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Friday, 28 June, 2002, 09:35 GMT 10:35 UK
BT, broadband and me
Graphic, BBC
The UK Government wants the country to become Broadband Britain - a nation at the cutting edge of the new high-speed internet age. BBC News Online's Mike Smartt decided to do his bit by signing up for British Telecom's ADSL package.

Advertising suggests an exhilarating new world of connectivity; bobsleighs careering downhill at breakneck speed.

The message is the internet is dangerously fast if you sign up.

Left to my own devices, I swapped the splitter on my telephone line and - bingo - green at last

But life with BT Openworld broadband can more closely resemble a horse and cart going uphill backwards.

And the danger consists of the risk of serious injury from repeatedly striking your head against a wall in frustration.

I ordered ADSL broadband from BT in March and was offered the services of an engineer.

But a colleague told me of four visits by BT employees to his flat before successful connection was achieved - one of them emerging from beneath my friend's desk to inquire if it really was ADSL he was supposed to be fitting - so I decided instead to go for the do-it-yourself, plug-and-go option.

After all, I've fitted hard disks and memory in my PC, so it couldn't be that difficult - and so it proved.

But that would have to wait until my broadband connection was made live by BT at my local exchange.

What happened? Not a lot

A couple of weeks later my plug-and-go kit arrived. But nothing happened at the exchange.

The order had been cancelled, explained BT. Not by me, I told them. A new date was arranged.

It too came and went and still no broadband. The order had been cancelled, they said. Not by me, I told them again.

"Ah, sorry," said the nice Scottish call-centre lady. "Our computer keeps doing that, cancelling orders for no apparent reason. I'll give you a ring every day until we have a new date." No call ever came.

Weeks passed before BT informed me that broadband capacity at my exchange was now full. This was surprising as the small south-west Surrey town where I live is hardly the UK's Silicon Valley.

Then, finally, BT assured me of a definite, immovable switch-on date.

I unpacked the modem and the splitters (which you attach to every phone line in the house to allow ordinary calls - and standard dial-up Internet connection - at the same time as using always-on ADSL) and loaded the BT Openworld software. An orange light appeared on the modem. But no internet.

What support?

It was at this point that I first encountered what BT Openworld calls its broadband support.

This is an 0845 number which connects fine, then the caller is given two lists of options to technical support. It is only after making these choices that the engaged sound kicks in (don't worry, it will).

Connection was successful. Speed was fantastic. Pages loaded instantly. The bobsleigh was gathering speed

The only way to get to technical support is to keep dialling, then navigate the two options menus and hope the engaged sound is replaced by ringing.

On this first occasion, on a Saturday morning (currently I only use the broadband connection at weekends), I must have dialled 30 times - presumably each at the cost of a local call - before, joy of joys, the engaged tone was eventually replaced by ringing.

But that just allows you to join the "All our support staff are busy - please hold on. We apologise for the inconvenience" queue, which lasted - on this occasion - just under 35 minutes. Total time to speak to support: one hour and 15 minutes.

"Your orange light should be green if there's a connection," said another Scottish lady. But she couldn't help, so she would report the fact to the engineers.

Weekdays only please

However, unlike many of the people paying for fast Internet access who do, the engineers don't work weekends. So nothing could be done until Monday.

Left to my own devices, I swapped the splitter on my telephone line and - bingo - green at last. One of the two splitters provided by BT was clearly faulty: Openworld support please note for future reference.

Connection was successful. Speed was fantastic. Pages loaded instantly. The bobsleigh was gathering speed. Until I tried to enter my e-mail account management area.

This requires a password - the same as the one used for logging on. And it wouldn't work. So, again, I started the long process of dialling BT Broadband support. Just over an hour later (and another big phone bill?), technical support and I made contact and together we changed passwords.

The problem seemed partially fixed - one e-mail account worked and, inexplicably as it uses the same password, my second didn't.

Very polite

Another nice Scottish lady (they're all very polite and accommodating when you eventually get through) promised I would be phoned when it was fixed. Not before Monday, of course.

You've guessed it - no call ever arrived. And the following Saturday, the whole system wouldn't let me in at all. The new password was rejected.

One hour and 40 minutes to get through to technical support, who said they couldn't help. It was down to order support or some such department (I was almost past caring). And no, they don't work weekends.

It's Thursday now and order support have told me the problem was something to do with "fusion" (I was getting near to going nuclear). Everything should now work. Of course, when I try it on Saturday and it doesn't work...

None of this gives me any pleasure to report. Britain is behind many parts of Europe with broadband rollout, which many are convinced is essential for the country's economic wellbeing.

I could have chosen another broadband provider. But I don't have the choice of cable so BT would still have had to enable the exchange connection, with its order-cancelling computer.

Slashing broadband prices is probably making the situation worse, as orders for connections have apparently doubled in recent months, which is further overloading the system.

BT has a lot to answer for. That's when you can get through.

