Virgin Media and BT both be damned

Still, I have no broadband – and since reading Sally Whittle’s recent post of BT-related woes, I’ve taken the cruel and unusual step of blogging about it. Something must be said.

POST EDIT: This story has a (fairly) happy ending. I didn’t go back to Virgin Media in the end but I did manage to talk to them. See this post: Virgin Media is about to activate its social media.

About a month and a half ago I moved out into the countryside. It’s great – quiet, pretty, duck pond with ducks outside the church, etc etc – and after the initial kerfuffle (which I believe might be a Hobson/Holz favourite word judging by the ‘News that fits’ jingle), thought I was ready and able to get broadband sorted.

How very wrong I was. How very, very wrong I was.

The story I’m about to tell you is one of sweat, tears and blood. OK, not actually blood. And not really any sweat, and not actual tears either, but I’ve come very close. Read on only if you’re feeling robust.

A call to Virgin Media telling them I was moving house resulted in my account being deleted. I only found this out after a few days of inactivity, when I called asking what was going on.

So they initiated a new account – for which I naturally refused to pay the 30 pound charge having been a customer for three years previously – and sent me the wireless router and software. Oh, and told me that I couldn’t keep my blueyonder email address which I’ve used quite a lot in the past.

But still, no connection. It turned out there was a fault at the local BT exchange. This was eventually fixed, but I still could not log on.

Then the landlord asked me to change the telephone number. No idea why, perhaps they’ve murdered someone, who knows, but I duly did. Of course, after a week or so of still being unable to log on, a call to Virgin Media confirmed that, having changed the number, I needed to start again from square one – which, bizarrely, would entail having to receive another wireless router.

So, I gave up. I told Virgin Media to go away, and decided to take BT Broadband instead. Everything was going swimmingly until it emerged there was something called a ‘tag’ on the line. What is a ‘tag’? Is it hardware? Software? Is it the thing you put on a cadaver’s big toe? Whatever, it was a Virgin Media tag. So I couldn’t get BT broadband until the Virgin Media (from now, VM) tag was removed, and for that I needed to get a MAC code.

Back to VM. I explained everything to them. I think this involved about three separate calls, with each one a unique experience involving different telephone numbers and responses. The only constants were me having to explain the situation every time, quote my personal details, and remain calm. It wasn’t easy.

Then, finally, someone actually seemed to know what they were doing – or, rather, have some insight over and above the immediate scripts they were reading off a screen. They checked – and discovered that it wasn’t a VM tag. It was a BT tag. So VM couldn’t have done anything about this whatsoever for the preceding month and a half anyway. All that needed to have happened was for someone actually to have checked this at the outset.

So I told VM to go away again, and went back to BT. And this is where the fun really started. They told me it wasn’t a BT tag. It was possibly a Talk Talk or Tiscali tag. They were going to send an engineer out and I was to call on Tuesday – today – to find out whether the tag had been removed.

I just spent two hours on the phone to BT. In this time I’ve ascertained through their Tag Removal Team – who aren’t customer-facing and expressed surprise that I’d been routed through to them – that the tag is an LLU tag, and that it relates to the previous number. I sort of know what Local Loop Unbundling is, but apart from that, well, given that I still don’t really know what a tag is, they could have called it a Looby-Loo Tag and I would be none the wiser. It certainly isn’t a Tiscali or Talk Talk tag, which is what they’d told me previously.

This was after the very helpful guy spending quite some time going through things for me. Strange, how the non-customer-facing staff were more helpful.

Anyway, I was told to tell the next department I was about to be put through to, this: “There is an Open Stop Order in OneView for the PSTN on the old number, which needs to be closed off completely.” This means very little to me, but on being transferred, I duly said it. Like a robot (well, not actually, that would have freaked them out). After being kept on hold for quite some time I was told there was no open stop order. I told them I’d been told to tell them that there most definitely was.

After a few minutes of this impasse, I was passed to someone else. Again, I had to explain everything. Again, I was told there wasn’t an Open Stop Order. And it was at this point that something inside me died, or at least curled up in a tight ball in a dark corner and refused to come out. I’d had enough. I’d had enough of being routed from department to department, from group to group, reiterating the same story, being given contradictory information, and slowly becoming somewhat of an expert on VM and BT’s call queueing system, support setup and network infrastructure.

