When loss of vital broadband becomes a life-changing issue

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I risk losing my job because I have been without the internet for six weeks. Virgin Media is my provider, and the only one in my area that offers anywhere near the speeds I need for work. It sent a succession of technicians before concluding that a new cable from the street cabinet was needed. I had to wait two weeks for an appointment, which was postponed. No one turned up for this, or the rebooked slot. On the third appointment, a technician arrived without the wherewithal to lay a cable.

I have spent more than nine hours on the phone and have made three complaints that have received no response. There’s virtually no signal in my basement flat, so working from mobile data isn’t an option. Having lost my old job due to Covid-19 in August, I need to keep this one. I don’t know what to do.
EOK, London

You are one of many in this plight. In pre-pandemic days, broadband issues were an inconvenience; now they can be life-changing. The telecoms industry has done pretty well in meeting the surge in demand, but, in some cases, inexcusable customer service failures have left people cut off. Days after I contacted Virgin it patched an interim line via a neighbour’s connection to give you basic wifi, but it was a further two months before the new cable was laid and your service fully restored. It’s offered £250 compensation and £20 off your £46.98-a-month fee for the remaining 18 months of your contract.

RC of Hopwood, Worcestershire, also risked losing his job after five months without broadband. His contract with Sky was scheduled to start six weeks after he moved into a new development.

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First, a telegraph pole had to be erected and Openreach, the BT subsidiary responsible for telecoms infrastructure, missed the deadline. Over the next three months Sky arranged for 10 Openreach technicians to install the lines, to no avail.

“Openreach does not seem to have any sort of log or work ­schedule,” he writes. “Each technician turned up with no idea of the work required and told us that, before they could do anything, a telegraph pole needed to be installed!

“Because of the way Sky and Openreach communicate, it is necessary for a technician to attend and photograph the fact that installation is impossible before Openreach will arrange other work.

“I’ve tried to speak to Openreach, but it insists we communicate via Sky. Sky, meanwhile, automatically cancels an order if installation is not completed within a certain time.

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“The result is that we go round in circles as we arrange installation with Sky, a technician attends and records a fail, Sky cancels our order and we then reorder.”

Openreach told me that the delays were caused by overhead power lines impeding the proposed site of the pole, and claimed that its crew was trying to find a new location. However, this problem was identified before the original installation date in July, and a new site was found for the pole in September.

Sky declined to comment, but has offered £460 compensation. Press involvement had a miraculous effect. Within days, it dawned on technicians that they could use a pole erected for a neighbouring property and you were connected.

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Miscommunication between Openreach and service providers is an old story, but your saga suggests the protocols – and record-keeping – are farcical. There is little doubt you would still be spinning those useless circles if the prospect of a headline hadn’t joined up the thinking.

VP of Harrow placed an order the same week as RC for his ISDN phone line with BT Business to be transferred to a standard line with BT Consumer. It didn’t happen. What did happen, two months after the promised switch, was that the business line was ­deactivated, ­leaving VP without a working phone. The billing department was more proactive. Three weeks after his line was cut, it sent a demand for the next quarter.

You were connected within a week of my contact. BT blamed a “processing error”, adding: “We are ­recrediting the customer’s bill so he’s not liable for any charges whilst his service was disconnected and have also offered him further credit and four new home phones as goodwill.”

Virgin customer AA of Bristol was told that a national shortage of modems meant she might have to wait weeks for her faulty one to be replaced. “We are working from home with three children doing online schooling and no internet,” she writes. “We asked to cancel our contract as Virgin is unable to fulfil it but it insists we pay a £280 early termination charge.”

Virgin, which ­managed to conjure up a modem the day after my contact, suggested you’ve been misinformed. “Although we are experiencing high demand in certain areas, we have a good stock level of hubs,” it says. “We are continuing to monitor the situation so we can continue to carry out installations and provide replacement equipment where necessary.”

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