And this is what you told us about your experience of trying to join Broadband Britain

I signed up with Pipex for ADSL about 4 weeks ago, Apart from a delay in getting my logon details and splitters due to a postal strike everything has gone perfectly. I have a fast, stable connection using a router to connect it to a small network. My advice is to use a different provider than BT. it may still provide the wiring, but it cuts down the messes they can make!
Paul Cheetham, Lancashire, UK

Lets face it the UK is as broadband enabled as Bolivia.
Stuart Swift, UK

I have had experience of DSL in Holland and Germany. Coverage in Holland is patchy. It took 7 months to get DSL in Holland and even then the wrong type of connection was made. I never had a working DSL in Holland. In Germany, it took over two months to get the hardware connected but then I had problems with software for some weeks. I am now pleased with the service but it's a battle wherever you are.
Chris Powell, Germany/UK

BT broadband? It's a farce. I could understand why I couldn't have DSL if I lived somewhere out in the country far from an exchange, but I don't. I live in a new development close to Canary Wharf hardly rural. The local phone lines cannot support DSL, and BT have (so they tell me) no plans to fix this. It's time OFTEL stopped sticking up for BT and started to look out for service users instead. BT should be required to provide DSL capable lines under the Universal Service Obligation.
Martin Reilly, UK

I left the UK several years ago to work in the USA. Most of the horror stories I read a pretty much international. Even with mature broadband markets the help desk and engineer hell has to be endured. One thing to note, in all the places I have lived in the USA I have never found real competition. You are lucky to have a broadband option at all in most places. Only when true and REAL competition is available to the masses for broadband access will things get better.
Glenn Hinks, USA

We went with Telewest Broadband. They installed the modem and three months of sheer hell followed where someone was being allowed to log on to our modem and cutting us off. We now have had about 9 months of very good service. Their call centres sound very much like yours where I think our record back in the distant days of problems was 2.45 hours to get throught to them as their technicians don't work evenings either.
Marie Morris, United Kingdom

I live on a brand new development with over 4,000 new middle income homes. Contacted BT, our exchange is enabled, this is a large city. Problem - BT in their infinite wisdom have laid the whole development with the latest fibre optic cables, you've guessed it, Broadband, the so called "latest technology", is not compatible with the "latest technology" phone lines. It only runs over the old copper cables - so another 4,000 customers living near the centre of one of the biggest cities in the country denied access to Broadband.
Colin, Bristol, UK

Your experience is nothing... a doodle compared to ours... now if you have three weeks spare I will tell you! (That's three weeks to tell the story, not the ADSL downtime. No, that was 7 months.)
Chris Berry, UK

Forget BT, Try NTL, I have a 128K broadband connection, excellent service, excellent help desk, excellent start-up software and documentation with passwords, etc - all for 14.99 a month. A word of warning for all broadband connections: you need a personal firewall of some sorts, more port scans than you can shake a stick at!
Adrian, Cheshire UK

It's alright for some. BT says it has no plans to install ADSL equipment in my local exchange, as the demand isn't high enough, and in any case I'm too far from the exchange. 40K dial up is the best I can expect from 'Broadband Britain'
Gareth Sefton, UK

My experience with BT goes like this... I phone up and asked for ADSL to be installed, an engineer came round and installed the ADSL line on the date they had originally quoted. I plugged the ADSL adapter into my PC and installed the software and it all worked fineż yes, this does happen! I have had problems since, but that's no worse than services I get at work or when I was using a modem.
Bill Bonney, UK

My experience with broadband was a lot less painful. I went through my TV cable provider, Telewest, and thankfully it worked from the minute the engineer installed the modem. Barring a few glitches (due to Blueyonder's services being upgraded) it has given me super fast and uninterrupted connectivity since day one.
Shaun, UK

I have Broadband and can happily report that I have never encountered any of the problems reported in the article. I wonder if he read the instructions!! :)
Peter Organ, Ingerland

Try NTL, they may be rubbish but they're light-years ahead of BT!

I signed up and was connected to BTOpenworld last year. Since connection the Service has been reliable, and reasonably fast. The only error I had with Installation was I did not receive my Username so I could not connect till I called the help desk.
Andrew L, UK

9 months after 'install date' I get installed ! I have been cut off six times for no reason (I pay by credit card .. they bit they get right !) All the extension in my home were cut off by the istall guy .. They refuse to return to fix this. Finally yes .. the support line take 2-3 hours to get anything done (waiting to get a ringing tone, waiting for an answer and no one ever calls back) I'll be moving from BT as soon as I cam. If I were MD or Chirman of BT .. I resign Peter
Peter Walker, UK

I just cant get past the first step - they have no plans to upgrade my exchange. How can we become leaders in the e-world without connectivity?
Tony, UK

I live in a major town with over 10,000 population in the heart of Silicon Glen. There is no broadband access (too far from the exchange for ADSL) and Telewest who have the local cable franchise have "no plans to extend their network". Satellite has too much latency and is significantly more expensive. I hold out for 3G mobile phone masts being deployed later in the year and getting broadband via my mobile.
Craig Cockburn, Scotland

My "self-install" ran very smoothly indeed. I ordered via the web, received the equipment the day before and on the day of activation, inserted the CDs and bingo, it worked. Well done BT, it was so easy.
Achi, Berks

The worst of my fears about the internet has been realised over the last few years. Britain is in danger of excluding those who have access to the internet. Whether it is shopping, communicating or even leaving comments about services, there are definitely the haves and the have nots. Broadband is another example of this segregation - in many areas, the possibility of broadband is somewhere in the distant future - in the meantime, websites are gearing up for fast traffic by loading large graphics, video and sound - making the whole experience slow down for those of us who live outside large towns and cities.
mark jones, wales

See also:

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