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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. ?

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