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Broadband fun

Cold weather finally reached our land, too. For a couple of days in a row the temperature hovers around 25°F. The air is dry and windy, which makes it rather unpleasant.

At least they promise snow tomorrow. Extreme Weather Warning has been distributed at the office, cautioning of up to 5 centimeters (not inches!) of precipitation during the morning commute on Thursday. Knowing how susceptible public transportation is to keeling over at the first sniff of adverse weather conditions, I have no doubt that commute – both to and from work – will be a stressful exercise more than usual tomorrow.

In the meantime, we found a new source of stress at home – our broadband connection.

When I moved in at the beginning of October, I regretfully eschewed performing due diligence in selecting a phone and broadband vendor. British Telecom was an obvious option, and I wanted to have both services immediately, so I called BT and arranged for service.

After a while, we realized how much money BT’s phone service have been costing us, primarily due to our frequent telephoning to America. The rates are not bad, really, 4p a minute, but it simply added up to quite a lot.

We switched to TalkTalk, a service that allows us to make unlimited calls to US landlines (as well as to 30 other countries) for no extra charge, as long as the length of the call is kept under 70 minutes. Strange but supposedly true. You can talk for 69 minutes non-stop, then hang up, redial the same number and resume your conversation – and it does not cost an extra penny. The monthly service fee itself is a couple of pounds higher than BT’s, but the difference is covered within the first hour of calls to America. And we surely talk to the States for much much longer than an hour each month…

BT’s phone service contract was for 3 months, so we switched painlessly. Our broadband contract with them, however, is for 12 months. So even though TalkTalk offers free broadband to anyone subscribing to the international plan that I described above, we could not switch off BT without having to fork over the equivalent of 9 more months of broadband fees.

To be honest, we have heard several complaints about the quality of TalkTalk’s broadband service. BT’s, on the other hand, was fairly good. So I went to considerable pains to explain to BT customer service that I want to keep my broadband with them. Their customer service, by the way, is absolutely unbearable with narrow specialization of agents. I can only help you with new sales; for existing accounts I need to transfer you to a different agent. I am only trained to write down the problem; if you need an answer for something, my colleague in a different department should be able to help you. You reached the line for Leos and Virgos; all other horoscope signs should call a different number… Anyway, after having bounced through seven different agents – each one starting the conversation with checking my identity (the level of security, however annoying, is, by the way, absolutely laughable!) – I obtained an explanation that my current account will be closed and a new, broadband-only account will be opened.

Fine. We received what appeared to be our last bill for our initial BT account. We started using TalkTalk, and while it is too early to tell whether the service really works as advertised, we are anticipating considerably smaller phone bills in the future.

But the internet connectivity became a problem. Occasionally, it continues to perform at an acceptable speed. But at other times – which are fast becoming the norm – the web pages take very long to load, the download speed is atrociously slow, Skype cannot hold connection, e-mail client struggles to send, or the connectivity gets lost altogether.

I am calling technical support. And get stuck. I do not know what my new account number is – I have not yet received a single bill for my broadband-only account. They can look it up by home phone number, but when they do – you may have guessed it – they pull up my closed account. Sir, you do not have a broadband service with BT. – Yes, I do, a new broadband-only account was opened for me. – I am sorry, I need to know the account number to pull that up. – But I do not know that account number yet. – Can you please hold while I transfer you to the Unknown Account Numbers Department?


I want to switch to a different provider, even though there are no assurances that the service will be better. After all, it all goes through the same phone line – and all phone lines are owned by none other than BT itself, with other companies leasing the lines to provide their services. So it makes certain logical sense to work this out with BT. Plus, I also have every confidence that if I go ahead with switching, BT will immediately get its act together, locate my account and charge me for contract cancellation.

I guess I’ll wait until our return from Brussels to do anything. We’ll probably survive with spotty service for a few days, and by then, maybe the first bill for the new account will arrive… Or, more likely, I will be fed up with this and go with TalkTalk or Sky. At least, I find their customer service a lot more agreeable. And with TalkTalk’s free broadband, we will break even on the cancellation fee by October.

Part of the overall problem is that neither DSL nor cable internet exist as viable options here. It is all phone-line-based broadband, with about three dozen different providers. Even Sky Television, which is over satellite, provides broadband service via phone lines…

Well, stay tuned. This topic is certain to be continued.

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