It may have been "all change" of late at the top of the BT hierarchy but "not much doing" is a better description of how it feels down in the Hampshire countryside. Like many others who both telework and commute, I need faster communication with my website, my Westminster office and my constituency office in Andover. My eye was caught by an advertisement on my screen:
"Get AOL Broadband Now, Click Here!" which I did.
"Get on line fast with high-speed AOL - order now!".
I clicked again. Then the small print appeared. I was invited to provide my phone number, which I dutifully did. Back came the message:
"AOL Broadband is currently not available in your area. Please check again at a later date."
Note the implication that broadband is riding on some wave that is heading in my direction.
Of course, delivery of broadband rests mainly with BT - we are not on cable in my Hampshire village - so I logged on to www.broadband1.bt.com/availability. I tapped in my number again and got the following message:
"Sorry, details of the exchange serving your number could not be found. This is because your local BT exchange has not been upgraded for ADSL service yet or you receive your telephone service from another telecoms supplier."
Again, note the use of the word "yet".
So I wrote to BT to find out about "yet". Here's their response. I was told:
" . . . broadband is at the very top of BT's commercial agenda, especially ADSL"
very encouraging. But then I read on:
"Despite a recent exercise stepping up the enabling programme and an accompanying nationwide marketing campaign with other Internet Service Providers, we are not enabling further exchanges until we can be confident that the demand for, and commercial viability of, doing so can be proven."
Obviously my modest demand doesn't count for much!
Having fallen at the ADSL fence, I decided to settle for BT Home Highway, their trade name for ISDN, which would be faster than my existing modem connection. I logged on to www.bt.com/buying_bt/product. I got a warm welcome to the BT shop and ordered Home Highway on line on Dec 28th, having given every relevant detail and - as requested - specifying a date "at least eight days away" for installation. My order was welcomed, acknowledged and given an order number with 11 digits – suggesting a high demand for ISDN. The appointed day came and went, a performance unmatched by BT. I emailed BT quoting my order number. Back came the answer:
Subj: RE: Order No 9000923400
Dear Mr Young
Thank you for your email - unfortunately I do not have your telephone number or account number and without this I cannot access your account. Can you please provide either of the above and I can then answer your questions.
(name of signatory)
I replied with my telephone number. BT now replied, perhaps having done some political research:
Dear Sir George Young
I apologise for the delay, unfortunately the order was not issued, I have therefore issued the three orders required to convert [my phone number] to Home Highway. The order is subject to a survey and we should receive the survey results within 2 working days when someone from our offline queue will contact you to make a suitable appointment or to cancel the order.
name of signatory
This was 10 days ago and the trail has gone cold. I continue to contact the outside world via AOL at 28.8 kilobits per second. I've emailed BT to-day(on 18th January) and will report here on the outcome. If they do indeed cancel the order, I will be out of pocket - having foolishly believed their original promise I already invested in an ISDN card in preparation for the BT visit!
Meanwhile this experience helped to reinforce my message to the e-Minister at a Parliamentary seminar. People in the countryside need broadband communications just as much as people in towns, if not more so. The government's present strategy means we have no idea when - if ever - it will arrive. My speech is available in full at the url shown below.