So I’ve just told BT to sort it out. Unbundle me no more unbundlings. I don’t want to hear about Open Stop Orders. And I still don’t know what a tag is. Frankly, I don’t care. It seems to me that something has gone very badly wrong, and that I’ve actually reached the point at which I cannot sort this out. BT have to. I want someone at BT to act as my agent, to do the rounds for me and talk to different departments and then, eventually, call me back and say “You can have broadband.”

That’s all I want.

And that, dear reader, is where we are at now. I’m waiting for the call. It might not come today but I’ve been assured it will come.

There are obviously lots of lessons to draw from this regarding customer service which I’ll leave to the customer service people to draw. But I do wonder this: will someone, anyone, from BT or Virgin Media pick up on this blog post and come back to me about it?

You could argue that I should be telling them about all these problems, but given their seeming inability to connect broadband lines up – given that it’s their speciality – I doubt they would do anything with any letter/email/phone call I make about this.

You see, I’m more inclined to tell consumers about this because they need to know too. I can imagine that people – perhaps you, you’re a person, you’re reading this, unless you’re a very talented cat – that people will be considering taking up broadband from one of these two companies and wondering what they’re like.

So, I’m telling you now, they suck.

But given that consumers will be looking online for brand recommendations, and (potential, but reluctant) consumers are writing about them, I wonder whether they’re listening out for mentions of them online? This could be a very interesting test, from a social media perspective.

British Telecom! Yoo-hoo! Im here!

British Telecom! Yoo-hoo! I'm here!

Hellooo Virgin Media! Brendan Cooper calling Virgin Media!

Hellooo Virgin Media! Brendan Cooper calling Virgin Media!

So, here goes. I’m going to make it as easy as possible for them. Their names are both in the title of this blog post, for good SEO. I’m talking about Virgin Media and British Telecom (BT) – see, I’ve even linked to them, with full names. I’ve even added the logos from their respective websites – naughty, but it’s another link. In a few hours this will appear on my Twitterfeed, Friendfeed and Facebook pages. I’ve added their names as tags.

How much easier could I make it for them to find me?

Because if they don’t, then I would say their incompetency in the area of customer support, broadband provision and social media monitoring is equalled only by their incompetency in every other field.

19 thoughts on “Virgin Media and BT both be damned

  1. Sorry to hear your woes – I had the misfortune of being with V21, who were spectacularly bad, and ended up on Watchdog…

    So after that, I did a bit of research, and ended up with Zen Broadband who have been awesome – they’ve got a decent data cap even for 2-8Mb accounts (pretty rare), they do a rolling monthly contract and they’ve been kind enough to not only put up with my ‘broadband for begginers’ questions, but actually have technical knowledge on the phone and chased up BT as needed…

  2. Thanks Dan. Thing is, I still need to get the tag removed before *any* broadband provider can get to the line. Good plug for Zen though, I wonder if they’re listening…?

  3. Update: BT just called, saying they’re trying to ascertain who’s tag is on the line. They don’t think it’s BT’s tag. In which case I might have to contact whoever’s tag it is, when they eventually find out, and get them to talk to BT.

    Is this any better? Why should I have to do this? I want broadband from BT. Why can’t *they* talk to the other service provider? Answers please.

  4. Oh good grief, Brendan, what an awful story. I’ve had my own poor experiences with Virgin Media in the past involving their phone support system, but nothing quite like this.

    I moved last September and actually gave up my BT phone line to go with Virgin Media. A better deal and no complaints so far.

    I do hope you get some attantion as a result of this post. I wrote scathing posts about Virgin media at the time of my experiences, which made absolutely no difference to anything. They were certainly not paying attention to the blogosphere.

    Maybe things have changed since then.

  5. If I were you, should BT dare to suggest you have to go speak to whoever owns that tag, I would simply say: “Either you sort it and get the contract, or whoever owns the tag sorts it out and gets the contract. You either want my money or you don’t.”

    For what it’s worth, I’ve had nothing but good times with BT. But the biiiiig difference is I have a business account. Everyone I know on a home account grumbles. When I ordered broadband, cost the same as anyone else. But, having also moved out into the sticks, it involved BT coming out and installing a new telegraph pole.

