Saturday, 23 May 2009

Jarviser Moves to Pastures New


I've mentioned Jarviser a number of times before on this site. He's regarded by many as the great "guru" of BT Broadband and his website has helped many people fix their broadband problems. He has also helped more directly through his involvement with the BT Support Forum and the File Save As BT HomeHub Forum.

Of course, the reason Jarviser was involved in the forums, like many of us, was due to broadband problems of his own. Over the last few weeks, his BT connection was getting flakier and flakier and the speed was dropping through the floor.


Eventually, his telephone gave up entirely, but curiously, his broadband continued to work after a fashion. His RouterStats trace looked like nothing I have ever seen before - in fact Jarviser described is as being "line-flu", and you can see why if you look at the trace to the right. Pretty damned terminal it looks, and so it turned out to be. The mystery of the dead phone and sort-of-working broadband was worked out by another member of the BT Forum, "Mick Mills". It seems that one of Jarviser's "pair", the two wires that carry the phone signal to the house, had broken. This kills the phone, but because of the way ADSL is transmitted, didn't quite kill the broadband.

When the Openreach engineer came to call, he was able to bodge a connection by using the working half of the pair and another working line from a second damaged pair. Now, whilst this gave Jarviser some sort of broadband, it was a mega-bodge and one that was not going to last for long. Now Jarviser's cable came in from the street underground and not on an overhead drop wire, so replacing it was going to mean digging up his drive and Mrs J's beautiful house frontage and then sticking a big grey box on the front of the house. Even if they did that, BT weren't going to be able to give Jarviser any guarantee that his speeds and broadband stability would improve. The result, another customer lost to BT.


Well, that prompted Jarviser to abandon terrestrial broadband completely and he now sees the future as HSDPA, or 3.5G by another name. He's currently playing with an Orange Mobile dongle and getting speeds that some of us still on Bad Terrestrial Broadband (aka BT Broadband) can only dream of.

Of course, this will probably mean we will see less of Jarviser in the BT Forum and the BT-relevant bits of his website may not be kept quite as up to date as they have been (but most of his important information is unlikely to go out of date any time soon), but no doubt 3G Mobile broadband users will get the benefit of his knowledge. Indeed, he's already hard at work on a new HSDPA webpage.

So, on behalf of all those Bad Terrestrial Broadband customers who you have helped over recent times, thank you so much Jarviser!

And keep in touch. More of us may be heading for pastures new when contracts expire and HSDPA access opens up to us!

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The BT Call Centre Experience


If you are unfortunate with your BT broadband experience, sooner or later you may be tempted to call the BT Call Centre, or report a fault by email.

STOP!

Before you do this, there are a few things you should try and a few more things you should know. With a bit of luck, you will be able to sort out may of the basic problems yourself. If you can't, then there are a few resources here in the UK who might already have the answer, or be able to offer useful advice that gets you up and running again.

There is some useful advice on the BT website, but it can be difficult to find and infuriatingly incomplete. But as a first step, you might as well take a look here at the 3 basic types of problem the BT website covers: My broadband doesn't work at all, it works intermittently, or it is slow. If you get really lucky, it might even work.

Better still, go and look at Jarviser's website and spend an hour reading everything, especially the "How to" and "Troubleshooting" sections. It will be time well spent. This is all tried and tested stuff, easy to read and Jarviser provides step-by-step instructions for all the critical bits. I would guess that solutions to most BT customer's problems can be found here.

Then try your luck on the BT Forums as detailed in the previous post.

If this fails to find a remedy, then you are just going to have to bite the bullet and contact BT. Before you do, make sure you have comfortable seat, a few hours to spare (seriously), plenty to eat and drink close to hand, a screwdriver or two, and a mobile phone. If you don't have all these with you, you are going to have problems. You should also adopt the attitude that you are going to enter a parallel universe where all vestiges of logic and sanity have been abandoned. In other words, you will need a great sense of humour and inner calmness. If you don't, get someone else to contact BT on your behalf.

I would suggest that having first read Jarviser's advice on complaining nicely to BT, and collected all the information he suggests, you begin your adventure by sending BT an email using the form here.

Describe the problem concisely, clearly and politely. With a bit of luck, someone who understands the problem will get back to you. Sometimes it can be a matter of minutes, or it might be days, it's very much the luck of the draw. The best thing about starting with an email is that it gets logged by BT. Emails are auditable documents and might prove useful at some point in the future if you need to take things further with OTELO or OFCOM; save all the replies you get as well.

With luck - BT will respond and sort out your problem just like that! Well, no, not exactly, not usually, and certainly not in my experience. Whether BT contact you, or you decide to contact them by phone on 0800 111 4567, what happens next is very similar and it all takes time.

Whoever contacts who, BT first line support will run through a scripted response which is designed for the lowest common denominator - the BT customer who just about knows how to turn their PC on. Keep patient - and if you've followed the advice from Jarviser and have all the information to hand and have tried all the obvious fixes, you can save literally yourself hours. The first time I contacted BT with a serious issue it took more than 4 hours on the phone to get the problem escalated, I recently helped a friend get an engineer in under 4 minutes - so it can be done.

If you are lucky, you will be speaking to someone with an easily understood Indian-English accent and who has a good knowledge of broadband in general, and BT products and problems in particular.

If you can't hear them clearly, or understand them, or it's clear they can't understand you, or they are slavishly sticking to the script in the face of everything you are telling them, then politely tell them what the problem is and ask them to get someone else to call you back. If they refuse, and some do, hang-up and start again. Record what happened and send BT an email detailing what happened - more evidence.

To give you an idea of the sorts of things the BT scripts cover, here is a typical one often sent out by email. The call centre uses a similar. but longer one.

(1) Power cycle.
Power-off both the router and the computer. Unplug all the cables connecting the router to the computer. Wait for 30 seconds. Re-plug the cables back. Power-on the devices.

(2) Check the physical set-up.
If the router is connected to the extension lead, try connecting it to the master socket (the point at which telephone line enters the premise). I would suggest you to connect the router to the master socket to get the most reliable connection.

(3) Check for other devices.
Please disconnect any other devices (Fax machine, Printer, Burglar alarm, if any) connected to the normal telephone line. Also check if you have any of the following devices that cause potential EM! (Electro Magnetic Interference) placed near the router and remove them. Otherwise, replace the computer and the router. These devices should not be placed in close vicinity of the router and the computer.
1. Halogen desk lamps with dimmers.
2. Any electrical dimmer switch.
3. Electronic devices, such as stereo speakers, PC speakers.
4. Televisions, monitors, microwave ovens, etc.
5. Routing the telephone line parallel to an AC power cord.
6. Electronic insect electrocution devices (bug zappers).
7. Low quality 900MHz cordless telephones.
8. Any other emitter of high frequency electromagnetic radiation.

(4) Check for faulty micro filters.
Swap the micro-filter and connect your router and check for the connection. You could do so by using the cable that connects your filter and the telephone base unit. If it is working fine, then there is a problem with the Micro-filter, so please replace it. You may also replace the micro-filter with the spare one and check the connection.

(5) Check Browser settings.
01. Open Internet Explorer (lE) or BT Yahoo! Browser.
02. Click on ‘Internet Options’ under ‘Tools’.
03. On the ‘General’ tab, click on ‘Clear History’.
04. Click ‘Yes’.
05. Select on ‘Delete Cookies’.
06. Click ‘Ok’.
07. Select ‘Delete Files’.
08. Check the option ‘Delete all offline content’.
09. Click ‘Ok’.
10. On the ‘Connections’ tab, click [LAN Settings ...].
11. Please make sure all boxes on the LAN screen are not checked.
12. On the ‘Advanced’ tab, click [Restore Defaults].
13. Click on ‘Apply’ then on ‘Ok’ and close the Internet Options window.

(6) Check for faulty home internal phone wiring.
1 Remove the faceplate of the Master socket with a screwdriver. This will
reveal a test socket on the right-hand side. This connects directly to the
exchange, by-passing your home phone wiring and extensions.
2. Plug your router or modem directly into this test socket via a micro-filter.
3. Restart the computer.

(7) Anti Virus and Firewall.
Disable the antivirus and firewall temporarily and check whether you find any marked improvement in the connection. Please Note: If the issue gets resolved after disabling the antivirus or firewall, you need to contact the antivirus helpdesk to re-configure the software so that it can support the best connection.

(8) Re-check the Broadband connection.

(9) If the earlier steps do not help then reset the router and perform the steps once again. Press the reset button at the rear end of the router for fifteen seconds. It is the Wireless Association button in the Home Hub. Recheck the connection.


OK, you get the idea. But, if you've done your homework (and only if you've really done it, if you don't want to get charged a call-out fee!), tell the nice call centre person whose name you have asked for, this and tell them that none of it works and you want to speak to a manager (or someone in the back room). First line support virtually always refuse to do this, but be insistent and you will eventually get passed to second line support - you may be kept waiting listening to grotty muzak. On rare occasions they will hang up on you and you have to start the whole rigmarole again - BT's version of snakes and ladders. At every stage ask for a fault number, ask for names, phone numbers and be politely insistent.

