Sunday, 13 January 2008

BT and the case of the missing DSL service

Recently, at the end of September, I got a new neighbour in the flat downstairs. The property is an end terrace, split into two flats in 1999, but the landlady never did a great job of separating the services out (electricity and gas usage is included in the meter counts downstairs, there isn’t a separate supply). When I moved in, the landlady lived downstairs; she allowed a previous tenant of this flat to put in extension wiring to use her old BT landline, as she’d got cable service with NTL (now Virgin Cable, of course), so I was using the BT line. After leaving, other tenants of the downstairs flat had simply taken over the cable service.

When the new bloke moved in downstairs, he wanted a BT service. He claims that he asked them for a new line – they interpreted this to mean taking over the old one, and started the process of transferring my line to him. First I knew of this was a letter dated 16 October saying “we understand you no longer live at the above address and so we’ll disconnect the phone on 30 October.” Obviously I phoned up straight away and said no, I’m not leaving, please cancel this transfer. They prevaricated a bit, then said, “oh, I can’t cancel this on your say-so, the person ordering has to cancel.” Fine, I say – can I give him a direct number to contact you? “Nope.”

Anyway, I ask the new guy if that’s OK, he says he got fed up of BT trying to transfer the line and went with cable anyway, and he’d been trying to get through to cancel and would try again. A day or so later he tells me he’s cancelled and I don’t think any more about it.

In early November my parents tell me they couldn’t get through. (They didn’t actually tell me they were getting a message saying ‘number not in service.’) A few days into November, suddenly, no connection. A horror begins to dawn on me, and my neighbour – BT have gone ahead and done it anyway.

Now comes the reason for the tale. Most of the time I can’t get through to BT Customer Service, even if I wait for half an hour on the phone. The first time I get off hold, there’s silence for a few seconds and the line goes dead. Next time I’ve apparently called the wrong department and they try to transfer me, but again I end up on hold for half an hour (when I give up). After several goes of this I go for an end-around: I call sales and ask for the line to be transferred back to me.

No problem, says the salesman, but there’s a 12–month minimum contract and you can’t have the line until the 27th of November, unless the current customer cancels before that, oh, and you can’t have your old number back. I did try explaining but it seemed futile. Actually I got pretty angry which I did apologise for.

I thought about it for a couple of days and decided to do what should have been done a very long time ago – get a separate line terminating in this flat. You’d expect that to take a long time, right? Longer than transferring the billing from one customer to another?

Nope. I could have it put in on the 20th. So I paid my £125 (£125!) and got it done.

Unfortunately you can’t order DSL until the phone line is in your name and it appears, under the new number, in BT’s database. So the earliest I could order ADSL was the afternoon of the 20th, then it takes another 14 days or so, taking us to an official activation date of 7 December. I got straight through to Demon sales on practically the first ring. They said I couldn’t have my old hostname/website/email address back initially but once activated I could ask for it back.

The 27th came and went and I suddenly realised I hadn’t cancelled the transfer! Never fear, either the second BT salesman cancelled it for me, or (more likely) they cocked up again. My neighbour still hasn’t managed to cancel and I think he’s refusing to pay.

Finally I got DSL back on the 6th, called up Demon support (got through on first ring again) and got my old hostname back, but the contents of my website were lost. So there are a lot of broken images around here, and if you emailed me in November, I didn’t get it.

I’d always heard that NTL, Telewest, and the unbundled broadband suppliers had worse customer service than BT. If it’s worse than BT they must send round people with pitchforks to stab you with if you even dream of calling them.

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