Digital dinosaur BT asks why customers need to do more than one thing at a time online?

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan August 21, 2016
Customers won't notice the difference between high def and standard def video, so why should BT have to deliver high quality? - the corporate arrogance of the broadband bully in full view.

BT - head in the clouds

One thing you should never do with a bully is budge an inch. Give any ground and he or she will assume weakness and demand more.

Last month BT was on the back foot with the threat that regulator Ofcom might finally do its duty to the UK digital economy and recommend breaking up the toxic cartel between the telco and its Openreach arm. In the event, the regulator let the nation down and agreed to a form of the fudge that BT itself had been proposing frantically at the last minute.

We said at the time that this was a bad decision and one that would come back to bite the UK. The first signs came only a week later when BT CEO Gavin Patterson broke away from his usual platitudes about how great UK broadband roll out is to get snippy on an analyst call, insisting that Ofcom couldn’t break up the BT-Openreach axis even if it wanted to.

The conciliatory 'please don't break us up' BT of a few days earlier was long gone and it was back to corporate arrogance mode. 

This weekend, reports circulated in the media that show off BT’s true colours yet again. At present, the UK government is proposing a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for all broadband providers. While the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) refers to this as high-speed broadband, in reality it’s not that high at all - 10mps download.

That said, as I write this with a BT broadband speed of 3mps in the centre of a large city on the South Coast of England that pitches itself as a digital go-to location, 10mps is like a pipedream that I know that BT will never deliver.

But in the wider scheme of things, when maximum speeds of up to 200mps are being offered to a lucky few, it’s scarcely an unreasonable obligation.

Unless you’re BT of course.

According to the media reports, BT’s not happy about its customers daring to use several devices at the same time in the same location. The example it chooses to use to support what I will reluctantly call its ‘argument’ is video. In a response to Ofcom, BT asks:

Must a USO broadband service always be capable of delivering multiple video streams (HD or SD) to multiple users at the same time?

It goes on to suggest that customers are too dim to notice whether video content is in HD or SD anyway, so why should BT have to deliver highest quality streams rather than just what it can get away with:

Must a USO delivered video service always be available in the highest quality, even though such quality differences may not be perceived by the human eye or indeed have a marginal impact on the viewing experience?

Digital damage

Leaving aside both the asinine nature of the 'argument' and further confirmation of the customer-contempt that characterises BT, the firm then goes on to make a far, far more dangerous claim in a digital economy:

Social inclusion is unlikely to require multiple simultaneous uses and even if it did, the typical UK household is approximately two people and less than 20 per cent of UK households have four or more people.

What utter and complete rubbish, a specious worldview based on never having heard of multi-tasking!

This is the completely unacceptable face of BT’s perception of its role in the UK digital revolution. Instead of taking its virtual monopoly of national infrastructure and seeking to enable and empower society, it seeks to inhibit and cripple. It wants to do as little as it has to and not to have to answer to regulators or governments and, least of all, to its customers.

We live in a digital age.

This is an age in which various members of a household may simultaneously be doing an online shop, working from home, attempting to download a movie to watch later that evening, paying bills online, chatting to friends online etc. This is a time when government is trying to get social and citizen services online and when digital services are the hub around which lives revolve.

This is an age where any given household may have a desktop computer, a tablet or two, smartphones, a SmartTV, all in the same location and all potentially trying to do something online at the same time.

This is an age where 10mps is only just about acceptable as a standard basic service offering.  

But this is an age in which BT appears to be believe it would be reasonable to expect customers to be doing only one thing at a time online. 

In practical terms in my own household, such is the appalling nature of the BT service provided, if we want to watch a programme via iPlayer or another on-demand offering, we need to make sure that none of our other devices are trying to do anything at the same time or the picture will freeze.

Now, at the start of the day, I’m currently downloading a movie (in SD) from iTunes in the background as I work, in the vague hope that it might have finished its mercilessly-slow descent by 8pm tonight - but I’m not counting on it.

I’ve referenced in previous articles on BT’s shameful behaviour, the example of neighbouring residents, both of whom work from home and who have to take it in turns to be logged on to the internet, so poor is the service from BT.

Meanwhile Patterson has the gall to criticise rival broadband providers for “talking the UK down” with their complaints about the state of the UK’s broadband network.

Vodafone, Sky and TalkTalk have launched a campaign called Fix Britain’s Internet, urging frustrated consumers to complain to Ofcom.  On the campaign website, the trio say:

Nearly every broadband provider in Britain depends on the national network Openreach. Through taxpayer money and part of your bill, BT is paid billions to maintain the network. But it isn’t delivering. Millions of homes and businesses don't have the fast, reliable internet they need. We think everyone deserves better broadband.


What  seems to have annoyed Patterson is the claims made on the site such as:

BT is spending billions buying the rights for televised football, rather than investing this money in Britain’s broadband infrastructure.


In two thirds of the UK, people can’t get the speeds BT is being paid to deliver.

Seems about right to me. What's he getting so riled about? 

My take

Ofcom shamefully failed in its duty to the UK digital economy by giving ground to the BT bully earlier this year.

I’d urge everyone in the UK who’s getting poor service from this privatised effective monopoly to sign the Fix Britain’s Internet petition today.

If enough of us do, then maybe Ofcom CEO Sharon White will finally do the right thing and recommend taking a wrecking ball to BT-Openreach as she should have done earlier this year.