Internet woes be gone!

I asked on Facebook back in April for advice as how best to get away from Virgin Media who provide our TV, landline, and internet since, in their wisdom, they had decided they deserved a huge pay rise. I disagreed that such an increase was due and so was looking around for other options.

Since then, the process of changing internet providers has exceeded my expectations of how painful it would be. And those expectations were pretty damn high. As I’d been warned, Virgin are by far the fastest with at least 130 Mbps and – as it turns out where I live – the only ones able to provide full fibre and therefore full fibre speeds. Sky was the next fastest at around 30 Mbps.

I therefore sat on it for a while because I do work from home a lot and depend on the internet. But I finally snapped when I saw that Virgin over and above the recent price hike were, and indeed are, planning to give themselves annual pay rises of RPI plus 3.9% every April forevermore (unbe-effing-lievable isn’t it?) and that Sky were doing an OK offer at £39pm for TV, phone, and internet and after investigation convinced myself that 30 Mbps should be just about OK for what I need. It also included basic Netflix for free which I was already paying £6pm for.

So I took that contract with Sky – but didn’t cancel Virgin at that point in case there were “issues” with Sky. This cynicism unfortunately proved very fortuitous.

The TV dongle thingy arrived very quickly and we were quite pleased with it. The Sky programming isn’t in the Virgin basic TV package so we weren’t used to it – and it was surprisingly good. We like “From” very much, and “Poker face” is the best series we have seen in a long long time. Love it. Love Natasha Lyonne. Cannot WAIT for another series. Just go and watch it. The main drawback was that there was no “record for later” facility like you get with Virgin and you had to pay £5 a month more to skip ads. I actually saw the lack of record as a positive as you just end up with a huge backlog to get through. The ads were annoying but Graham decided the skip price was worth it and so picked that cost up.

The fly in the ointment was the internet. First of all it took them over two weeks to come and install it. The engineer arrived at the crack of dawn (fine with me – let’s get it done), said that everything looked super simple as the phone connection box was just along the road and easily accessible, and he evidenced his confidence by installing a Sky socket in our wall via the phone line in readiness to pipe the internet in (Virgin monopolises the fast fibre connection so all other suppliers have to piggy-back on the slower phone connection). He tried to turn it on, and nothing happened. He disappeared for a while. I saw him pacing around and talking on the phone a lot. He came back and said that it turned out the phone line didn’t come from the accessible cabinet but was up a telegraph pole. Normally he could climb a telegraph pole, but this particular one had been decommissioned as dangerous and he had to wait for a cherry-picker to come and lift him up. It would be here in a couple of hours.

Time passed. I watched said engineer rise up in a cherry-picker with another man to the top of the pole where they started work. And worked. And worked. About an hour and a half later he came back and said that he could not locate my phone line. He could detect it from our house as far as the telegraph pole at which point it disappeared. He opined that since we had been with Virgin so long and not needing the allocated phone line that this had probably been misallocated to a building being split into flats, although this should not happen. The fact that if this was the answer then it was his company that misallocated it did not seem to occur to him. He said there was nothing more he could do and another engineer would have to come to put in a line underground. No, he could not give a time frame.

Time passed, a couple of weeks or so. An engineer arrived. I explained what I had been told by the previous engineer. She said that was nonsense and couldn’t understand what he was talking about, and that we had a strong phone line coming from a cabinet just up the road, and that she’d just go and turn it on. She disappeared for about an hour or so. She returned and said that in fact our phone line went to a telegraph pole and that that pole had been decommissioned and she was waiting for a cherry picker to take her up to the top where she could activate the line. I suggested that she might find that when she got to the top of the telegraph pole that she couldn’t find the line dedicated to our house, and that it had probably already been misallocated to a newly created flat. She said that never happened.

Time passed, a couple of hours or so. She returned and said she’d been up to the top of the pole and that she couldn’t trace the phone line past the telegraph pole. She pretended not to hear me when I suggested the line had been misallocated elsewhere but let me know that someone would be out to sort it out, probably the next day. “There is always a way!” she cheerfully chimed as she drove off.

