Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Life as a consumer

Sometimes it’s hard not to be cynical about business and their approach to their customers. No more so than in the telecoms industry, which in Ireland is a complete basket case. This is supposed to be a deregulated competitive market where the “local loop”, the line that runs to your door, can be leased via any available supplier on request. Theoretically, this opens up competition in stuff like broadband. Unfortunately this is more in theory than practice.

Take my current broadband experience for example. I am fed up now with my current provider of telephony and broadband services. No names or pack drills, let’s just call them GT Ireland. In the last 6 months they have left me without internet service for 4 weeks and presently are delivering a consistent 0.6Mb speed while charging for a 7.6Mb one. Yes, I know what contention is, but this is clearly not a contention issue – especially when you get 0.6Mb at 3am.

Thanks to the glories of competition (as drawn up by a raft of politicians) I can move to any number of alternative suppliers using a variety of technologies. Let’s investigate the possibilities:

Alternative DSL providers:

Yes sir, we would love to sign you to a 12 month lock in as a new customer. Yes
sir, you will actually be getting exactly the same signal down exactly the same
wires via exactly the same exchanges. No sir, we don’t actually have any
proactive technical support that will leave a call centre and take a look at the
situation on the ground. Just send us your money each month instead and if you
continue to get the poor service, just call our technical support, who would be
glad to keep you on hold for 10 minutes before patronising you and telling you
it must be a fault with the way you have set up your router, or don’t have
filters on telephony lines etc.. Oh yes, we can get an engineer out to check it.
That will be €99 plus VAT thank you.

Cable suppliers:

Sorry, we don’t “do” that well established suburb of the nation’s capital city.

Wireless suppliers:

Yes, our technology is great. You see no wires and exactly the same price as the
DSL alternatives. Well, yes it is true that if you want to have a telephone line
for something silly like a landline telephone, a monitored alarm, or a cable TV
box. You will need to pay an additional €25.99 per month minimum to someone else
for that.

Mobile suppliers:

Did you talk to the wireless guy?

So in practice, you are in fact left with the original state monopoly supplier. But you do get to choose the letterhead you would like on your bills. How lovely.

And a nice little anecdote to go with this moan. My much-loved supplier GT Ireland was fiercely marketing a “special offer” of a free upgrade to 24Mb service a number of months back. I thought I would like some of that and gave them a call. Unfortunately this 21st century technology had the strange quirk that had I been switching from a competitor they could switch me over seamlessly. But alas, I was only a humble customer of 5 years standing and so would have to have my service turned off for a minimum of two weeks should I want it. It didn’t make me hurry to take up the opportunity.

But lo, what now? GT Ireland has just announced that it has sold its household customers to another, unnamed telecoms company, let’s call them Modafone. And no sir we can no longer change your service. And we aren’t really interested in your problems any longer and your new supplier won’t be either until the sale completes next year some time.

You don’t suppose that 24Mb offer was a cynical attempt to boost subscriber numbers before a sale of the business do you? No, neither do I.

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