problem and get to the bottom of it. He finally traced the fault; two wires had been interchanged, possibly by the engineer who had been talking about degraded fibre optics;  if that had been found earlier, we could have had at least  intermittent broadband for the last month.

Obviously on the customer satisfaction scale we come in as deeply dissatisfied. But just about everybody was apparently trying to do their best. If I were Sir Michael Rake I would ask some really serious questions about the way the company is organised. We are largely captive customers because all other providers use the junction box, so he may not be terribly worried that the service is appalling. But sending multiple engineers out to check and recheck the same perfectly sound line is not a good use of resources. Failing to have effective service level agreements in place with electricity providers needs to be put right. Having different teams work on the same patch but whose members don’t work together is again extraordinarily inefficient. There should be more engineers like Graham who have the ability and authority to fix problems.  Most of all, it should be possible for somebody in the chairman’s office to be able to get accurate information about what is going on. At the moment they can’t.

PS The BT Vision Box still isn’t working.