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BROADBAND SERVICE IN COLONSAY

This page is really intended only for information within Colonsay, please do not take anything from this page for publication and do not read it as implying any specific criticism of our service provider by the author or by the community; there are difficulties in living in a remote place and, like the weather, we monitor them and try to minimise the effect.

COLONSAY SUBSCRIBERS - please follow the following procedure with faults:

•  BEFORE reporting a fault, reboot the router, and also open the box and make sure that the filter is not at fault.

•  Business Faults Contact : 0800 800 154 (please note this number now, whilst your connection is still working)

•  Consumer Faults Contact : 0800 800 151 (please note this number now, whilst your connection is still working)

•  BE FIRM . Politely state: "I have carried out the normal consumer tests, they do not need to be repeated, please conduct a line test now".

•  LET KEVIN KNOW the number affected, when you logged the fault and, later, when it was cleared.

The Background

There are perhaps 80 broadband connections in Colonsay and by mid-summer of 2016, it was found that about 24 of these connections were out of commission; in some cases the outage had last for as much as three months, and many subscribers were having to spend inordinate periods of time trying to report and re-report the problems. At the request of the Community Council, Kevin Byrne wrote to the supplier, and copied the letter to the MEP, MSP, MP and County Councillor. The text was as follows:

Broadband: Quality of Service and Fault-reporting Procedure, Colonsay

Following a public meeting of the above council, I have been asked to write to you on behalf of our community to seek some improvement as regards both the quality of our Broadband service and the procedure for reporting faults.

I may say at the outset that, rightly or wrongly, there is a perception in Colonsay that we are receiving a below par service on both fronts, and it is believed by some that this is deliberately orchestrated, so as to force subscribers to move to either satellite or some sort of DIY system. This is not a line that I wish to pursue, but it does indicate that customer relations are poor.

Although I wish to keep this letter as brief as possible, I should tell you that the island suffered a major lightning strike some six months ago, and that since then our Broadband has been worse than ever. One of your engineers, in private conversation locally, alleged that a major component had been damaged and that it had been decided not to replace it, so as to encourage the community to move away from [the current provider] and associate itself with an independent broadband initiative based in the neighbouring island of Mull. None of us can know if there is a word of truth in the allegation, but it was certainly made and, even if only in jest, it underlines the very poor relationship between this community and yourgoodselves in that it has gained widespread credence.

Ours is a remote community and obviously local businesses require reliable Broadband, but two other factors are particularly relevant. In the first place, the overall income of the community depends upon a successful summer-visitor trade and this is set at risk by inadequate service - our visitors need to be able to continue to conduct their own business whilst on holiday. Secondly, our young people live and work elsewhere, throughout Europe and worldwide - it is important that they can remain in touch with their families by FaceTime and social media, and it is essential that they can rely upon proper communications when they are on visits home, otherwise they simply cannot risk such visits.

•  Quality of Service : it would be pointless for me to recite chapter and verse when a full and accurate report must be readily available to you. There are about 70 households in the island and most of them will have an [existing] contract; to my knowledge, more than 10% are without a service as I write. As it happens, I have five connections myself and, at present, three of them are unserviceable. I stress however that I do not write today on my own behalf and I do not wish to produce a litany of complaint - instead, I request on behalf of this community that you would seek and consider an internal report on the situation. I should point out that even when a service is rendered, the speed can frequently fall below limits that your own equipment can reportedly measure, less than 0.5 mbps.

