Digital #fails: EE and Virgin Media prove that Digital Britain is a joke

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez January 13, 2015
Summary:
You would think living on the edge of Zone 2 in London would make it easy to get a stable broadband connection – think again.

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I moved into my new flat on the edge of zone 2 in London on the 8th November last year, just over two months ago. For those of you reading this outside of the UK, London zones indicate your proximity to central London – with zone 1 being central and zone 9 practically being the countryside.

Being on the edge of zone 2 in Harringay, I assumed I would have no difficulty getting myself a decent broadband connection. As I work from home, I was keen to get the fastest connection possible. However, after some quick research I soon realised (and much to my surprise) that Virgin Media was the only company in the area that offered a fibre connection.

Having heard good things about Virgin's broadband speeds in London, I booked in a slot for the engineers to come and install the WiFi and connect the flat up to their next generation network the first week we moved in.

It is now the 14th of January and I am writing this from a local cafe, as I still find myself without a broadband connection.

This story aims to make two points – firstly, if the government really wants to create a 'Digital Britain' (as it so often claims), it shouldn't be so bloody hard to get broadband in the capital city. I can only imagine what the situation is like in rural parts of the UK. Secondly, the customer service at our internet providers is shocking. Absolutely shocking.

But let's start from the beginning. The first week we moved in, Virgin Media did send out an engineer as planned...but managed to get very little done. The first 10 minutes of his visit were spent shaking his head and telling me it was going to be very difficult to get a connection to my living room (although I got the distinct impression that it was just going to take a bit more work, rather than it being impossible), before eventually finding an access point that made it a relatively easy job.

Said engineer then spent the next 15 minutes pulling cables through the walls and getting some stuff set up, after which he told me that I would then have to wait for the construction team to come and connect the cables up outside the front of the flat to the building. Fine.

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So I waited and eventually later that afternoon a construction team pull up outside and knock on the door and ask me what I need doing – to which I respond: how am I meant to bloody know?! Apparently separate teams in Virgin Media don't talk to each other. So it was up to me to then ring the first engineer back (luckily he had called me earlier so I had his number) and pass him over to the construction team so he could fill them in on what needed doing.

Oh and I forgot to add, I was asked to pay for the teams' parking on my street. Just to add to the pleasant customer experience.

Anyway, the construction team then seemed happy with what they had to do so I left them to it. After about an hour or so I heard them drive away (no-one knocked on my door to tell me what had been done) and so I rang the first engineer back to find out if he was coming back to set us up with broadband.

The first engineer also hadn't received any information from the construction team and so asked me to ring up customer service to find out what was going on and whether he should come back or not. Apparently I am now an unpaid employee of Virgin Media.

So I rang up the customer service team, waited in the various queues, and eventually got through to someone to explain the situation and to find out what was going on. Obviously they had no idea and had to go off to ring an area manager to find out the situation, which transpired to be that the construction team had found a blockage in the cables.

A blockage means, apparently, that the construction team has to come back and repair it, but first needs to apply for council planning permissions, etc etc, which I was told would take approximately four to six weeks. Lovely! Not particularly impressed with Virgin Media's customer service so far, but without any other fibre broadband providers in the area, and having come this far, I decided to wait it out and let them get on with the work.

At this point, I decide that the best bet would be to go and buy a 4G WiFi dongle from EE with a rolling contract, which I could use to do my work from home for a month. A feasible short-term solution.

So I head down to my nearest EE shop in Wood Green and wait to speak to an assistant. I waited for an hour and a half. It was

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absolute chaos in the shop – no queuing system, not enough staff, not very helpful staff – the lot. Face-to-face customer service at its worst. When I did finally get landed with an assistant, she was being trained on a new Android tablet system by an advisor from another store. This slowed the process down even more, which was only made worse when I got to the final stage of filling in my details, the assistant/tablet deleted all my details and we had to start again.

I also don't understand why in the EE stores, once you have filled in your details, you then have to speak to a customer service assistant on the phone to confirm everything – but apparently you do, so I went through the processes. Another half an hour later (now 2 hours in the store) I finally walk away with my 4G dongle. Hurrah!

And to be fair, this did the job for just over a month.

Until it broke, for no apparent reason.

This morning, I go to connect to my 4G WiFi as usual, and the Alcatel device EE uses for its dongle simply won't turn on. This device has been sat on a shelf, connected to a plug the entire time I've been using it, so there is no chance it was damaged by myself. But for whatever reason, it simply won't turn on.

So I take myself back down to the dreaded EE store in Wood Green again today, assuming that I can just swap the 4G dongle for another one – given that I've paid all my bills and I've only had the device for a couple of months.

Apparently not. I was quickly told by the EE assistant – after being asked questions such as, 'Have you charged it?' - that it would need to be sent for repair and this would take three weeks. THREE WEEKS.

I was told that I wasn't allowed another dongle from the store and that it would have to be sent to be repaired. I explained that I needed the dongle to do my work, as I work from home, and the assistant explained that given the “large numbers of dongles going in for repair” this is why it takes up to three weeks. Clearly not just me that is having problems then?

I should explain that during the time of using the 4G dongle, Virgin Media had confirmed that I was due an install for my broadband on the 30th January. This is after I hadn't received any communication from them for 8 weeks (despite being told the wait time would be 4-6 weeks) and sent some tweets to their social media support team – who I must say were excellent. I was given a person to deal with directly over email, whom did a lot of chasing for me and has since offered me 3 months of free services as compensation for the wait. Social media support at its best!

But back to the EE store – given that I would have to wait for 3 weeks to get my dongle back and Virgin would be installing in 2 weeks time, I told the assistant I would like to cancel my contract. Once again, it actually wasn't possible for her to do it, so she put me on the phone with EE's customer service team.

Having explained the story to a customer service assistant on the phone (who I was hoping would have my side), I was then passed on to a cancellation team to relay the whole story again for a third time.

This is when I lost it. Instead of apologising and offering a new dongle to be sent out to me, the person on the end of the phone said:

If you sign up to 12 months of 4G, I can send you out a dongle today

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They tried to up-sell me! Not only is this incredibly cheeky, it's irresponsible and terrible customer service. I knew that EE regularly got the top spot for the most number of complaints from Ofcom for their customer service, but I couldn't quite believe how bad it is. Well, now I believe it. Maybe less money should be spent on Kevin Bacon adverts and more money should be spent on keeping customers happy?

Needless to say the contract was cancelled and I am no longer an EE customer. Oh, but I still have to pay a final bill on the 23rd of January – brilliant.

And to make matters worse, I have just received a call from Virgin Media whilst writing this, telling me that they have since found more damage to the network and it is going to be another 'two to four weeks' to fix and fit my broadband connection. Meaning that my 30th January installation date (almost three months after the original installation date) seems highly unlikely.

Great! Maybe it's time to start looking into other options...

As I said at the start, it shouldn't be this hard to get a decent broadband connection in London. It just shouldn't. And as for the customer service at these companies – well, I really don't know what to say. Awful, awful, awful.

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