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Saturday, January 9th, 2021, 12:08 pm

British Telecom Cannot Blame Coronavirus For Its Awful Customer ‘Care’ and Various Face-Saving Lies Disguised as ‘Support’

BT has succumbed to lying and cheating, for it apparently refuses to publicly acknowledge that its network cannot meet the basic capacities required (as per laws and regulations, even contractually w.r.t. clients)

BT, or British Telecom, is probably the company I dislike the most. But at the same time they’re as a de facto monopoly here, merely disguised as having ‘opened up’ (a sort of openwashing, including ‘open’reach). I spent nearly a decade writing about BT, as they kept lying to me, they have lied to me a great deal this past week, and getting a connection from them was exceptionally painful to begin with. The worst experience I ever had with them was in 2015 [1, 2, 3, 4]. I must have lost like 50 working hours due to the issues back then. Even in prior years I had serious issues [1, 2] and the only thing I can say to their credit is that over the past half a decade it was rarely a bumpy ride… until 5 days ago.

So, why am I still with BT? I wrote about that 10 years ago [1, 2]. Basically, since they own and control the entire underlying network (utility providers don’t each have their own electric lines, gas pipes and water pipes either because it would be extremely inefficient a system) moving from one ISP to another is rarely guaranteed to yield good result, especially if one receives and sends signals over physical cable.

The latest rant summarises my latest frustrations with BT, whose managers are far too arrogant to take complaints seriously and work to actually resolve these. All the BT issues we’ve been having this past week are not resolved; in some ways, things have gotten yet worse.

“The manager is supposed to phone me tomorrow,” I wrote two days ago. Did she phone? No. Another one was supposed to phone today (after another escalation). Did she phone? Nope. No apology, no call, nothing…

That’s just corporate Hubris and the sort of arrogance BT became renowned or notorious for.

The issues we’re having aren’t technical, not at our end anyway. It’s the network. I suspect it’s exceedingly under-provisioned and they are afraid to admit this, for fear of class action or demand of compensation (or worse — cancellations). Well, the connection is extremely slow albeit it’s a lot faster in evenings, so it’s easy to say that it’s a congestion crisis and they have no resolution for it. Maybe a localised problem, but still

“At least they’ve subtly admitted they’ve breached Ofcom regulations,” someone has told me. “Most people don’t even get that far. You’ve got legalese knowledge and an I.T. background so they can’t make you go around in circles forever…”

A high-up manager sent me a link similar to the one I cited to them and that page reaffirmed their inability to meet standards, so they need to upgrade. But will they? No. They try to push me away. Again and again. It’s insulting. It’s outrageous. It’s like they play temper games and try to just exhaust the client. I decided I would chase BT over this and report to Ofcom, albeit this can take quite some time.

BT’s customer service [sic] is truly horrible; now our download speeds are seriously degraded as well, not just upload speeds. It’s hard to get work done and we both work from home (my wife and I), so it is a critical service. I think I have sufficient time to report BT for its abuses over the coming weeks (a formal complaint to Ofcom seem likely and it won’t be fast to handle because of the pandemic and other factors). When it comes to its reputation, BT has basically dug its own grave. It’s not so much the technical problems but the handling of those who report such problems.

I will give some examples, informally…

“Better off leaving BT,” one person has advised me, “once your contract expires.” But the problem is that the line is theirs (‘open’reach) and exchanges too are shared among ISPs. So the problem probably won’t go away. After a bad week (upload speeds still appalling, now download speeds too) a manager was supposed to phone me, but did not. Trying to make a call with them? 20-30 minutes waiting time just to speak to an “adviser”. They’re being snobbish and unhelpful.

The contingencies aren’t many. Short of 4G modem/router, which is expensive (the people in Newcastle’s chartered entity have told me), might be the last resort. But it seems like a lot of hassle to go through.

