A 'real' utility
Yesterday evening I noticed some problems with our mains supply at home, the lights were dimming for a short period of time maybe 2-3 minutes. This wasn’t a huge issue as the computers etc were all staying up and we do occasioannly get short dips in the power in our village, usually enough just to cause a reboot! By about 2230 this was still going on I decided to call our supply company Western Power Distribution more than anything to see if there was work in the area that might be causing this, having navigated a simple enough menu (and been asked to enter a landline number to locate us!) The call was answered pretty much instantly, I explained the issue and the very helpful chap then went through a couple of questions, how long has it been happening are any of your neighbours affected etc. Then finally he said ‘OK well we can get an engineer out to you in the next couple of hours!’ I was amazed, this was nearly 11pm They were fully prepared to get a guy out of bed to come and look at my fault which as far as they could tell was affecting one customer and wasn’t even a total loss of service! I politely declined their offer saying that we were going to bed soon and would see how things were in the morning.
This then got me thinking what if a similar situation had applied to my broadband connection? We talk a lot about telecoms being just another utility these days and I’ve been quite vocal that the future of most network operators is more like Western Power than it is Google. But how long would BT have taken to get someone out for a similar fault? Remember this wasn’t even a total failure just an occasional degraded service, I guess akin to packet loss? And we know from experience that BT don’t even consider that a fault! WPD didn’t try and automatically shift the blame to my equipment, nobody told me to try turning the lights off and on again I never even had to go and look at the fuse box or meter! Now my ISP are pretty awesome and they pride themselves on getting faults fixed as quickly as possible, hammering away at BT is almost a sport for them, but I defy even Andrews and Arnold to get a BT engineer to come out at 1 in the morning because my internet connection isn’t quite working 100% :)
Some of you may argue that broadband isn’t as essential as power, and that might be true for now but the distinction is closing rapidly, in this always connected world loss of internet is soon going to have a fairly significant impact on day to day life. I also started to think about the price, I’m probably not that far off paying as much for my connectivity as I am for my power, my home phone bill is around £40 a month all in, we pay about £50-60 for electricity but clearly receive a far better level of customer service. It just goes to show that telcos have a long way to go to get up to speed with the real utility providers. Today we have the situation where mobile operators think it acceptable to quote 5 days plus to fix a faulty cell that might be affecting 1000’s of people!
By the way if you do want the best level of service you can get on an internet connection while still paying ‘consumer’ prices I highly recommend Andrews and Arnold, I’ve not had cause to raise a BT issue with them but seeing first hand on IRC the lengths they go to to get BT to fix things I’m pretty comfortable they’ll be there if I need them!