TalkTalk TroubleTrouble

After 2009’s BT fiasco my office stayed with BT for a while, then transferred broadband service to the excellent Be — at the time, an independent ISP with a focus on excellent service for the prosumer and small business market. They had “unbundled” our exchange, installing their own ADSL equipment connected to BT’s copper wire, giving them full control. For a while we enjoyed excellent service: rock-solid reliability and a good sync rate, despite being a relatively long line. The two VoIP trunks we relied on worked fine, of course, perhaps a little better on Be’s ADSL than they had been on BT’s, particularly when the link was busier.

Sadly, having been bought by mobile phone company O2, they were then sold on to Sky — who had no interest in the customer base they’d just acquired, and apparently didn’t want the equipment they’d just bought either. We were moved to different, slower, network equipment in the exchange, our static IP address was changed (and we lost control of reverse DNS, too) and we were initially refused VAT receipts, despite providing them being a legal requirement.

So, we needed a new ISP. FTTC (Fibre To The Cabinet) had just become available on this exchange, offering much better speeds. IDNet seemed attractive, but TalkTalk Business undercut them for ADSL by £13 per month — with hindsight, a suspiciously cheap offering. I was sceptical at the time, but the final decision wasn’t mine, so we were signed up.

Graph of hopeless ADSL connection

From 9 am to 7 pm any weekday the connection was hopeless: choked up, with latency exceeding 100ms and packet loss of 10% or more. Enough to render the connection worthless for VoIP use and barely usable for general web surfing.

So, I reported the fault on Oct 8 — eventually getting a reply Nov 2, almost four weeks later, that this was the result of the 30-40 gigabytes per month of usage, and “I’m surprised you are running a VoIP service over a standard ADSL line, I’d have thought Fibre or EFM would be more suitable”. Strange, it worked perfectly well with the previous two ISPs on the same wire and type of service…

Initially, we resolved to grit our teeth and wait out the year’s contract so we could switch to a proper ISP without incurring any penalty, but frustration grew too quickly for that: we’re now on IDNet, and the line is finally working properly again.

Graph of line working properly

Which left only the TalkTalk cleanup, including a £125 penalty for ending the faulty service early. I emailed on March 9 regarding the problems and explaining that we were leaving as a result. That was never answered, but someone did phone (rather pointless, since I’m only in that office half a day per week — which is why I had emailed rather than phone in the first place) asking why we were leaving. I re-sent the explanation via the “contact us” form on March 12; a whopping twelve days later, I got a canned response from “Lethukuthula Mthani” requesting my name, phone number and account number (which, of course, were already contained in the contact form contents, but in an effort to be helpful I replied the same day providing another copy of this information. So, six days later, “Savisha Heeralall” replied with precisely the same request. This time, I replied pointing out the information was already contained in the email to which that was a reply; perhaps performance has improved a little, since this time it only took two days for “Ashirbad Shaw” to make precisely the same request for the third time.

Amusingly, the “contact us” form inserts backslash escape characters before quotation marks.

To be precise, the cut and paste non-response requests “full name”, “phone number or account number”, “3rd and 6th character of password” OR one of “answer to personal security question”/“account number”/“last 4 digits of bank account number”. Name, phone number and account number satisfies all three requirements — but only if the customer service agent actually reads them rather than replying with canned stalling.

Vicky from the @TalkTalkBizCare Twitter team did at least respond quickly yesterday, but apparently doesn’t have access to customer support tickets. Still, Twitter seems my best hope so far for getting this resolved!

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