Their manager, Jan, who was supposed to phone me yesterday, did not phone. And this is not surprising given her temperament. Trying to phone for an advisor (to complain about the lack of phonecall/callback means staying on line 20-30 minutes). So I phoned again this morning, I was redirected to Dublin (yes, Dublin) and after spending loads of time on the line it got disconnected or he had accidentally hung up. Another 20 minutes down the drain. So I waited for 5 minutes, but he did not even call back. They don’t seem to care. So I called again, this got me assigned to a different person on the line (this time in Liverpool) and I managed to get him to tell a manager to phone me back. Did I receive a call? No way. That’s almost 4 hours on the phone all in all so far… and no progress at all.

So I phoned BT again, as their manager of course ‘forgot’ to call back. It’s really going nowhere. There’s nobody really to speak to. You speak to a person, asking why they didn’t ring back. No response, no reason, no help given… nothing. You ask to be transferred to cancellations (they call it “loyalty”), then it rings for a while, then the line drops and nobody phones back. That’s already the fourth time it happens; one cannot even reach cancellations and meanwhile the queue (length of time to wait on the line) grew to 20 minutes, so it’s like one has to spend an hour on the phone just to get through to anyone useful. Over 4 hours on the phone already and I’ve come to the conclusion it’s better to just file the formal complaint. BT, perhaps besieged by coronavirus loads, is totally and entirely defunct. Defunct. They’re like virtually dead as far as customer care is concerned; their support managers are lying and abusing customers now. They just don’t care. And even if you write down names and locations of BT reps you speak to, they will keep redirecting you (at random) to different respondents in different places, so you cannot be redirected back so as to hold responsible those who told lies or made false promises.

I’ve had bad experiences with BT over the years, both technical and personnel-related. This one probably isn’t the worst, but it certainly comes at a really terrible time because almost everyone (who can) works from home and it is not legal to work from anywhere else.

Wednesday, January 6th, 2021, 3:36 pm

Coronavirus May Have Caused a Nationwide or Regional Congestion Crisis for BT

Can’t even get connected to family (VoIP no longer working)

Coronavirus BT customers

THIS is not a worthless rant and it is not written in a rush. Far from it. It has taken me three days to research and prepare the text. I didn’t want to write this, but circumstances — however unfortunate — rendered me an unwitting messenger. This post is based on my observations, my technical analysis, and many conversations with half a dozen BT employees and various people I know who are intimately familiar with such issues. In a sense, this post is a joint effort of many voices, some of which are insiders.

Let’s start with the basics.

My ISP issues, with BT, started on Monday, i.e. more than 2 days ago. BT is the ‘former’ monopoly that still controls Openreach and many other entities behind the scenes (yesterday they tried to pretend to have nothing to do with Openreach, but that’s just laughable). An hour ago I spoke to someone from a government-commissioned ‘independent’ outpost, but he admitted to me that he’s in fact a BT employee, salaried by BT. We’ll come back to that in a moment. The issues are not 100% persistent, but they’ve generally persisted since the start of the week, just before the commencement of another round of lock-downs in England. It ‘felt’ like the issues were resolved last night, at least temporarily around midnight, but they are back. These issues keep coming back, not just during business hours. The issues are certainly not at our end (we’ve tested many devices). After some discussion I was given a citation from Ofcom and advised to tell BT that I’m reporting them to Ofcom for throttling (especially upload speeds). I spent literally hours arguing with them about it; about ten times they repeated the line that “there’s nothing we can do” and/or “we cannot guarantee upload speeds” (but at present the upload speeds are about as appalling as 1990s modems). Ofcom’s rules and regulations were partly confirmed, albeit hesitantly, by BT management higher up. Ofcom talks of 1Mbit/sec upload threshold and speaks of the possibility that they must upgrade the customer if that cannot be met. This worries BT. They keep saying that they have no control over these speeds, or that it’s automated, but it’s a semi-truth (it’s their equipment, they can change the configurations if they really wish to). At one point I decided to demand a full refund for this month and cancel my contract. We cannot even make VoIP calls, we’ve had to use the landline (it works fine, which means that TCP/IP packets are being capped at the exchange or elsewhere), and paying 40 pounds a month for a connection you cannot make calls on seems rather unreasonable.

