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I’ve been an NTL customer for 5 years now and what started as them being my phone company has changed into them providing my phone, TV package and internet service. Earlier this year they came third in a worst customer service poll, but my experience has been generally positive with them. On Ciao there are 3 different categories for NTL, depending on whether you’re reviewing the phone, internet or TV but since I’ve got all three products I thought it would be easier to write about my experience as a whole so I’ve decided to place it under the “Shopping” category, rather than “Entertainment”.
Why Did I Choose NTL?
Paul and I moved into our first home in December 1998 and the line installed was a BT one. However, due to my dad’s continual moaning about BT’s service, I decided to sign up to NTL. This coupled with the fact that several people I knew were on NTL and their free off peak calls to other NTL lines helped sway my decision. I rang them up and arranged a connection appointment. At this time they couldn’t offer me anything until the beginning of January but since we had moved in 4 days before the Christmas and New Year slow-down, I wasn’t too surprised at this. It was also the Christmas that we invested in mobile phones for the first time, so it wasn’t like we were cut off from everybody. The contract was signed and on the agreed appointment date we were connected.
The Phone Package
Over the years the phone package has changed quite dramatically as competition in the telecommunications market has increased. When we first had the phone installed we were on a basic 3-2-1 deal. This means that calls cost 3p per minute in the daytime, 2p per minute in the evening (after 6pm) and 1p per minute at weekends and, as mentioned earlier, free off peak calls to other NTL landlines. There is a 4.9p connection charge for each call you make on top of the above prices. Of course, line rental is on top of call charges also and this is currently £9.50 a month.
Bills arrive monthly and detail all calls made from your number, and there is a total amount of time spent using the phone line for “other calls”. These include internet calls and free calls to other NTL customers. The monthly billing is something I find straightforward to manage rather than BT’s quarterly billing system, as I can budget the cost more easily.
Other phone packages that NTL have introduced to their services are Talk Unlimited 24; Talk Unlimited; Talk Unlimited Local; 6p Talk Plan; Phone & Surf. Prices vary on the type of package and range from £28.50 per month to £11.50 per month inclusive of the £9.50 a month line rental.
Of course, all the additional extras can be added on for more small charges such as voicemail, 3 way calling and call waiting to name a few. These are usually charged at around £1 a month.
I’ve never had any problems with my phone service from NTL. I’m always billed promptly and correctly and, as I pay by direct debit, the money is always taken on the date specified on the invoice. Payment can also be made by all the usual means including by cheque through the post, at the bank, at a Paypoint outlet, by cash at the Post Office or by taking it yourself to their payment centre in Nottingham. At present I am not aware of being able to pay through the internet which, considering the high profile the company place on their ISP package is poor.
The Internet Package
A year or so after having NTL as our phone company, we purchased our first computer and soon realised we’d need an ISP. The day we set the computer up we signed up with Virgin.net as they were included on the ISP setup wizard and we’d heard good things about them. Soon after NTL announced they were to provide completely free internet access – no call charges, no monthly charge, nothing. I believe they were one of the first to offer this.
So straight away I put my name down for a CD. We were advised that due to high demand this could take up to 28 days. This is where my first problems with NTL arose. The CD failed to materialise for a very long time. But not to worry, my dad’s had arrived and he decided he no longer needed it for one reason and another so I installed his.
Installation was quick and easy, the CD taking you through the various steps until, Yippeee – free internet access.
Now although the access was free, it certainly wasn’t the best. Dialling up could take 7 or 8 times, sometimes longer. I think this was down to the fact that NTL had offered this service without thinking about the implications on how they were going to cope with demand. Time after time, we were met with an engaged tone. However, I put up with this as we weren’t paying anything for it. For all I cared, it could take me an hour to get on.
Then one awful day, our system packed in and crashed. Now I’m not quite sure what happened but we lost the ability to connect to the internet through NTL. I uninstalled the disk and reinstalled it but the computer knew that we had already used it and was not allowing us to reinstall.
Not really wanting to pay the £1 a minute helpline, I reordered a new disk. My thinking was that if this one was uninstalled, it should allow us to install a brand new one. But because NTL’s computer system already had us down as a customer who had installed the disk, it wouldn’t send another one out to us. Phone conversations to NTL went on for approximately 7 months, each time I was told a disk would be with us within 28 days. Obviously by this point we had switched back to Virgin.net as we could still access the internet through them. I finally spoke to someone at NTL who realised what had happened and did indeed arrange for a new disk to be sent.