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  7. Hi Brendan

    Hope you remember me — I sent you a message on Twitter asking you to drop me a line last week if you had any further issues – if you want to send me a mail with some further details I’ll see if I can get someone to help.

    Oh, and for your info a MAC code is used to move between ADSL ISPs, as per: . It’s not applicable for moves to or from cable.



    Alex Brown
    Senior Internet Product Manager
    Virgin Media

  8. Brendan – I’ve asked some contacts at BT to look into it and they are confident they can sort it out immediately. If you can get back to me with your landline at my usual email address they’ll get on and fix this for you – over to you.

  9. I feel your pain.

    Fantastic post, though, and you’re ABSOLUTELY right. While I might have a clue what LLU is, or how a tag works, my mother tried to sign up for Virgin Broadband and it took three months to get up and running because of various mistakes and delays.

    The final incompetence was that Mum told the sales guys she was on a Mac, and was assured the router was Mac compatible — but seemed not to be.

    Nowhere in the manual or support docs did it tell her the router needed to be manually installed and configured on a Mac, and this involves filling in quite techie settings around things like IP, port addresses and so on. How many 65 year olds do you know who are happy to configure a router?

    Fortunately, she knows me and I have (very) minor geek abilities, but if not, she’d simply have cancelled the contract altogether and Virgin would have lost another contract. It’s crazy these guys can’t get it together to offer a service suitable for average consumers.

  10. OK, latest update: I was called yesterday, and assured that all I needed to do was pick up the phone, ask for broadband, and the tag would be removed.

    Did this happen? No, it didn’t. I picked up the phone, asked for broadband, and was told that there was an open order to have my telephone number changed!

    At this point my head nearly popped.

    I said this was most definitely not the case – I’d had it changed, but did not want it to change again – and said that if BT did not move on this immediately I would have to take legal action.

    This seemed to have the desired effect. I was put on hold for about half an hour, but eventually it turned out that this could even have predated my moving. Evidently something had gone very wrong with my details and finally, so they said, they’d cleared it all out.

    In theory I should be able to get broadband kicked off later today. I should be able to pick up the phone and order it, with no problems.

    I have been here three times before – twice with VM, and once with BT. So I remain to be convinced.

    Regarding ‘The Test’, well in fairness Alex did offer help, and actually peewii ( ‘found’ me and tweeted offering help, both of them from Virgin Media. Problem is that VM had already burned their bridges – I was a month and a half down the line before anyone bothered to check for me whether in fact I could have got a service off them in the first place.

    So VM seem to have at least two people clued up enough to be on the lookout for mentions of their own company online. Good for them. Nothing from BT as yet though…

    And thanks for all the supportive comments. As you can imagine, for someone like me who really needs online access as part of their work, it’s actually been pretty stressful (on top of moving house too). And as Sally says above, what would have happened if I were some little old lady (not that I’m implying her mum is little or old but you know you what I mean) who really did not understand these things, who took people at their word, believing them actually to know what they’re talking about?

    Because they don’t, you know. Each department seems to be partitioned from the other. No one seems able to get the full picture. This not only means a disconnect but in some cases directly contradictory messages. The onus is on the prospective customer to do all the hard work, and on very few occasions did I get the feeling the person at the other end of the line was actually offering value, offering me solutions rather than problems.

    I mean, how would you feel if you heard the following:”It’s a ‘never’ account.”; “It’s an LLU tag.”; “There’s an open stop order on the PSTN.” In all cases I had to stop the person at the other end of the line and patiently ask them to explain what on earth they were talking about and, when they told me, ask why on earth they’d told me that and how on earth did it help me?

    OK. Let’s be calm again. In theory, I should be able to go through the system like a dose of salts later today. More anon, hopefully not ‘and on…’

  11. Don’t blame you! I had a similar experience at my old place.

    I moved into my new flat with Jim and we called BT to get a phoneline installed for using Sky in both of our bedrooms and the internet.

    The problem was that upon moving in, we weren’t sure whether out flat was classified ‘First Floor Flat’ or ‘Flat 3’ (as it was the third flat going upwards in the block) and either landlord didn’t even know. So we ended up hedging our bets and told BT it was First Floor Flat.

    So they came over and connected us up. It worked for about 3 or 4 months but then, even after receiving a letter stating the date by which we had to pay our first bill, we were cut off suddenly, 2 weeks before our anticipated ‘pay-by’ date.

