It started with BT's frankly misleading statement that it is rolling out broadband to the rural community. Well sort of, chaps. Down here in Lyng we were a famous not-spot. Some three years ago, fed up with no broadband a team got together and succeeded in getting a local firm to install a mast, suitable kit and connect some 200 local houses to a decently fast wi-fi system.
It developed some issues and was rescued by Thinking Wisp, a Norfolk rural wi-fi supplier. But along the way BT ran fibre down Sparham Hill to a new green Infinity Cabinet alongside the existing telephone box. Our exchange at Reepham, already technically unbundled (freed for competitive service providers), was now fibre-connected to the cabinet (FTTC).
For eight years I have had my broadband over BT's existing copper service. Given the distance to Reepham I was fairly impressed of late to get 1.3 megs – only a few years earlier 56k was the best so 24 times faster. And I had been told more than once that when the fibre in Lyng was activated I would get up to the 8 meg contract I was paying for. Wrong.
To get a faster service even as an existing customer you have to buy the new Infinity product. And, as a customer, you don't get the fancy 'come-on' offers either. So BT is NOT extending broadband into the rural areas – it is extending Infinity, its own product and charging more for it. Infinity is so designed that even other, competitive providers like Sky have to send you a modem/router (the connecting device) that is specially configured to be able to run data over BT's system!
And wait for this – your telephone stays on the old copper wire into the old box and goes to the exchange by the old route. Only the copper wires involved in broadband are connected to the Infinity cabinet. Which is why the cock-up that happened to us, and others, is easier to achieve than it first looked.
Activation day for our fairly expensive new Infinity service was October 4 and the connecting device, a Home Hub 5, arrived a day or two earlier as promised. And as promised during October 4 morning our broadband went off. Instructions said: Connect the hub and about half an hour after the old service goes off the new Infinity will start. No it won't.
Our Home Hub flashed all the colours it is intended to except one – the flashing amber B for Broadband remained resolutely NOT steady BLUE!
Now comes the unfunny bit. We call the helpline. It's a robot voice inviting all sorts of spoken instructions. Only one works - “You want to talk about Infinity?” YES! And then what do you want to talk about? WON'T CONNECT! A connection problem? YES!!!! Press option 2! We do. We wait. 30 minutes then a voice. We explain. They test. It isn't working. We know that. We'll get back to you.
They do. Still amber flashing lights. The phone line cuts! First time in eight years! They call back. We go through the entire install routine with them. We re-boot the hub. We turn it off, count to 120 and turn it on again. Still amber. Still flashing. Phone line cuts again.
They call back. We think its the cabinet down the road. They say they will test and get back to us. Hours pass. We call again. Same robot voice. Same daft questions. Same outcome although the wait is 45 minutes this time. Still October 4 but only just. We demand escalation. Agreed – someone will telephone October 5 between 10-11.
No one does. We call a new number – same robot voice, same results but this time its quicker as it is Saturday and most people have better stuff to do. Long conversations with more very polite, very capable and very distant Indian gentlemen. Seems the new number found the same call centre too.
Finally they agree we need an engineer visit. October 9 between 8 and 1. Hooray, although it seems a long way from October 4 and of course no broadband. The phone drops out twice and again on a private call later. And we do get a nearby 'share' connection called FON with a BT subscriber but it is woefully slow.
And so to the engineer's visit today (Oct 9). Michael is a very nice chap. Very patient with customers and, it later transpires equally patient with his colleagues. Which is frankly to his credit.
He tests our kit which, as we had told him (the writer has some small skill in this area) was working fine. We mention others in the village are not happy and drop out seems to be common. Aha, he says. He goes off to the cabinet (we can see it from our kitchen window, about 50 metres way). He is gone a long time. In fact his van disappears for a while and I do wonder... But it is Michael; no sweat.
He comes back even more cheerful. Rightly so – our hub goes blue! And stays blue which it has done for up to 30 seconds before (don't ask – its a BT thing). We test – we get 34 meg down and 8 up! Eureka! Well Infinity actually although given events we know why the name Eternity was not adopted.
So now we have a connection that, when I was at Pipex in 1995 would have set me back a cool £120,000 per annum plus £8,000 per kilometre installation. Phew! It is 700 times faster than the 56k modem we were so proud of in 1999! It means a SPAM email of 1k will now arrive even faster than its journey into the trash bin. It used to take an amazingly lifelike time to see the whole word Viagra expand onto the screen.
But even better I know what went wrong and I can enjoy this for years. Almost worth the wait.
See as I mentioned earlier the telephone line stays connected to the old telephone box. So on Infinity day, BT's OpenReach contractors open the boxes and connect the appointed customer wires from the phone box to the Infinity box. And on the day there were three to do.
- My neighbour was connected to my wires.
- Someone else, not due to be connected was connected to his.
- And mine were connected to the not Infinity person.
- So none of us got Infinity when only one of us didn't want it. Still with me?
Now my other beef is this:
If the only way a rural customer can get broadband from BT is by ordering and paying for the Infinity product isn't that a bit of a swizz?
You see BT got £280 million of our money from the Government to extend broadband to the rural areas. But they are doing it buy collaring more money from every customer and a £30 connection fee.
Rip off Britain? Or is it just business in the 21st century? I leave it up to you.