By this time NTL had got themselves into financial difficulty and realised that offering free internet access wasn’t a viable business plan, especially as other companies were still charging a monthly fee and customers were paying. The charge for new customers was £10 a month, which compared to other ISP costs is still one of the cheapest on the market, so I was happy to pay this. NTL charged existing customers £5 a month for the remainder of the year.
A new CD arrived but lo and behold, it still didn’t install. At this point I was quite sneaky because now I could claim that I was having trouble registering the disk and that enabled me to call the Registration Helpline which was charged at local rates. The knowledgeable computer person on the other end of the phone spent about 40 minutes reconfiguring loads of settings on my PC. I wouldn’t have stood a hope in hell of ever working out what needed to be done to restore my internet access. My only gripe was that somebody at NTL hadn’t worked out that this may have been the problem – but then it would have cost me £40 on their helpline to get it sorted!
I was also pleased to notice that for the first couple of months of us being back online with NTL, they only charged us the £5 per month, as in their eyes, we were an existing customer.
So now I pay £10 for dial up internet access. Later this year we may upgrade to the basic broadband package of £17.99 per month. You can pay more - £24.99 per month for 600K broadband and £34.99 per month for 1Mb broadband. Every now and then NTL do a “Free Installation” offer so it’s worth looking out for one of those and they give you your first months access free. Normal installation costs £50 for existing customers and £75 for new customers.
I have to say that the dial-up service has improved dramatically since those early days of “completely free” access. Nowadays we connect first time, the email retrieves quickly and I find most internet pages load without any problems. However, you are only allowed a 2 hour dialling up time at any one time before getting kicked off, but you can dial up again straight away and if the service is inactive for 5 minutes, you will get a 30 second countdown asking if you want to Stay Connected or Disconnect. And each month I receive an email from NTL to tell me the date that my £10 direct debit will be taken.
I just hope my system never crashes again!
So it was only a matter of time before we took on the NTL TV package too. At first glance NTL’s prices look more expensive than Sky’s. Actually the charges for the TV packages are identical, but NTL include your telephone line rental in with the TV costs, making it appear £9.50 more expensive. I’m not sure the reasoning behind this. Maybe it is so you have to take the phone in order to have the TV so you are their customer for 2 products rather than one.
The main reason I chose NTL for the TV was because we were already a customer and having them come to connect the TV up to the existing cables was, in my eyes, far more convenient than having Sky come out and connect up a minidish.
We began by subscribing to the base pack, which is very basic. Currently it costs £18 per month (including the £9.50 telephone rental) and provides 39 channels, including Sky One, The Hits, UK Bright Ideas, ITV2, access to front row movies on demand, 6 news channels, Eurosport, 12 shopping channels plus all the various digital radio stations. NTL also provide one guest channel per month. This is of course provided in the hope that you decide you cannot live without this channel, and then will upgrade to a better package. NTL are quite conniving when it comes to choosing this channel. For example, you know that when the new series of Friends or ER start, E4 will be provided free of charge. The catch? You only receive this channel free for a month, just long enough to get into the new series and then they take it away from you so you’re left with the option of paying or waiting until the show is aired on the terrestrial channels.
After 6 months, we upgraded to the Family Pack. Currently costing £28 a month this is the package you need to get E4, UK Gold, Living TV, 11 children’s channels, 18 music channels, all the History and Discovery channels among plenty of others – all in all over 100 TV channels.
Extras can then be added on, and these extras come in the form of Premium Channels, namely Sky Sports and Sky Movies. The top package, including all sports and movies channels costs £47.50 per month but it is possible to add on one or the other for a smaller additional cost, although they don’t advertise that very well on their website. It suggests that the only option is to add on all the Premium Channels – movies and sports.
I delved a little further and found out that for £40.50 a month, I was able to have the Family Pack plus Sky Sports 1, 2, 3, and Xtra so 6 weeks ago, we upgraded again. NTL also offer subscription to Premiership Plus, a channel which shows one premier league game a week, for an extra £1 a month. This works out at small extra yearly cost for another 40 games. Sky currently charge £40 a year for this channel, if you register before the end of August. This then rises to £50 after this date and costs £100 to non-Sky Sports subscribers so I think NTL offer a really good deal here.
