A cautionary telecom tale from the Welsh Border



Need a holiday from the Net? Why not let BT handle the arrangements?

Naive novelist Phil Rickman bought the package.


Stuck out in the sticks with broadband at 0.5 meg, I was overjoyed to learn that our local telephone exchange had been upgraded to superfast broadband.

I asked our long-time Internet providers, Demon, if they could upgrade us. Disappointingly, Demon said they were sorry but couldn’t do it and didn’t know when they’d be able to.

It was then that I gave in to the worst kind of knee-jerk reaction. I put in a tentative call to BT Sales.

Soon there were teeth marks around my wrist. Well, of course they could do it – at least 38 meg, perhaps up to 80. They’d have it running in ten days.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I swallowed this crap.

BT also took the Government’s money, many millions of pounds of it, to provide superfast broadband to rural areas.

Anyway, they sent the kit: the router as seen on TV in a flatful of daft students, and ten days later, as advised, I switched on the laptop.


No, I mean really nothing.  They’d not only failed to provide BT superfast fibre bb, they’d also cut off Demon and made it impossible for me to reinstate it. They hadn’t told me they’d be doing this, they just did it.

The bastards had left me without any Internet.

The Openreach engineer who turned up a couple of days later was unsurprised.

‘You’re too far from the exchange and the “cabinet”,’ he said. ‘You haven’t a hope of superfast broadband. They should’ve known that. They should never have sold it to you.’

You tend to trust Openreach. They’re the guys on the ground who have to prop up the service and take all the shit.

BT were in denial for some time before admitting that what Openreach had said was actually true – while still claiming their survey showed otherwise. Gosh. Could it be that BT is biased towards shareholders’ profits rather than consumers’ interests? Who’d’ve thought it?

However, they said (when I got to the end of the queue without being cut off yet again) that they could still provide a standard broadband which would still be six times as good as my half-meg. And it would be up and running the very next day.

After it failed… again and again… I was told that the BT operation was actually not equipped to handle downgrades. Four attempts at placing orders had been rejected. It still had me down as a resident of Fastershire, a place wherein I’d never dwelt nor ever seem likely to.

Let me explain how important active Internet is to business users like me in the sticks… and I’m just a novelist, not somebody who needs to exchange a thousand emails a week.

For writers, in these difficult times, the Internet is essential for book-promotion, especially when you have a new novel out. You do interviews online, update your website daily, answer emails from readers, do research for the next book… the list goes on.

I had a new book out – communications-wise, these were the most important couple of weeks in my year – and no Internet.  I’ll never know how much this cost me in terms of sales and profile.

Of course, even if you don’t have a book out, and even if you’re not self-employed, this is not the best time to have your Net wrecked – all those last minute Christmas presents you can’t buy online? The money you’re wasting on Amazon Prime? The Christmas messages you can’t read? Just a reminder that the Jackie Lawson card you were sent a week ago has not been opened.

Clearly, it isn’t only me. Within hours of losing all broadband, I talked to a woman who, for the same reason, was wishing she’d never left Talk-Talk for BT. Yes, that bad. Trust me, superslow broadband is so much better than no broadband at all, especially if you live in an area where your mobile signal is even worse than the broadband.

Obviously, if I’d known BT was in the habit of selling a service it hadn’t a hope in hell of providing, I’d still be with Demon, who had always been very helpful and efficient over the years and never left me without Internet for more than a few hours.

Anyway, publication day came and went with me periodically standing in a wet field trying to pick up emails on the mobile. I was doing a bookshop signing when Joanne, of BT Complaints, rang me on the mobile (which is only guaranteed to work well away from home) to say I’d be connected in only another six days.

Six days.


Four of them later, a bloke called Mark rang, on behalf of Joanne, to confirm this.

Do you know what it takes to actually put this right?

It takes one engineer making one quick visit to the exchange to downgrade from fibre to standard. Does the failure to get this done imply that, even three weeks after negligently buggering up your Internet, BT really doesn’t give a shit?

And on the sixth day, lo…  the orange light flickered from the router and the computer said, Cannot connect, cannot connect…

Joanne rang from Glasgow.

‘I’ve just been on to Openreach who say it’s definitely been downgraded.’

So, like, why wasn’t it working?  Was it possible that BT made the order but Openreach, who never seem to be over-fond of BT, had told them to sod off?

Yes, it really was possible. Due, allegedly, to masses of other jobs caused by bad weather (though not particularly bad in this area) they wouldn’t be able to send someone out for another….

…eight days. 

That would be in the fourth week since BT had destroyed my broadband because of something they should have known they were incapable of installing.

Let’s not forget that. Because BT seemed to have.

Me: ‘You do accept it’s BT’s fault?’

Joanne: ‘Well, uh, you said to me that you had been sold that… and I have already…’ (gets even more garbled)

Me: ‘You do accept that it’s BT’s fault?’

Joanne: ‘I can’t blame anyone for what’s happened, I don’t know who you spoke to, what they promised you, but when I first picked up your issue and I told you that the checks for BT Wholesale actually showed that you would be able to get fibre… but, as I say, we then, we realised we can’t actually provide the customer with service…’

Me: ‘Therefore it is BT’s fault then, isn’t it, really…?’

Joanne: ‘Well, if that’s what you want to think…’

I’m told that, while repeatedly telling you how sorry they are, BT never actually accept blame.

I’m not blaming Joanne. She seems to have a soul-destroying job. I’d much rather talk to Graham Sutherland – not the late painter but the CEO of BT Sales, whose name is at the foot of the emails welcoming me to the wonderful world of speedy bb. Only I doubt Graham’s system is programmed to take calls from Fastershire, which, like Never Never Land etc, does not, of course, exist.

It’s now been fixed, after three and a half weeks. It wasn’t complicated.

Hmmm. Could be the superfast map needs to be redrawn.