If you’re a residential customer and want fibre optic broadband internet in the UK, you only have one choice: Virgin Media. It owns every last inch of the cables. We’re all very familiar with their glossy adverts, promising high speed connections, unlimited downloads and excellent prices. Trouble is, it is a pack of lies.
The small print notes that the promised speed is more like the speed limit for road traffic: the company says it will deliver the net to you “up to” it. Despite having been a cable customer for more than ten years, I don’t think I have ever been given the promised speed. I put up with it because cable can still deliver speeds far in excess of the ADSL technology used by Sky and other ISPs.
Recently I received notification from Virgin Media that it was going to ramp up the speed it served my internet by. Wisely, I didn’t hold my breath. The company promises the earth but serves up shit instead. Certainly my speed has not improved. Instead, the service has collapsed. Every day for the last several days, the service has dropped out more often than Timothy Leary. In the earlier days of the net, when we used dial up connections and did not experience outages at all, this would not have mattered because the web pages we looked at were pretty static. Sure, there was the odd form to fill in but that was it. These days almost every web page I use requires a continuous connection and that’s before I get to uploading anything to my various domains.
Virgin Media is very good at making itself look like it cares. Today I’ve been complaining to the world via twitter and Virgin Media has been sending banal platitudes in reply. The casual reader might think that this was a company which took customer service seriously.
In fact, if you do phone its customer service number, you’ll find it’s an 08 number, which means you have to pay for it from your mobile. If the company gave a shit it would provide at least a landline number to call. When you call them, an automated and patronisingly chirpy voice gives you an endless telephone menu to wade through, with an incredible number of options focused on you giving the company more money. Today I called that number twice, for ten minutes each time. Of course, once you hit the automated voice, you’re paying for the call. Virgin Media did not answer the phone today. Other people routinely make the same complaint. Why Branson’s crew believe that we would want to choose what sort of music to listen to whilst waiting for someone to not answer the phone is completely beyond me. We ring them because we want to talk to someone about their crappy service, not listen to a robot cheerily allow us to executive some kind of pointless musical preference.
Last month I phoned Virgin Media to ask it to cancel my landline telephone service. This morning it has sent me a bill charging me for it for the next month.
Imagine a bus company carrying on like this: cancelling services between one stop and another every day, vehicles going in and out of service sometimes several times a minute and all the while charging people who didn’t travel on it. It wouldn’t just lose its operator’s licence. The directors would be prosecuted for fraud. I can think of other charges too.
If the electricity, gas or water distributors behaved like this there would be a political crisis. For some reason, despite Virgin Media enjoying a monopoly position and the internet being crucial to so much modern living, this company thinks it can hold us in contempt.
No longer. When my current project is finished, I’ll be taking on Virgin Media by setting up a website to assist people to reclaim the fees they’ve paid for a service they haven’t received. Virgin Media say they will give you credit but I think the law will give us more. I think we can go to court, en masse, to claim cold hard cash., I’ve got the legal skills and I’ve got the technical skills, which is more than you can say for Virgin Media.
My current project still has some weeks to run, perhaps as many as four. This is a warning for you Richard Branson. Whatever love affair the great British public once had with you is now over. It is time to abandon your space toys and get back to basics. Otherwise, the basics are going to ground you. How many customers does Virgin Media have? I think they all have complaints. Think about the financial consequences of even a fraction of them recovering money from you in court. Not to mention the legal costs.