Guardian.jpgCable trauma

My latest Bowbrick at Large in The Guardian is about gloom and desperation in the TV business and the continued failure of the cable industry to wire up Broadband Britain. I really didn’t like it much when I sent it off. Weak, really. Anyway, it seems to have struck some kind of consumer chord – It’s only been up a couple of hours and I’ve had several emails along the lines of: “Too right, mate. The nightmare I’ve had getting service from NTL!” and “Telewest are such rubbish! 50 minutes on hold, then they deny I have an account at all!”.



  1. Blurred view of the future?,12449,908007,00.html

    More like a biased view from the misinformed.

    NTL is the UK’s largest broadband ISP with approx. 40% share of the
    UK broadband market – despite covering less than a third of all UK households.

    Telewest & NTL have a combined 60% share of the broadband market.

    Eight out of ten, if given a choice, opt for cable broadband over ADSL. So how
    exactly is the more expensive BT beating them hands down?

    As for pay TV, analogue & digital cable customers still outnumber
    Sky digital subscribers within the cable co.’s serviceable areas.

    Cable has a dowdy image? You mean dowdy compared to Sky’s
    trailer trash, slum council housing estate image and BT’s ‘rip-off
    Britain’ image? I know which one I’d prefer.

    Here are some quotes from satisfied Sky customers to
    add to your yor pathetic little weblog…

    So far my letters [to Sky] have gone unanswered, and when
    I telephone, customer service staff refuse me access to a
    manager or manager’s name.”

    “If sky managers/supervisors are this FECKING rude then
    what hope do we have… if i was irate or rude or whatever
    then fine, but I wasn’t clear about something and wanted

    I hope that woman ROTS IN HELL.

    Bastard SKY Broadcasting.”

    “I’m having absolutely no luck whatsoever with a
    complaint [to Sky] – why aren’t I surprised???”

    “I find that the level of artefacts [on Sky Digital] to
    be quite poor, considering one of the reasons I opted for
    digital was the alleged quality. As you mention the
    artefacts are very noticeable.”

    “Poor picture quality when viewing Sky on other tellies around the house.”

    “The [Sky Digital ] ‘box’s suffer from “static build-up”, which
    suggests some form of poor design. What’s going on ?”

    “The picture quality on SkySports was poor and intermittent,
    I put up with it and didn’t give it a second thought. This morning
    however, I notice that I am failing to pick up a substantial number
    of channels, UKGold, MTV, etc, etc.

    Sky, who asked me to run through various tests which made
    no difference, suggested a visit from an engineer for which
    they’ll charge me ?60.”

    “I think I should warn people considering buying a $ky Dodgybox
    that the picture quality is not everything that the advertisements
    claim. Some channels are very poor quality, there is a very blocky
    effect and shimmering in the background, especially on the movie
    channels, and when things move quickly only some of the frames
    are transmitted.”

    “Why the hell does sky [box office] charge so much for movies
    which have been out on Video ages”

    “Reception is poor during rain.”

    “My Amstrad died late last year, I got them to come out on the
    ?49.99 callout charge, they looked at the box and took it away.
    Several weeks later I contacted Sky to see how things were
    going, after a prolonged call [at national rate] it was clear the
    box had been lost.”

    “I’m getting the same sound dropouts but also associated with
    picture freezes on various channels. Some appear worse than
    others. Sky say because my set is 2 months out of warranty that
    I must pay the call out charge. They do not take in to account all
    the nights that the box was left on all night to record something
    because of their inability to come up with the “promised” programme
    timer. Something we all had on our analogue systems. Sky seems to
    be getting away with poor service yet again. Considering we are paying
    ?360 per year they would provide better service. I agree we should
    all be writing to watchdog.”

    “They [Sky] said that as my box was out of warranty I would have
    to pay to get it repaired. They would have to take it away and
    I would have to pay ?49.99 call-out fee. However they would get
    back to me in 4-5 days.

    7 days later still no call from Sky, so I rang them – now the 4-5
    days was 4 weeks! Also, even after it was repaired, I would only
    get a 3 month warranty on the parts that had been repaired.
    The rest of the box would not be covered.”

    “Like you I was an early analogue subscriber and paid for the
    digibox in December 1998. My box failed a couple of months ago
    and like you I was offered ?50 call out plus cost of repairs or arrange
    my own repair. I did neither. I pay for the full service and have done
    for years without missing a payment. That’s about ?360 pa . So instead
    of asking them to fix the box I asked to cancel the service.”

    “I have contacted Sky on numerous occasions only to be given the
    familiar story that the fault lies with my (out of warranty Black Panasonic)
    digibox and that there is nothing Sky can do short of charging me ?50 for
    a call-out. The last time I phoned them (my digibox crashes maybe one
    time in five I change channels) I said that I was completely dissatisfied
    and asked to be transferred to someone who could terminate my Sky
    subscription. Surprise, surprise my call was never put through. But I am
    back where I started – a service that is rapidly becoming unusable and
    Sky telling me lies every time I contact them.”

