Why Is There Only One Monopolies Commission?

One of the old chestnuts you sometimes hear from disaffected and grumpy comedians is "How come there's only on Monopoly Commission?" They're not talking about the board game, but about the people who are supposed to guard us against being exploited by large corporations. And I'm going to hazard a guess that all these disaffected comedians are, like me, customers of our monopoly cable company here in Merry Olde England.

I've been a cable-Internet-enabled customer of our national cable company for some four years. It would have been longer, but until the business division was surfaced as a separate entity within the all-encompassing media empire, they were seemingly unable to provide anything that resembled a business-level service of digital connectivity. And even then, as carefully documented in Cable Internet in 10 Easy Steps, the on-boarding experience was somewhat less than encouraging.

Having said that, it's worked like a dream ever since and I've never had a complaint, except that I have to pay them extra every month just to send me a bill. But it was starting to look rather expensive, especially as we're assured that our local telephone people will have FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet, with the chance of proper "high-speed" ADSL) working here any day now. Well, sometime, anyway. It was advertised as being August, but slipped to September, then we were assured it was definitely October. And even though it's been postponed until the end of November, I'm still optimistic we'll see it sometime this year. Or next year.

So, anyway, I'm on the phone to a really pleasant and helpful lady at the business desk explaining that they're looking a bit pricey these days, and she tells me that I'm actually on a legacy service that's way out of date. But she can move me to a new service for free, and I'll get double the bandwidth, and it will cost about a third less! You can imagine that I asked why they didn't manage to tell me about this at the point when I became a legacy service user, but I suppose - as with all big companies - you can't expect miracles. So I agreed to be upgraded. Even when she said that, although the upgrade was free, I'd have to pay fifty pounds for a new cable modem. Oh well, I'll save that in a few months with the cheaper service.

At this point I started to ask the technical questions. The modem lives inside my server cabinet, so I need to turn off the wireless feature. I don't really want something generating tons of radio fallout inside a big metal box full of computers. But it seems not, they say, unless I have a fixed IP address which "automatically disables the wireless" (no, I don't know why). And that's an extra on the bill, so I'd end up paying more than I do now. Probably I'll just wrap the modem in aluminium foil instead.

And when can they do the upgrade? The lead time is 25 working days after the site survey. When will the site survey be? They can't say. Do I need one seeing as they already know what I have, and they're just going to swap the modem? No. Can they send me the modem and I'll plug it in myself? No, it has to be configured by an engineer.

Five weeks after I placed the order I still haven't even heard when the site surveyor might arrive, so I phone again. "We're a bit busy," I'm told, "but we'll get someone there next week." Of course, the proviso is that they need to do a line test and, if it fails for the new speed, they'll need to replace the coax that connects me to their green box. And they can't do that for "a couple of weeks."

But surely my cable will be OK? I can't say, because the engineer never turned up for the installation appointment. Obviously I immediately emailed the guy I've been talking to, the one who managed to "squeeze in" the non-arriving engineer visit. But I just got back an automatic response saying he's on holiday now for two weeks.

Ah, but only last week I had an "out of the blue" phone call from my new "business customer personal advisor" who assures me she will be "looking after my account" and "making sure I get great service from the company." It will be interesting to see if I get any more phone calls from her after she reads the email I sent to their office on Friday evening after waiting all day for the engineer.

Mind you, I did manage to sort out the problem with the phone line that was installed by default with my legacy package four years ago. It's an "included at no-charge" service where I pay only for any calls I make. As I can't even remember where they put the phone socket, you can tell how much use I made of that. But the interesting aspect is, because it's not free on the new package I've just signed up for, I now need to pay fifteen pounds a month for something that I never ordered, didn't want, and haven't ever used.

Yes, I told them just to take it out (if they can remember where they put it) or disconnect it. Did I realize that there's a 90 day notice period for cancellation? Strangely, even though the phone conversation included the words "you must be joking", nobody can supposedly do anything about it. It's my fault for not initiating a disconnection notice three months before I decided on impulse to upgrade. It only took two more phone calls, seven emails, and a long online chat to convince them that they had more chance of winning the lottery than me paying them any more money. I await next month's bill with interest.

Coincidently, there was a great article in the newspaper last week about the biggest problems facing large companies here in the UK. Surprisingly it isn't an overbearing Government, interference by the faceless bureaucrats of the People's Republic of Europe, the price of electricity, or mad taxation rules. It's poor customer service. I bet the guy who wrote it is also a customer of the cable company.

So, in the end, I'm not the least bit concerned that there is only one Monopolies Commission. I just wish they'd do their job so there was more than one cable company to choose from...

FOOTNOTE: In fact the engineers did turn up the following week after a very apologetic phone call from the local manager, and did an excellent job. It was the same guys who installed it four years ago, and they took extra trouble to disable the wireless and check the speed: 49.7 Meg down and 5.8 Meg up. Wonderful! Their office even phoned afterwards to make sure all was well and, as a nice bonus, offered to refund the cost of the new router. I'm a happy bunny all over again.