As a technology journalist, I have spent many years being the personal helpdesk of friends and family who are having issues with their IT. From the emails asking, “why won’t my phone switch on?” to the phone calls asking “why won’t my PC switch on?” I may not always have the answer, but I do my best to help them or at least point them in the right direction.
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As networking editor at Computer Weekly, these questions have become even more focused to the likes of “is it worth changing mobile operators to get 4G?” to “is superfast broadband worth the extra cost?”
The more philosophical questions I can handle, or at least offer a lot of evidence around them for a friend to make an education choice. But, I am embarrassed to say, today I have been unable to convince myself of my own advice.
I have just moved house and as a result have the opportunity to get a new broadband provider. Brilliant, I thought, I live in North London so have some great speeds to choose from and a hell of a lot of ISPs serving my area!
I opted for price comparison sites to see what was available in my post code but, for starters, the lists of providers and deals seemed endless and hard to distinguish between. Then, when I clicked through to one of the deals, the attractive figures disappeared and the price quadrupled.
I called a few up that I know from my writings have good reputations, but the customer service was very poor and left me unwilling to commit.
I finally settled on one deal I thought was reasonable and I was ready to go ahead. I was then told the company in question wasn’t able to check whether the phone line I had was compatible or not until the order had gone through, meaning I had to sign up for a year contract and either wait up to six days for the line to be activated or wait until the start of December for an engineer to come round.
Unsurprisingly, I decided against this one as well.
So, now I am in a quandary. Do I go with one of the big guns where I know I can get impressive speeds – if I pay through the nose for them – but the hateful experience of faceless corporate customer service or go through the complicated and arduous process of going with a smaller ISP that could take months to get set up but know if things go wrong, it will get fixed quicker?
And even if I pick one of these two options, which massive firm or little ISP do I plump for?
People like me shouldn’t complain. I live in a city where there is choice, competition and the ability to get great speeds. Many places across the UK don’t have such joy.
But my complaint is true for all of us, whichever corner of Great Britain you sit. Why do ISPs make it so complex to figure out what the genuine price and genuine speed of their services are?
More than half price for six months and five days, with monthly changing line rental until we say different and the bonus of a free pony if you pay for the stable after the first year? Ok, I made the last bit up, but I have had £40 Marks and Sparks vouchers waved in front of my face.
I would like to know how much it will cost me to get a connection of roughly 10Mpbs per month, including everything I need to make it work, without trying to trick me with extras, and how quickly I can get it installed. Too much to ask?
Well, even if you are the networking editor of this title, it appears so.