I’ve now had the most frustratingly ‘bang head on desk’ series of correspondence with the Executive Level Complaints team, which has finally gotten to a point where I’ve got a damning admission from them, but which once again exposes BT’s totally inability as a company to manage customer engagement.
While anonymising the name of the BT person charged with putting me in my place, I’m going to reproduce large chunks of the conversation (to date). So I'll call her Alice - as in Wonderland, because, hold tight, we're going through a Looking Glass where it helps if you can believe six impossible things before breakfast.
I had been promised a response to my original query within five working days. In the event, it was 18 days before she was able to get enough information from Openreach to come back to me. Well, I say information. Alice told me:
I really appreciate how keen people are to get faster broadband for their homes and businesses and BT continues to invest heavily in our superfast fibre broadband network. High speed broadband now reaches more than 80% of all UK premises and we continue to work with the Government to help take fibre broadband beyond 95% of the country by 2017.
You are connected to the Hove exchange via cabinet 286. Right now, around 85% of people connected to the Hove exchange have access to high speed broadband. For the immediate future that’s all the work BT have planned for the area but this is always open to change in the future. It’s also possible that there may be further investment using public funding and upgrade options available through the eSussex BDUK (Broadband Delivery UK) project.
My response was to ask why if 85% of the area has been wired up, what’s the issue with the remaining 15%? As Openreach engineers have assured local residents repeatedly that there is no technical reason for not doing so, this must be assumed to be a commercial decision by BT? Why can’t BT wire up the remaining area? Alice's response:
Thanks for your email, unfortunately I can only deal on an individual level and my response was regarding a specific property.
Well, actually, I’ve been asking about the city center in all of the correspondence to date and this is BT's first retreat to this particular excuse. But OK, let’s call your bluff - why won’t you wire up my specific property which falls within this 15% unfinished zone?
Alice has another go:
The upgrade process is both commercially and technically very challenging. As a result, this particular cabinet does not meet our supplier's (Openreach) criteria to be considered for inclusion in our commercial rollout plans.
For their areas of inclusion, the project team are responsible for any communications, budgets and timescales so I’d encourage you to contact them directly to see if they have any plans for cabinet 286 either now or in future phases.
In other words, go away and ask someone else. OK, I will - how do I get in touch with the right people to talk to?
Er, no response on that one.
Same question, different answers
So another tack - Alice, you’re telling me that there are no scheduled plans for extending superfast broadband to the remaining 15% of Brighton?
So how come my neighbour asked exactly the same questions of one of your colleagues on the Executive Level Complaints team on exactly the same day and got, within the promised five days as opposed to 18 days, a reply saying that our area is down to get connected by the end of 2017?
Same question. About the same property. Asked to two people in the same office. Two completely different replies.
So, who’s right and who’s wrong? Or should the question be, who’s making it up as they go along to get rid of the annoying customers asking questions? Perish the thought! I’m told:
All the information that I have provided is correct and I cannot provide any dates to when fibre will be provided.
Sorry, Alice, that’s not good enough. I asked why two members of the same team within BT - at what you assure me is the highest possible level of escalation within the company - have come back with two completely different answers to the exact same questions about the exact same cabinet.
We continue to invest heavily in our superfast fibre broadband network. It now reaches around 80% of all UK premises and we continue to work with the government to help take fibre broadband beyond 95% of the country by 2017.
Er, hang on, that’s not even an attempt at an excuse this time. That’s a cut and paste from a press release? Why won’t you answer a direct question?
Then comes the moment, the moment when the veil slips and the truth can be glimpsed as the reply tells me:
You’re not in our commercial plans so we can’t offer you any information on planned upgrades for the area.
And there we have it. It’s not down to technical issues. It’s down to BT deciding that they don’t want to do it for commercial reasons.
What would those reasons be? Well, I asked, but of course I haven’t been told.
But I could speculate. One of those helpful Openreach engineers - and they really do hate BT by the way, more than happy to sympathise with customers asking questions - told me that he was there as part of a private installation of superfast broadband for a nearby hotel.
He told me that BT makes a “bl**dy fortune” out of such private installations and that was the reason why there is no commercial incentive to complete the 15%, with lots of businesses and hotels etc in the areas providing a potential revenue stream.
I don’t know if that’s correct. As I say, BT won’t comment on the criteria they use to assess what’s commercially viable or not, so we're working in the (all too convenient) dark here.
But I’ll say one thing - I’m more inclined to believe the Openreach guy digging up the road than I am the Alice in Wonderland platitudes pouring out of the Executive Level Complaints team at BT.
Not letting this rest here.