    “If Sky were to just admit there is a problem with the software then
    it would soon go away. By example, if I rang up and they told me
    “sorry, there is a problem with the latest software and we are working
    on a fix as we speak” then that would be fine. It could even be on the
    recorded message before I got through to an operator.

    But no. They refuse to admit that the problem is theirs and to add
    insult to injury, want to charge me for their problem.”

    “I’ve complained to Sky on numerous occasions, and their answers
    have been nothing short of pathetic.”

    “Phone Sky help line on wednesday – “have you replaced the remote
    control batteries ?” After I had stopped laughing and he had run out
    of any other ideas he passed me on. Second person – “push all the
    connectors in on the back”. Hold backup button and power on to
    download software again. “This will cure your problem, goodbye”.

    Second phone call to Sky help line on friday by me wife – “sorry
    we cannot talk to you as the contract is not in your name and it
    would be against the data protection act”. But they eventually
    offered an engineer callout for ?50.”

    “When my receiver went into permanent red-light/standby mode
    I rang Sky several times and spoke to 8 different people, including
    two supervisors, in technical and other customer services departments.
    The only troubleshooting advice they gave me was to unplug the box,
    wait and plug it in again. When this didn’t work, they all suggested that
    I need a service engineer to call — at a minimum cost of ?50.”

    “Keep calling them [Sky] … piss them off… with a bit of luck we can
    help stop some poor pensioners from being charged ?50 for no
    reason whatsoever.”

    “A friend of mine had a Phone call asking if they wanted Insurance
    for their Sky Digi box, they turned it down after 2 months the Digi Box
    has packed up and no longer works..

    The freaky thing is, its happened exactly the same way to 3 of
    my Friends. Sky charge ?50 call out charge then charge to repair !!”

    “I have had problems with the Digibox for the last 4-5 weeks, these
    being lockups, losing channels, losing picture (blue screen), etc.

    A call out will cost me ?50, and if the engineer merely confirms what
    I already know (that the box has conveniently packed up just out of
    warranty), I will have to purchase a new one. I will have to pay
    FULL PRICE for a new box, as I do not qualify for the “FREE” box
    as I am already a “loyal customer” who paid ?160 for my digibox – I
    was not one of the people who waited and got theirs for free!”

    “Three weeks after my digibox was installed my missus decided to
    unplug it from our 4 way plug block so she could use the vac. She
    plugged it back in 10 minutes later and when I turned the box on that
    evening I got the message “No satellite signal is being received”. I
    won’t go into it in too much detail but basically Sky wanted to
    charge me ?49.99 for a call-out as they reckoned it was a power-spike.”

    “i went into arrears with my account by under a month and sky
    switched the card off which is fair enough but i then sent them a
    cheque for the arrears and the month ahead five days later a get
    a invoice saying i still owe and it had my subscription rate as
    13.00 instead of 11.99 i paid my box when it first came out anyway
    i rung them up about it they said because i went in arrears they
    cancelled the contract and i would have to pay 13.00 a month
    now so after a lot of arguing with sky who at first denied i had paid
    them i told them to cancel my account immediately so that’s very
    bad customer service i also emailed them about this but i doubt
    i will get a reply.”

    “I hate Sky & all they stand for.. Bastards!!!!!!! Bastards!!!!”

    “What a bunch of bastards! [Sky] I just can’t believe the nerve
    of a company who supply customers with a faulty product and
    then try to sting them into paying for a completely bogus repair!”

  2. I’m a great believer in cable. Always have been. My point is that cable *ought* to have won the game by now. They have all the assets but have utterly failed to overcome the obstacles of image, customer service and structure. I’m sympathetic because some of these obstacles are not self-imposed. Scenario: the CEOs of NTL and BT call Tessa Jowell: whose call does she take?

    The cable firms may have behaved stupidly during the boom but the crash was hardly their fault and the regulatory climate has also been particularly unfriendly to them.

    Sadly, it’s unlikely that the industry can solve its many problems in time for BT’s second-rate offering to sweep the field. Yet another huge missed opportunity. And these problems are not unique to the UK. In Germany the Government and the incumbent telecoms monopoly (Deutsche Telecom) have stitched up broadband entirely. Germany has much higher cable reach and penetration than Britain and yet you can’t get broadband via cable at all! The same problems are reproduced all over Europe.

  3. Sigh… Ironically I worked for ish… bringing broadband over cable to Nord Rhein Westfalen. Sadly we were undone by Nortel, impatient shareholders and dubious US contractors (and US business practices). It was a noble effort, I weep for my lost job…. As for dirty tricks by the Telecom… the stories I could tell.
    However, it should be noted that the majority of cable companies have an appalling reputation amongst technical staff. Part of their problem is always a lack of investment, a lack of value placed on skilled staff and general “lions led by donkeys” syndrome.

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