    So Jim calls them up to enquite in why we had been cut off and whether they can kindly, reconnect us. We paid the bill on my card (they don’t apologise) but said that they can quite happily reconnect us for a charge of £30 but it would have to be on a new number and we would have to book for an engineer to come over again and switch the routing to a pole on the street with a spare line slot. Er, why should we have to pay an £30 connection fee when it was their fault that they cut us off prematurely??

    So after much deliberation and lots of phone calls to wrongly directed numbers by the customer service staff (which probably totalled about 3 or 4 hours calling time on our mobile’s), they agreed to send somebody round to re-install a new line without a charge of £30.

    It took about 2 weeks for them to arrive and I had to take a day off work – but they installed a new ‘temporary’ line and gave us a new number for me to pass onto Virgin Active to set-up our Sky service and I was told that it would simply take 10 days for the connection to go through.

    Surprise, surprise – after 10 days, the new line wasn’t working so we called Virgin to ask why. They then told us that they had connected us but the number BT gave them was inactive. So again, we called BT and waited on the line for maybe an hour to enquire. Once we got through, they then apologised that the engineer had given us the wrong number and gave us a new number as apparently they re-connected to Flat 3 even though we told them we were ‘First Floor Flat!!! Urrrggggggghhhhh!!!!!!

    So…..we then called Virgin Active and gave them the new number to connect us to Sky. We waited for another 10 days…..still no connection. They then told me that our local BT building had a powercut and we needed to wait for a further 5 days. Eventually we were connected and both our Sky TV and Broadband worked. But this is after months of brain-racking and it actually affected our work as I was working many extra hours at the time from home and so was my flatmate and we didn’t have the internet.

    THEN…my flatmate Jim gets a bill through the door 2 weeks later saying we owed them £60 ON TOP of our regular line charges even though we hadn’t been using the line due to their incompetant service and extremely poor customer support.

    Eventually we moved but always refused to pay the £60 bill and they haven’t bothered chasing us about it

  12. OK, this is far from over.

    This is what I just sent to the very nice helpful person at BT who gave me her email address so that I didn’t have to spend another half hour repeating my details and problem before I got to someone who might be able to help:

    As you suggested, I just spoke to Virgin Media.

    They have no record of any open order, on my current telephone number, or on the old number.

    Their advice was that, as this was an LLU tag, it must be BT, Talk Talk or Tiscali. I have never used Talk Talk or Tiscali, and neither have the previous occupants.

    I am now at an impasse. Virgin Media have stated categorically that it is not their LLU tag on the line, simply because they don’t place such tags. However, BT are telling me that there is a tag and that they know whose it is – BUT that they cannot tell me whose it is due to legal restrictions.

    So all I know now is that a company has a tag on the line which is preventing me from getting broadband, and yet BT will not tell me who this is.

    To my mind this represents dereliction of duty to the consumer on BT’s behalf and I will now be pursuing this with both Ofcom and my legal representatives. I now stand to suffer material loss as a result of BT’s lack of accurate advice and inability to make its line available for broadband services.

    I will also be posting about this on my blog, which will be read by several hundred people and make this problem very public and online.

    Of course, if BT can offer help in gaining broadband services, I won’t have to take these measures. I really don’t want to have to. I just want broadband.

    Please advise as to my options here and, if necessary, escalate.


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  16. Brendan I too feel your pain!

    This time last year I attempted to switch my broadband from Talk Talk to BT because my connection kept dropping and the only advice I could get from Talk Talk was to plug a microfilter into a microfilter as my Sky connection was causing the problem…..

    I won’t bore you too much with my hopelesly convoluted story of BTs ineptitude, but suffice to say they managed to activate a transfer of a neighbour’s TalkTalk line instead of mine. The result – the neighbour’s business line was disconnected, he lost all incoming calls, email and broadband (and substantial income) and the only way for him to resolve it was to become a BT customer, start again with a new telephone number (and reprint stationery etc for his business) and then activate a transfer back to Talk Talk. Then BT billed him for ending his contract early….

