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BT UK: You Must Work From Home, But We Won’t Provide a Connection Suitable for Work

Biden the Pain Harold: They say I must work from my desk in the kitchen, but it's not even a desk

Recently I said I would write about the latest formal letter from BT (got it hours ago by post). It raises many questions about right to Internet access and forced home working. The correction in the letter, which I requested, is in page two. It made incorrect assertion about what I had said. So they have removed that bit and resent the (new) letter. I’d like to draw attention to a statement made in page 1. As many people worldwide are aware, Britain takes lock-downs very seriously. All the stores are shut (except for food and few other things) and people are forced to work from home. For those of us who work in “IT” (a bit of a buzzword) that means that there are technical demands, which cannot always be met/satisfied when connections are slowed down or crippled [1, 2, 3].

Here’s the latest letter:

bt-full

Compare to the previous version of page 2 (I never said that my connection speed was zero, that’s just false):

BT correction

For the time being, seeing that I have IPFS issues further upstream in the network (that software does not scale too well and it is fast-growing, apparently), I am laying aside my grievances with BT. They’re refunded the costs wrongly incurred and may soon issue the compensation promised. I remain largely dissatisfied on many levels, but I’ve come to accept that once in a few years there will be a major ordeal if not catastrophe with the ISP. It’s inevitable. Nothing is perfect. I’d like to get back to writing about things, rather than this networking/Internet ‘activism’, which is somewhat outside my scope of expertise (I’ve worked on networking/routing/engineering before, but it’s not my strongest domain).

Making the Web (and the Internet) work better in a decentralised fashion is a big if not truly massive challenge, which goes beyond the limitations of ISPs. Unlike Bitcoin, it’s not an energy hog and probably not a traffic hog. In a sense, we try to make datacentres obsolete; that would be greatly beneficial to the environment.

BT’s Weak Attempt to Prevent Me Filing a Complaint Over Throttling

BT complaint

BT complaint

MY ordeal with BT is not over. I wrote about it thrice already [1, 2, 3], at least here. I wrote about it elsewhere as well.

At the moment there are several outstanding issues.

  1. They charged me for a hub I did not ask for and which I repeatedly told them there’s no point sending as it would certainly not solve anything. I was right. In fact, it took me 3 hours just to reconfigure everything after they had sent it. And then they charged me for it. Amazing!
  2. They did not issue the compensation they’ve mentioned in the letter above. Kind of odd to forget to deduct such a thing after over 5 hours over the telephone.
  3. I now know for a fact, and can demonstrate with detailed evidence, that BT engages in retaliatory throttling and collective punishment for the use of IPFS, which is perfectly lawful and hardly consumes any bandwidth in relative terms.
  4. They mention in the letter (above) that they are willing to offer an upgrade to “business”, but there’s no reason to believe this will stop the throttling and it does nothing to undo almost a month’s suffering. Not to mention BT’s dishonest denials.
  5. It seems clear they try to just discourage a complaint being filed. In fact, the letter above took nearly a whole week to arrive. Why did they take so long to dispatch the letter? Did they hope that a week passing by would like like a “cool-off” period?

Our connection remains seriously degraded, so I shall phone and demand a resolution, not another phony round of fake ‘solutions’ that only add up to suffering and pointless chores (like setting up a newer hub when the actual problem is upstream, at BT’s own systems).

It seems most likely that at the end I shall carry on with the complaint.

Formal Complaint to Ombudsman/Ofcom About BT Throttling of Connections

Video download link

FURTHER to my complaints to BT [1, 2] we’ve now reached a deadline and a deadlock. They don’t wish to acknowledge their throttling, let alone resolve the issue. This morning I received a letter which is another effort by BT to discourage or prevent me making a formal complaint (escalating outside BT). I made this video within a few minutes and it runs through the background to all this, as well as ways to proceed.

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.

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. ?

Three Quarter of a Million Tweets

750k tweets

MY decade at Twitter was last year. I joined it after I had posted a bunch of stuff in identi.ca, then decided to post copies in Twitter. 750k tweets later identi.ca is almost defunct and I primarily post in Pleroma and JoinDiaspora. Does that mean that I completely ignore Twitter? Not just yet. I check replies I receive there about once a day.

Twitter isn’t a good site, but sadly that’s where many people still are…

2 Decades Without Windows

“Windows 98 should have been released for free on Jan. 1, 1996 and titled Windows 95.1. If this were Hollywood, then Windows 98 would be the equivalent of ‘Heaven’s Gate’, ‘Waterworld’ and ‘Godzilla’ rolled into one. A huge, overhyped, bloated, embarrassment.”

Jesse Berst, ZDNet editor

MY GENERATION (I’m 37) grew up on DOS. Not necessarily Microsoft DOS, either. Just DOS. As a kid I used to work from the command line. We, as kids, taught one another new tricks; sometimes an adult would visit to teach us things and copy some programs for us (floppy disks with compressed archives). Various utilities like RAR were useful. Sometimes an infection (malicious program) needed to be removed. That was before the days of Windows 3.x — the days we used ncurses-type interfaces to type documents and send these to printers. Later on I did some programming with batch files and at around age 15 I started with Pascal (quite popular at the time owing to simplicity and relative elegance).

I mostly missed the BBS generation (some friends of mine used it; they’d copy for us files they got from there). When bulletin board systems were still popular many computers did not even have modems (few of my classmates had them, usually because of lack of a technical parent, and only one of them was a GNU/Linux user in the mid/late nineties). I think I got my first modem when I was 14 and IRC was probably the first thing I used “on-line”. After Windows 95, which many people used at that time, I bought my last Windows laptop. Actually, my father bought it. He used it and then passed it to me. It had only 32 MB of RAM and Windows 98. I carried it around and used it in university as an undergraduate student (at the faculty I used GNU/Linux at the time). It retired years later and I’ve not bothered with Windows since then. I wrote a great deal about it in USENET at the time. Memories from these days are mostly gone by now; I barely ever touch Windows and when I do it’s over Remote Desktop, typically to access a client’s network, e.g. to run PuTTY from a remote system. That happens about once a month (patching Debian GNU/Linux servers).

Was Windows 98 a decent operating system? No, it was unreliable, but at least it ran on modest hardware without much RAM. I ran Firefox on it, with a total system capacity of something from the mid-nineties (~400MegaHertZ CPU, 32 MB of RAM). That was before Microsoft added back doors to Windows (this was reportedly done in 1999), before the bloat of NT and before DRM (Vista).

With 3 weeks left before the end of this year (and this decade) I remember not so fondly the 90s, back when I used Windows. In 2000 I moved to GNU/Linux, helped by a Finnish friend, an exchange student at the university. In a sense, next year I become a 20-year GNU/Linux user.

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