This is where NTL still have a lot of catching up to do compared to Sky. I think Sky’s interactive services are fantastic, and I love the idea of being able to press the red button to choose your favourite Pop Idol or being able to choose which tennis match to watch at Wimbledon. Unfortunately NTL’s red button, is somewhat more limited, in that you can’t do any of these things.
The interactive services which are available are TV internet and email, a selection of limited games and a TV guide. Occasionally there are competitions to enter but all in all it is a disappointing service when compared to Sky.
One of the most frustrating features of the interactive services is the slowness. On many occasions the screen will freeze and the only way to rectify this is to pull the plug out for the box and plug it back in again. This resets the box and you are able to get a TV picture again. The TV guide also leaves a lot to be desired. It isn’t too bad if you are wanting to see what is on today, but as soon as you ask for programming details for tomorrow or the following day, it can be “gathering data” for hours. I often give up and use teletext! I believe this is one area that NTL really have to improve if they are to be a serious competitor to Sky.
I usually contact NTL’s customer service by phone and like most other large companies, they have an automated options system. You know the kind – press 1 for billing enquiries, press 2 for upgrading your services etc. Now this is one area of NTL that I have heard criticised on several occasions – you can never get through. Well I don’t know if I phone at the quieter times but this has not been my experience. I dial 150 from my landline (there is also a freephone number if calling from a mobile or BT line) and after entering my phone number on the push buttons and choosing the option I require, my call has usually been answered within 30 seconds.
The service I receive from the call centre is not always fantastic, but it is usually satisfactory.
Upgrading your services over the phone is simple and I have done this on several occasions for my TV package. They confirm your new monthly payment and within 15 minutes my new channels have miraculously appeared on my TV. When upgrading it is worth noting that charges are made for the month in advance, so upgrading halfway through a month will incur the rest of the month’s charges plus next month’s charges making it a larger bill.
Mistakes have been made by NTL when upgrading my services. I received my first bill after adding Sky Sports to my package and found that they had also charged me for the Film Four channels. A quick phone call to NTL rectified the problem and with no questions asked, the overcharged amount was credited back onto my bill. The TV bills are straightforward to understand and it is made clear exactly what channels you have been charged for.
I’ve also had to use the customer service to make a couple of appointments and both times, the engineer turned up at the designated time. On one occasion he did give me approximately 2 milliseconds to answer the door before driving off but half an hour after calling NTL, the engineer came back – probably feeling a little bit silly!
And when we moved house in May, the whole moving date was very hit and miss but we finally got it settled on a Friday although there was always the danger it was going to fall through on the Thursday afternoon. I rang NTL on the Monday and they confirmed we could keep the same telephone number and booked an appointment for us to be connected back up to NTL for the phone, computer and TV for the Saturday morning. By Saturday lunchtime the work had been completed and we were connected back up at our new property. I thought this was excellent service.
So all in all, I definitely have more reasons to stay with NTL than leave them and change my suppliers of the above products. I would like to see their interactive services improve dramatically and even though they came third in the worst customer service poll, this was still 2 places behind BT who were left with the dubious honour of being at the top.
For further information about their products and up-to-date prices, enter ntlhome into your search engine and it should bring up the correct website. I'm not supposed to include the web address according to Ciao guidelines.
NTL get a bad rap far too offer but I love em - never had a problem (touch wood lol)
rebelscum 20.12.2004 00:04
doesnt matter if we do sort out the interactive, dont mean u will press the red button on everything and it will work, it says press the red button on itv programs and at present, if interactive works perfectly, u still wont get them as ntl doesnt have itv interactive
mppreece 12.09.2004 18:28
I was about to write my own review on NTL, and found this. IT IS EXACTLY how I have found NTL to be! The services are fairly good value for money, the internet is slightly faster than their competitors, and they are generally good. The ONLY thing is: SORT THE INTERACTIVE TV OUT NTL!! It is so annoying to be told: "Press the red button" in a program, only to find that NTL have "No interactive services currently available for this programme".
Thanks for the E review!!