•  Fault-reporting Procedure : I hesitate to go into detail but, unless you have personally attempted to report a fault, you can have no conception of what is involved. The number to which one should report a fault may be answered by somebody in UK, or in India or by a machine - yesterday, in reporting three faults we had all three responses. The machine wanted us to use a SmartPhone, but we do not have mobile reception; the lady in India could not be convinced that the postcode of one of my premises is PA61 7YT; the UK lady was very helpful, but could not accept a report without somebody in the affected premises being there to carry out "tests" although, as is so often the case, all the usual tests (switch off/on; change the filter; remove the filter etc.) had already been conducted. Even worse, there is the fiction that the fault is in some way unique, when we know (and you know) that other subscribers on the same physical stretch of line are also without service. It will typically take three or four hours to report a fault, following which various "appointments" are made and broken, tying one pointlessly to the house. Eventually the whole thing has to be repeated, whereupon it is discovered that mysteriously the fault has been "closed out".

Under the circumstances I am to ask you firstly to investigate the quality of our service and put in train some level of improvement, as a matter of urgency. Secondly, I am to ask you to nominate a specific line of reporting whereby faults reported from Colonsay can be noted in a coherent fashion, rather as exists with HydroElectric and other agencies - for example, an arrangement whereby we could call your District Engineer and leave simple details of the affected connection(s), so that all such faults could be addressed on the next visit of your engineers.

Please do assure me that you are taking steps in this matter - it is a situation that will not resolve itself on its own. It will have to be addressed eventually and it must be better for all concerned if it can be attended to at once. To avoid doubt, I am asking for a satisfactory response within eight weeks, failing which our Community Council will escalate the matter to Ombudsman Services: Communications.

The Response

Our public representatives were very helpful and associated themselves with our problem. As might have been expected, a completely useless initial response came from the service provider, so totally pathetic as to be completely ignored, but then there came a very sensible and convincing telephone call from the Chairman and CEO of Business Complaints; on foot of that call we agreed the procedure to be followed, as at the top of this page and which was highlighted in an A4 poster at the shop. The following day, that same person followed up with a detailed Email message to confirm that "I have highlighted the issues raised and given to the senior managers of the teams involved and the appropriate action taken to improve our service to our customers. I trust that this gives you confidence that we will deliver a truly a better service to you and the residents in Colonsay".

In the meantime, the levels of complaint locally had largely diminished, although very few people actually reported that their connection had been restored. A few days later, another message was received, in the form of a letter from the Head of Policy and Public Affairs. The writer said that my original chart of complaints had been pursued and "we've reviewed every case and have taken feedback from each [relevant] account to make sure that the right parts of [our company] know where we went wrong and learn from it".

He goes on: "I acknowledge the frustration people feel who are part of a community that suspect there is a wider issue, but we still ask them to run individual tests. Although they may feel unnecessary and lengthy, I can assure you that they're very important since they help us to diagnose whether there's a problem in the network, especially in the early days of a network fault like this where the problem doesn't show during normal tests. Running through these checks means that we can book the right engineer to visit and our customers can rest easy knowing that they won't be charged for this".

Well, he is of course rather missing the point, but fortunately the CEO of Business Complaints had caught it. Naturally we are happy to comply with sensible diagnostic tests but quite clearly if more than a dozen connections are down and we have already switched on/off the device and fiddled around to check the filter behind the wall-plate we do not want to do it all over again under the supervision of somebody in Bombay; especially if we have already done so three or four times in the last few days, in a string of fruitless attempts to actually get the fault recorded. There is also the issue of finding the fault has been mysteriously logged as "cleared" when there has been so sign of an engineer visiting the island and no sign of any genuine intervention, meaning the whole process has to be started all over again....

Despite that rather disappointing catch-all paragraph, he does say "the feedback we've taken will be treated seriously"; it is unfortunate that there is no acknowledgement of the failure to ring-back when promised, the failure to honour appointments, the failure to ensure that individual outages are accurately logged when first reported and actually cleared without a string of follow-up calls.

The Way Forward

It is my own view that on this occasion our complaint did receive some genuine attention, and that our public representatives are prepared to be supportive. We must, in all fairness, take the assurances that we have received at face value but we need to produce facts and figures for the future. If all is well, we can say so, if not, we need hard facts to give to the company and also to our public reprentatives. Please make a resolution to proceed as follows: