Speed, always - on, flat - rate charge, leaves phone line free for voice calls
expensive, seriously crap news server, only available in areas of high population, must have a BT line, must have a credit card or Visa Delta card, less than fantastic technical support, poor customer service, extra software, can't use it with Opera
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*Scroll down for 2004 update
BT wouldn't have been my first choice of ISP after a brief but very infuriating period of having a dial-up account with them, but at the time I decided to move up to broadband, BT was my only option. I would have prefered cable broadband, but the building I live in is only cable enabled to the 8th floor, and I live way up in the clouds. It was BT or nothing. Thankfully, it's worked out very well.
I signed up to ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) in it's early days, before everyone else starting rolling out their ADSL products. In those days...way back in the technological mists of 2001... you needed an engineer's visit to connect you, you paid £150 for the privelege, and then you paid £39.99 per month to use the service. Nowadays, though you can still have an engineer to install the service if you want (at £250), you can connect yourself with the "Plug and Go" package where you pay £65 to have your phone line ADSL-enabled, and you can choose whether to buy your equipment from BT (£85) or someone else. The monthly charge has now fallen to £29.99.
**** So, What is ADSL, and Why do you want it? ****
If you're like me, you live your life on the Internet. I was more or less housebound for almost 10 years, and the Internet was my way of keeping in touch with family, my social life, my education, my support group, my shopping centre, my creative outlet, my playground, and occasionally my workplace .. you getting the picture? I was online more than was good for my bank balance in the days of pay-as-you-go, and more than my series of ISPs liked once flat rates were introduced. When I couldn't get out to join the world, the Internet brought the world into my living room. I don't know how I ever lived without it. In the circumstances, I reckoned it was worth getting a decent service and paying a bit extra for it.
ADSL gives you download speeds of up to 10 times the speed of a regular dial-up modem, across your existing BT phone line. It does this by splitting the voice signals from the data signals, so they don't interfere with each other. It is asymmetric, in that the download speed (500 kbps) is greater than the upload speed (250kbps). It is also a contended service, which means that you share your bit of bandwidth with up to 50 other users. You might think this sounds a lot, but when you consider how many other users you share bandwidth with on a dial-up line, it's nothing. And what are the chances of those 50 others all being online at the same time as you? Even then, unless you're all into serious gaming, you're not going to notice a serious drop in service.
The splitting is done by replacing the main phone jack if you go for an engineer installation, or by a set of micro-filters if you opt for self-install. The filters plug into your existing phone sockets, and you will need one for every socket with a modem, fax, or telephone connected to it. If you buy your equipment from BT, 2 are provided, but you can buy extras if needed. The plug and go method gives you the most flexibility for where your ADSL connected computer will be situated. With the engineered installation, you have to decide on the location and stick to it. With self-install, on the other hand, you can have the computer next to any phone socket with a filter.
The other main reasons you want ADSL, apart from the speed, are that it's "always on", yet you can still use your phone line for voice calls while you are connected. This means you don't have to dial-up and wait for modems to shake hands and play nice before being connected. It also means you don't get any engaged signals. The average connection time is 20 seconds and you only have to do it if you switch your computer off and on again. There are no call charges, except for normal voice calls, faxes across the normal phone line, etc.
**** Sounds great, so How do I get it? ****
First of all you need a BT line. Secondly, you need to be connected to an ADSL enabled exchange. To check that, go to http://www.btopenworld.com/broadband/availability/0,,csn=consumer,00.html and put in your full telephone number. If you are one of the lucky ones who is in an enabled area, you now need a PC or Mac with a free USB port, Windows 98SE/Mac OS8.6 or above, 180MB free HD space (120Mb for the Mac), and a CD-ROM drive. Next you need a credit card, or Visa Delta card. They will charge your initial fees and monthly subscription to your card. Now take your card to the site and sign up. BT will agree a provisional date for your service to start, and then carry out some tests on your line. They don't need access to your house for this. If all is well with your line, they will ADSL enable it, and send out your micro-filters, ADSL modem (assuming you are getting the full package), and software in time for your start-date. The rest is up to you. It's just a matter of plugging everything in and installing the software - I managed!
**** What else do I get? ****
You also get 50Mb of webspace, a dial-up account for getting access to your email when away from home, up to 10 email addresses, webmail, a 24 hour local-rate helpline, and BT Openworld's portal site as your homepage.
**** How's it all working out? ****
The speed is fantastic. Pretty soon you stop going "wow" every time you click on something, though, and take it for granted until you are forced to use someone else's clunky old 56K connection. Then you go home and kiss the stingray (ADSL users' jargon for the rather distinctive Alcatel modem), but you don't admit that to anyone.
It's pretty reliable. Mine has been down only 3 times in 18 months. This is where it all goes pear-shaped, I'm afraid. It's great when it works, but on the rare occasions it goes wrong, getting something done about it takes longer than it should. If there is a serious failure, getting through to the helpline involves listening to a lot of cheesy music and being assured you're moving up the queue. When you eventually speak to a human being, their first assumption (unless there is a known issue with your "gateway") is that the problem is at your end, so be prepared to do a lot of rebooting, and reinstalling before they will accept a fault report. Once you have reported a fault you have to leave the machine running so they can test the line remotely. Trouble is, you can't tell when it's working again without rebooting and trying to connect. They are supposed to phone you and tell you this, but they have yet to keep that promise with me.
The BT news server is seriously crap. I don't use it, and I advise anyone signing up with BT to sign up with a free news server that's independant of their ISP. http://news.cis.dfn.de is a good place to start.
I've never regretted getting ADSL, and BT have proved much more reliable than I anticipated. At £29.99 it's still quite expensive, but if you're a heavy user like me, and can't get cable, it's well worth the outlay.
In late 2003, I decided to have another look at the broadband situation in the light of what was now available elsewhere, some changes at BT, and some issues I have with the way they treat their older customers.
Competition was good for BTís prices, initially. As I mentioned earlier, the price has come down from the initial £39.99 per month to £29.99 as other providers have rolled out their services. Itís meant to be £27.99 per month if you pay by direct debit rather than credit card, but I waited over a year from someone telling me about this (in the comments on my original review) to finding out how to achieve it. I dare say if Iíd phoned Billing directly and asked they would have told me, but all telephone communication with BT Broadband goes through the same 0845 number with the standard list of menu options (none of which ever seem to be what you really want), and hanging on for 15 minutes while your call moves up the queue. Nowhere on their website did it tell you that paying by direct debit was cheaper, or give you the option to change over. You could change credit card details online, but not tell them you wanted to change to direct debit. Finally, out of a clear blue sky, an email arrived which gave me the option to change over, and a link to do it online. I followed the link, gave them the details and sat back and waited for my bills to go down.
On the appropriate date my account was debited with £29.99. OK, the email didnít say my bill would go down, so I figured maybe the reduction for direct debit payment was no longer current. A few months later, when BT were agressively marketing their broadband product, with wall to wall TV and newspaper advertising, I noticed these said £27.99 for DD payment, so I decided to investigate. It turned out that, although I was now paying by DD, I had also ďupgradedĒ to BTYahoo, which is £29.99. This had come about because I had responded to an email from BT which announced their new deal with Yahoo, where BT continue to provide the broadband service, but Yahoo provide the ďcontentĒ. The email had stated that I could change to the new system immediately, or continue with my present service for a few months until the changeover was complete and I would have to change anyway. Why wait, I thought? Nowhere in the email did it say that changing over would cost me more.
So, is BTYahoo worth it? It might be from your point of view, but certainly not from mine. The first thing to note if you are an existing BT customer is that clicking on the link to ďupgradeĒ downloads a customised version of Internet Explorer (IE) to your machine. I donít mean it customises your present copy of IE. It downloads a new one in addition to your present copy, somewhat like the AOL browser. This was absolutely the last thing I wanted, or expected, to happen. I used Opera for most browsing (Ciao being an exception as the redesign doesnít work in Opera!) and didnít really want one version of IE, never mind two! Once you have upgraded, you can still use your original version of IE if you want to. It just takes longer to load the BTYahoo portal. However, donít even think of trying to use Opera to access the portal with all this ďcontentĒ youíre paying for. It ainít gonna happen. Strike One against BTYahoo.
Strike Two is the portal itself. OK, maybe some people like having their ISP tell them what they ought to be doing on the Internet, but I donít. I was never an AOL, take me by the hand and tell me what to think kind of person. I go online to find the information I want, not the information someone else has decided I should want. Some might argue itís convenient to have all the news, entertainment, weather, etc, accessible from one portal, but in the few months I used the BTYahoo portal I didnít see anything I couldnít have found elsewhere with a few clicks, and certainly nothing to justify charging £29.99 per month.
People who might be attracted to this service, are those of you with young children. BTYahoo offers parental controls, and their spam/virus blocking works better than most. You will not be spam free by any stretch of the imagination, but it does seem to catch the nasty porn spam with pictures. That being said, there is plenty of software out there which will take care of this for you.
The final straw for me came when realisation dawned that BT only care about signing up new customers. Their older customers (the early adopters of broadband who paid the extortionate prices enabling BT to keep rolling out the service) can take it or leave it. I signed up at a time when the only option was engineer installation. This restricts where in the house I can use my ADSL connection. My desktop and laptop arenít networked, and I donít want to network them and have to run the desktop as a server all the time if I want to connect from the laptop. The microfilter system would allow me to connect from the bedroom when Iím not well enough to be up (which given my condition is frequently). I enquired with BT as to whether it would be OK to change over, changing the main phone point back to a normal box, and fitting filters to the extensions. Em, no. They would require me to cancel my current service, sign up for the self-install service (paying the activation fee over again!) and they would hold me to a new minimum 12 month contract. Plus Iíd have to pay to have phone point changed, and for the filters (but I expected that). Compare this with the current offers of free activation and free modem for new customers.
I started looking around at other providers, their prices, and what you get for your money. Iíd narrowed it down to 2 possibilities Ė Giointernet at £18.95 per month, and FreeUK at £22.99 per month. Neither restrict what software you can use, or inflict extra software on you, but you get the same speed connection as BTYahoo. In the end, I went with FreeUK because they provide 50Mb of free webspace as opposed to Giointernetís 10Mb (BT also provide 50Mb, and my present site is already over 10Mb in size), and because I have had a totally trouble free dial-up no ties account with them since 1999, and the site associated with that has never been down to my knowledge. So, on 23rd December my broadband service was migrated from BT to FreeUK, for £35 plus VAT (the charge the engineering branch of BT make to FreeUK for the migration work) and I celebrated seeing the last of BT.
Unfortunately, BT werenít finished with me. In early January, I received a letter of confirmation that I was no longer a BT broadband customer and that they had downgraded the account to a no-ties dial-up so I could still use my email address. A few days later, I received an email from Billing advising me they would be taking £29.99 from my account. I reckoned they just hadnít caught up with themselves yet, but I logged into my bank account and cancelled the DD to be on the safe side. Then I emailed Billing to point out their error. A few days later they emailed me to say there had been a problem collecting £29.99 from my bank account. I emailed Billing to point out their error. A week later I received a letter advising me they had suspended my broadband account until I paid the outstanding sum. I emailed Billing to point out their error, and to note how clever it was of them to suspend a non-existant account. This morning, I received a bill from BT for £59.98. Once Iíd cleared up my exploded brains, I dialled BT Billing, listened to a zillion service announcements, pressed this button and that button, listened to the Top 20 Most Annoying Songs of All Time, and finally spoke to Kevin. At least one of Kevinís ears is now warmer than it was before he spoke to me, his supervisor has been consulted, Order Management have been kicked up the arse, and a letter should be on itís way to me confirming I owe them nothing. Frankly, Iíll believe it when I see it.
To sum up, BTís service is fairly reliable, but they havenít kept up with the competition at all in terms of price and flexibility. Customer service is a joke, attention to detail is poor, response to email varies between non-existant and several weeks, and phoning them is an ordeal (to be fair, the email and phone problems are pretty universal for ISPs in my recent experience). BT need to wake up. They are no longer the only option, and far from the best. No longer recommended.
Good review but isn't Cable broadband the one you share and not ADSL? Anyway, I had BT dialup before going on broadband. Luckily, I had options and opted to avoid BT (directly anyway). I'm using a BT third party thing, which is pretty good. BT also have annoying limits for the usage.
hewittadmin 21.01.2005 09:54
You forget its DD now and you dont need to live in the city it has inmroved but has a Cap good review though