Coronavirus BT

I’ve spent many hours studying this. I experimented with upstream connections to datacentres in London and in the US. It’s not a cross-Atlantic issue. After spending about 3 hours on the phone (half the time speaking to BT managers) and doing lots of technical work I came to the conclusion that BT simply cannot meet the needs of users. They’re well over capacity, especially for upstream links. They won’t ever admit this, but they don’t deny it either (they dodge the question or refuse to answer it) as that can harm consumer confidence. They seem to have under-provisioned, having not predicted a crisis like COVID-19 (with people talking over the Net instead of inside the office in a face-to-face fashion or over intranet).

Suffice to say, the media is, as usual, sleeping at the wheel and not doing its job investigating and scrutinising these days. BT is very sensitive about the whole thing. I’ve noticed that they’re increasingly evasive as they might fear some sort of class action or mass cancellation, based on the premise they’re unable to deliver proper service.

Surprisingly enough, as things heated up a bit, at one point a manager told me I’m not allowed to record the call (BT does record everything). I did not actually record any of the calls, but it shows a degree of fear or paranoia if they threaten people who might simply record what they’re saying.

All in all, I had to spend like an hour and a half with cancellation without being allowed to cancel. They stonewall and create diversions. They keep asking me the same details over and over again, merely to confirm (even to the same people) that I am who I claim to be (but they’re BT, they can see the origin of the call regardless). Odd, I think…

Today I spent two hours on the phone, leaving me frozen (almost literally) on the line for as much as 10 minutes (at the times while they escalate internally, taking so long as if they panic about bad publicity).

I was escalated about three level upwards (though they all seem to work from home, one person said he was based in Warrington, not far from here). I asked them countless times about traffic shaping/capping/throttling. I spoke about bottlenecks, but they don’t wish to talk about any of those things. It’s like the elephant in the room. At one point I brought up Phorm and DPI; they knew what I was alluding to, but as usual… no comment. They don’t wish to discuss what happens with data and TCP/IP switching.

Monday morning this chaos began. I’ve barely been able to upload files, we cannot make calls over the Internet and we get disconnected each time we phone them despite asking them not to do this (they did this twice in a row, ignoring my request).

I told them that since both my wife and I work on research projects (related to COVID-19 as well) through the NHS we’re sort of “essential” workers. I told them that, especially at times like these, homes aren’t just homes, they’re offices. We work remotely. We work on important things and the connection issues cause severe problems to people and even put jobs at risk. People cannot work from elsewhere; it’s ILLEGAL.

I spoke to them for over an hour yesterday (I managed to convince them to open a formal complaint — an option that I have but they try hard to hide). Today we spoke for 2 hours. It was hell, for both sides.

They keep refusing to answer simple questions. I asked them about capacity issues and they refuse to comment. It’s not that they don’t understand the terminology, they just try to shift the conversation back to their “script”…

It’s exhausting. The conversations go almost nowhere. They’re talking like robots speaking from manuals (they’re all based in the UK by the way, they’re not low-skilled workers). I’ve just spent nearly two hours battling with their managers over the phone (politely); they’re making it almost impossible to cancel an account after repeatedly failing their customers.

Coronavirus BT business

At one point, after insistence from me and obstruction from them, they passed me on to cancellations (typically called “customer retention” but BT has called that “loyalty”). So awful it was. They never let the caller even get through to actually cancelling. It’s like those epic videos in the US where you see people trying to cancel their contract with ISPs or AOL. The people are trained to mislead, obstruct, divert…

Eventually I spoke to a contingency — an agency or office set up by a government charter (but manned by people employed by BT in Newcastle). They suggested getting a G4 hub, but they did not specify a cost. For something like fibre to the home they speak of costs like 3,500 pounds. So that’s hardly a workable fallback.

All in all, I’ve reached the conclusion that BT isn’t being honest about what’s going on. They could, instead, just acknowledge that due to lack of capacity they’re throttling people’s connections (here if not elsewhere), then apologise. But instead it boils down to complainant shaming and leaned helplessness. They shamelessly pretend that this has nothing to do with them. Like with many other things during the crisis (pandemic), extreme measures are taken to deny people their rights (as humans, customers, labourers) and we’re suppose to just accept it. ?