Eventually, you will get passed to someone in the UK, or someone who really knows their stuff at the call centre. If they identify a fault, they will usually be fairly prompt at sending an engineer out to fix it. If they can't find anything from their end, but you are confident there really is a fault, then insist on an Engineer's visit. Get it wrong, and there will be a callout charge!

Good Luck

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Getting Advice From The BT Forums


If you are unfortunate enough to be suffering from problems with your BT broadband, one of the best resources are the BT Forums. Now you would think that BT would flag these up in letters a mile high, but it can be surprisingly difficult to find them. There are other forums for BT Business Broadband users, but these do not seem particularly active and many business users just use the main forums for a quick response.

The most important thing to understand about the BT Forums is, that although they are hosted and moderated by BT staff, the people who give advice there are ordinary BT broadband customers like you and me. They have a wide range of IT experience and understanding, varying from broadband newcomers, to a few who have worked in IT and some who have worked for BT. The thing they have in common is that they have all suffered from broadband problems themselves, they have often found solutions to those problems, and they are willing to share these with others who might benefit. It is very much a self-help group.

Now an important tip before you start posting on the forum. Security on the BT forum site is, let's say, questionable, and there have been incidents over recent months where one users personal details have been visible to other users. Before signing up to the site, get yourself a disposable email address (eg Hotmail, Gmail, GMX, etc) that you don't mind getting rid of. Whatever you do, don't use your own name or main BT address.

Before you raise your specific problem, use the search facility on the site (top right of the main screen) to search for posts that might be relevant to the problem you are facing. If it's a common one, you will probably find several threads that deal with it and reading through them carefully might take you to the solution you need. Doing this might take you a little longer than posting straight away, but it stops the folks who might answer your question wasting their time answering the same question they may have answered only a few minutes, hours, or days before!

Lurk on the site for a few days. See who answers questions and whose answers seem to solve problems - and whose don't! That way, when you raise your own question you will be better placed to judge the value of the answers and suggestions.

Finally, before posting, collect some basic information that will help others help you. Questions such as: "Help, my broadband doesn't work and the BT Helpline won't listen to me"! are all too common and, not surprisingly, rarely get answered. The sort of information you will need to collect and post will depend on the exact nature of the problem, but the key to getting good quality advice is to provide the best description of the problem, and the circumstances under which it occurs, you can. Examples of the sort of information you might need to offer include:

- the make of your computer and operating system
- the make and model of the router or HomeHub you use
- whether you connect to your router by ethernet (cable) or wifi
- What type of BT socket you connect to - and whether it is an extension socket
- whether you have removed the bell-wire from your BT Master socket, or fitted an iPlate
- the speed of your connection collected using the BT Speedtester - not one of the quick speedtesters. Cut and paste the results into your question.
- what you have tried already
- whether you are using the BT broadband browser and wifi connection software
- what wifi channel you are using
- what firewall and antivirus you are using
- etc, etc.

The list could go on and on, but don't worry, those who answer will usually suggest other information that you might be able to provide, and how to collect it.

Don't, under any circumstances, put personal information like your name, address, phone number, main email address in your posts - it's just aking for trouble.

Be patient. Your question may get answered in a matter of seconds, or it might take a few days. It all depends who is online at the time.

Try not to offend against the forum rules. Most of the rules are sensible and designed to protect you and BT staff alike. Some rules are pretty inane in the circumstances and it is easy to offend against them. The most frequent "offence" is providing BT CEO Ian Livingston's email address (ian.livingston@bt.com). The forum moderators will either edit your post, delete it, warn you or ban you from the forum in extreme cases. The other things that get the forum moderators exercised are if you have the temerity to mention another ISP or telephony provider by name, or if you dare to even mention Phorm - BT's plan, regarded as odious and intrusive by some, for targeted advertising.

The final caveat, before you head off and raise a question on the BT Forums, is that people will try to give you the best advice they can, borne out of bitter experiences in most cases, but if it all goes wrong and things get worse, you have to remember that accepting the advice is at your own risk!

OK, off you go, ask the question!
Having had some major problems with my own broadband service, I understand how others struggle to get help from BT.

There is a lot of good information out there, but it can be hard to find. So this blog is an attempt to pull some of it together, in one place.

It's a blog that really shouldn't be needed - if only BT and possibly other ISP's in the UK, provided useful customer support.