Friday, May 27, 2011

Ring ring, ring ring

I'm still here, honest. It's just that BT are playing their usual silly-buggers, which means no internet most of the time. At least I have a mobile signal, although it's not 3G or even Edge.


Those few, very few, of you who have hung around here hoping for the odd flash of genius may well recall the eleven month ordeal that was my last run-in with British Telecommunications. Then, the cable was already connected to the house, but somewhere between the nearest pole and the exchange there was a problem with the line. 


BT isn't actually one company anymore, it's split up into several different divisions, each with different responsibilities. So the annoying people in the ads on telly are only concerned with routing your calls over their network and charging you money. There is another outfit, called Openreach, which deals with what they laughingly call 'the final mile.' These are the engineers who you occasionally see at the top of telephone poles or poking around in the spaghetti innards of a roadside exchange box. They'll also come and connect your new house to the network if you're lucky. 


What they won't do is replace the heavy duty cable that runs between the exchange and your nearest pole. That's the responsibility of yet another division. Or more often than not an entirely different, subcontracted company.


Such was the case down in Wales, where the work of replacing the cable from the exchange to the village, including the replacement of several poles that had developed pronounced leans, was farmed out to some outfit that then employed a team from Glasgow and Liverpool to do the work. Monday morning and the Glasgow lad would get in his van, drive down to Liverpool and pick up his mate. They'd arrive to do the work around about knocking off time, so no work got done until Tuesday. Come Friday, of course, they had to leave first thing so they could get back to their respective homes. All this was eight months after they'd realised they couldn't connect my house, the intervening period having been completely taken up with inventing more and more fantastic lies to tell me about what was going on.


The oddest, and most annoying thing was that I was finally connected - eleven months after initially applying for the line - a couple of weeks before the new cable work had been completed. And BT didn't bother to tell me that someone was coming out to do the work, so when he turned up there was no-one in.


I type all this out again, shaking my head occasionally in disbelief at the story I couldn't make up, because I am now suffering from a horrible sense of Deja Vu. The missing cable for my new connection here in Fife finally turned up, and shortly afterwards an Openreach engineer came out to connect it between the caravan and the nearest pole. So far so good, and like most of the individuals working for BT he was a friendly enough chap. But there was a problem. Well, two problems if I'm being honest. The first one was that a line needed to be taken from the nearest pole across the road to the next one closer to the exchange. This pole has one of those bulbous black multiple-connection blocks on it, and my friendly engineer, working on his own, wasn't allowed to run the line. Health and Safety means that at least two engineers are needed where a road crossing is involved - which I guess is fair enough on a busy thoroughfare, but here, where about one lost tourist a day comes past at a pace that would make a snail yawn, it seems a bit much.


That was the first problem, which shouldn't have delayed matters too much. The other one was more horribly familiar. On testing the available lines coming into the locality, the friendly engineer found a fault. With further investigation, he came to the conclusion that the line would have to be replaced, if not right back to the exchange then at least a good deal of the way. I can't be connected until this work has been done. No phone, no broadband. Waily, waily, waily.


You can imagine I was a little upset at this news, and I was even moved to tweet some rude words about BT on that thar Twitter thing. Almost immediately I had a response from someone calling themselves @BTCare - offering to sort it all out.* Conversations with the cheerful engineer and his boss in Glasgow suggested that the line work would be carried out on Thursday 19th May - a week ago yesterday as it happens. I even had a text message telling me that an appointment was booked for me on that day, although I had no idea what that meant.


Come the appointed Thursday, there was a distinct absence of any line work. Then at lunchtime I had a call from an engineer - the appointment, as it turned out - asking me what he was supposed to be doing. I think I did very well not to lose my temper at that point. Maybe I should have done, but I am an unnaturally calm person, so instead of telling him that I was just the customer and it was his fucking job to know what he was supposed to be doing, I merely explained that the line was still faulty. We agreed that there wasn't much point in him coming out until it was fixed, and that was that. 


A week on and I've had no further contact from the engineers or BT. I did have a useful land-line number for Openreach, but the helpful chap who used to answer has gone on holiday, so that line of communication has failed. I've asked @BTCare if they can shed some light on the situation, but so far it would appear they are as clueless as the rest of the organisation. As of now, your guess is as good as mine as to when the line will be repaired.


I am, you may have guessed by now, an unnaturally calm and patient fellow. I will wait for my line as if it were the good old days of the GPO. It could take years for you to reach the top of the queue to be connected, and even then you might only get a party line.** What bothers me most though, and gets me so riled I feel the need to blog about it at great length, is the total lack of communication from what is essentially the nation's communications monopoly. Between the divisions of this great behemoth of a company, and between it and the customer. @BTCare has twelve and a half thousand followers and is following thirteen and a half thousand. That's a lot of disgruntled people, and whilst I applaud the company for exploring new ways of getting in touch, couldn't it just every so often, you know, pick up the phone? 




* I also had comment from someone called @BTDont_care, who has a rather amusing icon, but couldn't actually give me anything by way of help.
** can you imagine trying to use a party line nowadays? It just wouldn't work if you had a teenager in the village.

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