Saturday, December 12th, 2020, 1:37 pm

COVID May Have Caused (or Helped) the UK Home Office and Manchester Town Hall to Violate Basic Laws or Fundamental Human Rights

The Manchester experience, going ‘online’ for ‘apps’ (so-called ‘self-service’) because who need services anyway?

Manchester Town Hall
With “mom” at Manchester Town Hall

FIRST time? My bad. Second? Your fault. Unlike the old saying, “fool me once, shame on you…” (twice… me)

What’s all this commotion about? Is it about privacy? Accessibility? Adherence to law? Or all the above?

Right about now many rules and laws are flouted and violated. In the name of “emergency”… a public health crisis. Perfect justification?

Courts have apparently decided that the equivalent of a telephone call is “trial”; governments are waging an accelerated war on cash, as well. I often wonder if here in Britain we changed the coins (rendering old ones worthless and obsolete) to artificially reduce the money supply; it would be helpful to know how many “old coins” there are compared to “new ones”. The thinking is, maybe they try to impose financial surveillance by “going digital” with scarcity of physical money added to the mix… or removed from circulation.

What’s wrong with digital payments? Apparently a lot of people don’t know or never really thought about it, even in this age of so-called ‘surveillance capitalism’ and mass surveillance without warrant, let alone suspicion or probable cause.

Many who reject digital payments (or “smart” or “touchless” or whatever buzzwords they make up next year) are being framed/painted and sometimes ridiculed as Luddites. That’s kind of funny considering the fact that it’s usually the most technical people who reject technology in payments (so-called ‘novelty’ like “swiping cards” that are little but a piece of plastic with a primitive, cheap chip glued to them). All that insecure chipping and pinning is hardly novel; it’s decades-old ‘technology’ (same for so-called ‘smart’ meters and ‘self-service’ checkout; it could be done decades ago, including the touchscreens, in effect an erosion of customer services or outsourcing of the work to customers).

In reality, it’s the ‘non-techs’ who swallow it all, thinking they’ll seem “techy” for swiping and paying $2,000 for a so-called ‘phone’, compensating for their lack of understanding of where all that data goes and how it’s (mis)used.

The deterioration of our lives is now driven by technology; we were promised technology would make things easier (like doing our laundry, shortening the working days/hours etc.) but in practice people work harder and for longer hours than ever before. People are even being contacted by their bosses well outside working hours. Is this progress?

This brings me to the latest rant. On December 10th 2020 my wife and I went to Manchester Town Hall (temporarily housed partially in Heron House across the road, below GCHQ, as he main building undergoes renovation/overhaul). We went to their office, as explained in the official site, at the specified time with all the documents and a laptop (as required for communication and exchange of details), only to be told the service is not available due to COVID but can instead be done at the Post Office.

Alright then…

So we went to the Post Office, only to be told they don’t do any of that and at least two people had been similarly misdirected earlier in the same day!

What on Earth is going on? ‘Ping-pong’ with people?

So we went back to Town Hall, only to face a different person, who barely even apologised for the misdirection and used “COVID” as a catch-all excuse, instead suggesting contacting the Home Office or urging us to use some Android “app” (which is out of the question).

What if we were disabled or blind? What about options that are paper-based?

This is a terrible regression which actually predates (in part) the pandemic. An “app-only” government would be a travesty for many reasons; like rendering you a non-citizen for refusing to carry around a so-called ‘phone’ that tracks your movement more closely than RFID.

Is COVID a valid excuse here? Hardly. Because apparently, according to information we received from a representative at the Town Hall, this has gone on since March and there’s no projected date or resumption. According to our solicitor, the whole “app” thing was already pushed well before March. They literally want people to take selfies of themselves and then send that to the Home Office, then send sensitive documents over ‘phones’ with back doors.

This isn’t the future; this is not “innovation” but degradation of services spun as “smart” and convenient.

Nothing is as convenient as an informed person interacting with you, dealing with the papers for you, checking the authenticity and ensuring everything is done properly right there on the spot.