    Meanwhile I’m still a Talk Talk customer, still have constant loss of broadband connection, and spend half my life speaking to call centre staff who keep telling me the connection problem is at my end – it’s the Sky connection, the microfilter needs changing, I need two microfilters, I need a double microfilter, I need a new router etc etc. I unplugged Sky, got new microfilters, a new router, tried everything they suggested, spent days on end to call centre staff, being passed from one department to another and enduring the dispiriting experience of repeating personal details, bank details, mother’s maiden name, inside leg measurement, DNA information etc and then having to repeat the whole sorry tale of cock-ups, mix-ups and f*ck-ups that was now entering it’s third month. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent listening to their bloody signature tune – the ironincally titled ‘Now We’ve Got to Get it Together’ (oh how I wish they would…). Eventually I resorted to downloading it from iTunes and playing it back to them at full volume when I finally got through (after anything up to 45minutes of holding). They got their revenge by switching to Roger McGough reciting poetry to entertain me in the hours I spent on hold.

    Eventually I lost the will to live, exploded in a rage-filled rant at some hapless individual in India who immediately transferred me to a UK call centre to someone who FINALLY suggested an engineer come out to check the line. The result? He discovered 278 faults and a connection to the exchange that consisted of little more than rubber bands and bits of string. Four hours later I was re-wired, re-routed, upgraded and re-connected. I haven’t had a problem with the broadband connection since, but am out of pocket to the tune of sixty quid for a router, hours of my life spend listening to Roger McGough AND a final demand from BT for £170. For a service I’ve never had… And to top it all off, I can’t claim any compensation because I’m ‘not a customer’ (a fact BT confidently assert, despite billing me repeatedly). Tho at least my loss is nothing compared to my neighbour, who is still in legal wrangles with BT a year later (and who also isn’t entitled to compensation, because he wasn’t a BT customer when it happened!!!).

    Broadband suppliers have us all over a barrel – call centre staff really don’t care whether we cancel our service with them or not, and our hands are tied when we try to carry out our disconnection threats as it simply leads us back to the kind of nightmare Brendan is now experiencing – no one takes any ownership or tries to to solve the problem from the inside, leaving us being passed from pillar to post until we’re fit to scream/cry/kill ourselves/kill them.

    Perhaps this is the way forward – out them online through tactical blog-shaming. If nothing else it might stop new customers signing up with them and trying publicly recommended alternatives instead of the couldn’t-give-a-toss big-boys with huge marketing budgets and no after-sales service.

    I would happily change to Zen Broadband but daren’t even attempt to switch providers again – I don’t think I’d survive if I had to live through something like that again.

    My advice is to demand an engineer to check your connection at the exchange. It seems to be the only way to find out where the fault really lies, but the broadband providers don’t like having to pay OpenReach £140 for a visit (yet will happily fund literally hundreds of hours of customer support to one individual accountholder – it’s insane).

  17. Lo,
    Regarding this “tagging” of phone lines its BT doing it.
    I work for O2 broadband. We usually come across tagged phonelines a few times a week stops people getting broadband with anyone except BT. For example a customer of ours got a BT phoneline installed so he could broadband with O2. Now this is a brand new phoneline which had no broadband on it at all. We phone him to place the order for broadband, check his phoneline to tell him his exact download speed (O2 signed to ofcom we tell you exactly the speed you will get no ” up to 8mbs/20mbs” with us) only to discover the line is “tagged” and its a brand new phoneline! never even been used for a phonecall! nevermind broadband!. The “tag” generates a ” there is already a broadband service on your phoneline contact your current ISP to get your mac code” message – who does he contact?? its a brand new line!!! – he contacts BT they tag your phoneline! – so when you phone up they can say “oh broadband we do that….” and transfer you through to the sales department. Best thing to do is phone BT if your line is tagged and tell them if they dont remove it so you can get broadband with x,y or z, then you will report them to ofcom…

  18. Interesting.

    As it turns out, the tag on my line – my new, unused line – was with Tiscali. They had a record of my new number having a tag on it. To this day I don’t understand how that was possible, but perhaps you’ve shed some light on it.

    In the end I gave up trying to get information out of BT. Eventually they managed to sort out my broadband and the service has been good since, but they offered me 30 quid recompense for the troubles I’d had and that was it. I really really really tried telling them that it was such an oddddd situation it needed looking into but the person at the other end seemed either not to understand, or not to care.

    I recently heard about someone with similar woes on the radio. In the end they too had to go to Ofcom. But at the end of the day, you really just want your broadband now – not in three months plus…

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