Last Friday afternoon was interesting: a shedload of BT business ADSL customers and almost all of their dial-up users lost their connectivity. Oh, when I say BT ADSL customers, I mean “ADSL customers who happen to have a BT Wholesale provided line”, i.e. potentially a massive proportion of all business ADSL customers who aren’t necessarily BT Broadband customers—the multiple-personality nature of BT makes conversations about it’s parts rapidly become confusing.
This is the problem with BT providing the infrastructure behind almost every ADSL-based broadband product in the UK—if something big goes tits-up behind the scenes, be it Colossus taking a dive (which looks like what happened on Friday), a hardware fault at the exchange, or billing snafus, it’s usually the ISP you subscribed to who gets it in the neck.
Imagine there were a few hundred telephone service providers in the UK—the multitude of “we’re cheaper than BT, press magic codes before dialling” folk who groom your voice calls off BT’s network pledging “bargains, much cheapness” aside—and each and every one of them had different branding, support mechanisms, charges and so on. Behind the scenes, there lurks a shadowy entity, BT Big Line Provider. They provide the actual telephone lines for these service providers, but aren’t responsible for any customer-facing support. If anything goes wrong, you should call your provider first.
On calling them from your mobile at some extortionate mortgage-hemorrhaging rate, odds are you’ll get a support monkey with a call centre script peppered with such delights as “After taking customer’s details, ask them how their day is or if they enjoyed EastEnders / Emmerdale / Corrie / Match of the Day – consult daily board for relevant programme to quiz customer about.” Once you’ve managed to get them to shut up about Manchester Athletic or that episode of EastEnders with Angie in it on Saturday night, they’ll tell you they don’t know why you can’t make phone calls and that you should try and unplug your phone from the wall for 5 minutes to see if that makes a difference. When all you’re trying to do is call your mum, you’d rapidly get high blood pressure.
I’m sure the analogy is becoming clear. If it isn’t let me beat you about the head with it. BT Wholesale have a monopoly on UK ADSL. BT’s having a monopoly on fixed domestic lines doesn’t really help matters, but the least they can do is open up their exchanges to anyone who wants in, not just those who have the cojones to ante up and play the LLU game. Yes, yes, easynet are offering wholesale LLU in competition with BT Wholesale, but only in 900 exchanges. BT Wholesale can have presence in almost 5900. The rest of us have some helluva catching up to do before that can be matched.
And here’s the fun part for customer-facing support staff—large ISPs won’t have the momentum to interface directly with BT (would that were so) and find out which exchanges are having specific problems, nor will they have the means to get meaningful estimates for problem resolution to pass back to their customers beyond a cursory “BT are aware of the problem”—something I can attest to being an ex-Freeserve-Wanadoo customer.
ADSL needs to be smaller, leaner, faster. We have the technology, we can rebuild. But right now, the bulk of UK broadband ISPs are having to scutter under foot from a wandering behemoth. LLU simply can’t come soon enough.