I am not a lawyer, I don’t know the pertinent laws and sections, but I know enough to say that the government cannot demand people do those sorts of things with “apps” or digital devices. There must be a fallback. Leaving people ‘hanging’ for almost a year citing “health and safety” cannot be excused because of the COVID-19 pandemic; for several months during summer people could go to pubs and restaurants, so surely Town Hall could facilitate face-to-face (with masks on) meetings.

I will carry on chasing Town Hall next year and will report again.

Friday, October 9th, 2020, 6:56 am

Donald Trump Has Flattened the Curve… Diagonally

Well done, “super-spreader”

us-deaths-covid19

Friday, October 2nd, 2020, 7:44 am

Getting Karma-19

210k deaths; Not my problem!

Saturday, June 27th, 2020, 10:28 pm

When the Desk is Too Narrow Go Portrait Mode, Not Landscape

Click to zoom

setup-portrait

Summary: The old workspace mode had one screen on top of another, which was sub-optimal (one screen was too distant to see properly). So I spent a few hours reshuffling the layout again, on a desk with limited width. My screens now stay in portrait mode permanency. It will not rotate into landscape mode on the right, as I have scripts that rely on that particular screen layout. This is so much better. I see a lot more without having to move the head, only the eyes.

Monday, June 15th, 2020, 1:12 pm

The ‘Second Phase’ in the UK is No Shopping Time (Unless You’re Really Desperate)

The Manchester experience, day 1

Main Line Railway Station 2

For the past two weeks if not longer we’ve sort of looked forward to some stores reopening. After about 80 days of lock-down some things in the house were broken and probably needed replacing. I expected the city to be packed with people and stores to have loads of discounts (sales). How wrong was I…

To be fair, we have no prior experience when it comes to this. The last pandemic that hit the UK (at a scale remotely like this) was over 100 years ago and a lot of things were different back then, so any shallow/superficial parallels don’t quite apply.

Today was my first time putting the mask on because usually, at least for food shopping, I chose small stores where isolation was super-easy and a mask barely needed (there’s already a plastic screen near check-out tills/clerks. Cash is OK as long as you don’t touch the face, even when it’s itchy.

The mask is really irritating. The heat in particular. Breathing isn’t too easy either; it’s kind of a nuisance. So you’re already uncomfortable just by ‘virtue’ of being there. Not for a few minutes but hours….

We left the home at 9AM and came back at around 1PM. I don’t think we’ll go back to these stores for at least a month. We just bought what we really needed. And looking back, maybe it wasn’t really worth the bother; we could wait a while longer…

The main observations worth making:

  1. There are very long queues, sometimes huge ones. It depends on the stores’ size and appeal. Hard to think of people so desperate to stand in line (waiting in those means being outside)…
  2. There were very few people in the mall and out in the streets. Like 10 times less whatever I was expecting. Even after almost 4 hours we still didn’t see many people. So it’s not about our early arrival time…
  3. Most or least at very many stores are still shut, they don’t bother even if they’re now formally allowed to reopen. Makes one wonder how many are technically bankrupt or may be too afraid to reopen for health reasons/or and expectation of dire sales. Maybe people aren’t receiving a salary, so they lack finances or financial security/confidence (uncertainty about the future).
  4. For each store that is open, bar few, the experience inside the store is like a guided tour; it’s so limited, losing much of the appeal of in-store shopping (permissible and impermissible walking routes)
  5. We got lots of hand sanitiser, as each shop advises if not forces you apply it. Again and again.
  6. Not only does store staff issue guidance; inside the malls (not stores), even while merely walking in the aisles, one has to follow some odd rules and instructions of mall workers must be obeyed

The bottom line is, unless it is really essential, like an item that must be purchased and carried in person (or paid for anonymously), I’d advise to not bother. The way things stand, the experience is painful, unsatisfying, and I think reduction in consumerism may be the best solution right now. We aren’t going back there any time soon; not because we don’t want to support local stores (we do!) but because there’s clearly a severe problem here. And if people are not willing to spend or lack the budget to spend (borrowings must be hard now), I dread thinking about what summer will look like for businesses, causing social unrest if not societal breakdown.

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