Time passed, a couple of weeks or so. I received a text from Sky saying that Openreach (the firm that looks after the phone infrastructure) were having staffing issues and I would get advised of the date of a new visit in 3 days time.

A week or so passed with no message, and so did my patience. Luckily in all this I had not cancelled Virgin so could happily cancel Sky summarily without risking being without internet.

So I phoned up to cancel. I had to pick whether I was cancelling TV or internet so although I wanted to cancel both I picked internet (as the offending service). The guy I spoke to fully understood why I wanted to cancel when he saw how long it was taking and that there was no resolution in sight. However, he also said that he could only deal with the internet side of things and that after cancelling that he would need to pass me on to another team to cancel the TV and that since this was under another contract, and since I had been happily receiving that service for over a month and past the cooling-off period, there would be a cancellation fee for that service.

Well, I really really rarely bother getting annoyed with customer-facing staff. There’s just no point – they didn’t cause your problem and can’t fix your problem, but probably could if they put their mind to it make your problem ten times worse. But by this point I have to admit there was more than a hint of antagonism in my tone when I told him that I had been sold both services together, that the price for both services was dependent on taking both, and that swapping to a reasonably comparable offer with a competitor was dependent on taking both services together and I was not interested in his opinion as to whether they were two separate contracts or not. I was of the opinion that they represent one contract that Sky had not fulfilled and if any termination fee should appear it would be cancelled on the credit card and reported as fraud.

He transferred me. He transferred me to the nicest customer service telephone rep I have ever spoken to. I gave her the bare bones of the issue and she said, “Of course we would never charge you a termination fee in such circumstances! To hear that we’ve been so bad that you intend to go back to Virgin tells me all I need to know about how awful we must have been! I’ll go ahead and terminate both services for you now and there will be no termination fee. You’ve suffered enough.”

I went on hold for 15 minutes or so. She came back and said that because the service had been running so long she couldn’t cancel it as she had thought but would need to transfer me to another team! But, she was quick to point out, she would stay on the line and explain everything to them so that I wouldn’t have to and that they could then cancel the service. Please hold.

Time passed. About an hour. Listening to music that faded in and out just enough to taunt you into thinking your call had been answered when it hadn’t. Eventually some guy answered, “Hello! How can I help you?” “Er, hello?” I said, expecting the first woman to take over. “Er your colleague said she was staying on the line to explain everything – has she not?” “No, I’m afraid not. Perhaps you could run through it”.

So I did. And he agreed at least it should be terminated at no cost. But was unable to do so. The service had been running so long you see. Yes, I saw. He would have to escalate it. It should be fine and sorted by the technical team in a few days. So as long as it wasn’t activated in the meantime all should be well. No he wasn’t able to email that assurance to me – but he could send a text message confirming it? “Fine,” I said. The will to carry on breathing was ebbing out of me by this point so I decided just to assume it will be sorted soon.

Having largely navigated the leaving of Sky I turned my attention to getting a reduction out of Virgin without letting on I was effectively a captive audience.

This process was as much fun as you can probably imagine so I will spare you the minutiae and go for the highlights:

  • On the Virgin Media site I see an offer providing all the services I currently have *plus* those Sky TV programmes we’ve now grown used to at a special price of £38.50 a month! No, that’s for new customers only. (You see why I want to leave Virgin – they are just a huge FU to their existing customers). I’d almost rather pay more for the same service from someone else just so they don’t get my money.
  • Ok, if I sign up for a contract what can you do for me for the services I currently get. £67pm? No, too expensive. £62pm with your personal discount? No, I spoke to someone the other day and they offered it for £37 a month (I lie).
  • You can do it for £40? Ok deal.

This was yesterday.

Fast forward to 8 a.m. today and a knock at the door. I open it to find a beaming rather grubby-looking man in reflective-orange overalls and the air of someone who has recently been up in a cherry-picker. “Good news! We have connected your Sky internet and your service is all up and running!” His smile somewhat dimmed on viewing the appalled expression on our faces…

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I hate dealing with internet providers, and Virgin Media in particular!