For 3 days I have been without Internet. This is the longest I have been without Internet since I first got dial up in 1999. OK, I am writing this by tethering my mobile (Android/PdaNet) so I do have an Internet connection, just not the broadband service that I am paying Opal Talk Talk for.
So, what is the problem? On Saturday afternoon I lost the ability to access websites. That simple. My email and Skype still show a connection, although the Skype appears to keep losing and regaining the connection. Websites just load very very slowly or not at all.
On Satuday I called Opal Talk Talk (Opal is the business to business service offered by Talk Talk, it was previously Freedom2Surf) and the chap I spoke with suggested that the likely problem with an IP issue (I have a static IP address, required to access off site servers). We changed the DNS settings in both Vista and the router to the static ones Opal use, instead of using the dynamic ones. That did not work.
So he said that he would change the IP from static to dynamic and that should clear it up. At about midnight I checked the connection and rebooted the router to be sure, and the IP was updated. But still not website access.
On Sunday morning I called Opal again, after being on hold for almost 15 minutes, and was advised that the likely problem was with the router. After the Opal technical guy reset a few things, the router could no longer authenticate, so he concluded that my router was probably faulty. I bought a new router on Sunday from PC World, spending more than I would normally, but I was desperate to be online again to work on Monday (I work 7 days a week being a self employed web designer / consultant).
I installed the new Belkin (G Wireless Modem Router) on Sunday afternoon, and lo and behold, still no website access. It seemed I had wasted my money, and insulted my trusty old Netgear 834 with the additional Netgear WG602 Wireless Access Point that had treated me so well over the last 8 or so years.
I tried calling Opal and just got an answer machine (phone calls never responded to) and so sent a message to their support group (not replied to). On Sunday night I ran my antivirus software and went to bed.
Woke up on Monday, AV said all clear, so that was good to know (I use Avast! and it updates on a regular basis). Still no web access. So I then called Opal again. Monday quickly became a very stressful day.
Firstly I was on hold for about 20 minutes before finally getting through (remember, this is their business support line, so you would hope that they were a bit quicker). On this call I explained everything (again). We decided to try the DNS settings again, and no change there. The next idea was to try another computer. I said that I had done this already but the other computer was having the same problem. But the technical guy insisted, so I plugged in the laptop. Same problem. He then asked if I had a third computer to try….. well, I did, and I tried, no luck. Shocking.
The next idea (at this point I started to feel that they were clutching at straws) was that I just had too many Internet connections and this was making it slow. I had about 40 connections whereas the “norm” is about 10 to 20, apparently. This must be the problem. I said no, I have been running this PC very well on a slower connection without any problem, and reminded him that the other computer had the same problem. And yes, I had run anti-virus before calling.
His next idea was that we connect the router to the BT test socket, so he got me to go downstairs and remove the front plate of the main BT telephone point. I did that, went back the phone and had lost connection. He failed to mention that removing the front cover would disconnect the call. This got me a bit angry. I had been on the phone with him for about 40 minutes at this point. I called back. In hindsight it was a good thing as on the next call I got someone who was capable of actually diagnosing the problem rather than taking me through the same steps over and over again.
On the fourth call I got through to a new chap, and told him the whole story (again). Oh, was on hold for another 14 minutes before the call was answered. This chap was called Robert and was actually much more helpful than the first three. After talking through the whole thing for about 10 minutes, we tried the DNS settings again. Same result. We did some pinging from the command prompt, and even when pinging Google it was losing packets. We tried booting Vista up in Safemode to check if any other programs could be the problem, but the slow web remained in safemode. Robert also got me to remove the front plate of the BT box, but he was clever enough to take my mobile number first. We did this. Oh, I skipped a part.
The next phase in diagnostics was line testing. As we had determined it was not a router problem, or a DNS problem or a computer problem, then there must be a line fault. A test with the modem in the office showed that there was a “voltage issue”. As this could be an internal problem the next step was to connect direct to the BT master socket. Another test showed that the “voltage issue” was still there. Robert agreed that an engineer should now investigate on site. I had requested this initially, but they decided that I was the best person to carry out all the tests! I spent about 2 hours today messing around with it, what with the multiple calls, being on hold for almost 40 minutes in total and doing all the rebooting, restarting, unplugging modems and connecting them up downstairs in the hallway. It was 10.35am when I fished the last call I think, having first called at about 8.30am.
So, I have been assured that an engineer will visit the relay station within 48 hours and then if the problem is not fixed there, someone will come to the office to try to fix it. Although this will cost me if it turns out the problem is internal, but Robert at Opal Talk Talk does not think so because …..
Steps to Diagnose and Repair slow Internet / Web loading problem
- We changed the DNS settings in the computer (Control Panel\Network and Internet\Network Connections\Local Area Connection Properties\ TCP/IPv4 Properties) and on the router.
- We tried two different routers, different models
- We tried two different computers, same problem on both
- Ran anti-virus on main computer
- Confirmed no new software on the computers
- Tried in safe mode (so no other programs running) and still slow
- Tried in test socket, still slow
- Line test showed a “voltage issue” that was external to the property as it appeared when the router was plugged into the test socket.
So now I am waiting for an engineer to call, hopefully with some good news. But all this worries me. Why?
My Main Concerns Now
- I could lose a lot more work time while waiting for the repair to be done. At the moment I cannot access secure sites on my mobile connection, so cannot analyse web server logs and manage any of my advertising or webmail. All Google applications are unavailable and that includes Analytics, Adsense, Webmaster tools, Gmail, Google Docs (all my spreadsheets, daily task lists, reports).
- If they cannot fix the problem, which seems crazy to think, but may happen, where does that leave me? Their contract is clear, for me to cancel I need to pay a fee of £300. Great. Looking at the Opal Talk Talk contract worries me further though, as it is a 2 year contract, but to cancel after the 2nd year costs £125. How does that work? I assume it means that the contract is 2 years, but they will automatically renew it after 2 years and then still charge me £125 if I decide I was a different supplier. Hmm.
- What if they argue that it is my fault (again) even though Robert said that it could not be, because of all the tests done?
- If it takes too long my mobile supplier will start charging for excessive 3G usage. I need to upgrade some software but that will eat into my tiny 500Mb per month bandwidth.
You see, I have never received replies from any of the emails I sent via their customer service form. This is worrying. I even said that if the problem was not resolved I would cancel the contract. That should have prompted someone to respond, but it did not. Maybe they are the type of B2B company that provides a discounted service but as soon as a serious problem arises they do not have the resources or even desire to fix it. Of all the tech support people I spoke with, only 1 was actually truly helpful and listened to what I said. The others just got me to go through the same steps over and over and were reluctant to call an engineer. Maybe “not their jobs worth”?
Anyway, thank you Robert of Opal Talk Talk, lets hope the engineer fixes it, tells Opal customer services and I get that call I have been promised.
What to look for in a home / office Broadband Internet Service Provider (ISP)
All this got me thinking (and researching) about what makes a good ISP. So I have come up with a list of things to look for / ask when ordering.
- Is the customer support helpline operated 24/7 with people that know what they are talking about? (Talk Talk has been criticised on some forums for having excellent sales staff on call but not enough tech support).
- Do they have their own team of engineers that can go the the telephone exchange and do on site checks? Do they have engineers to come to your home / office and check your systems? If so, how long do you have to wait for them to come? Do they charge you extra for this?
- If you wish to cancel your contract because they are not providing the service you are paying for, can they still charge you £300 to cancel? Opal do, and as the telephone line works and I can receive emails (just about) then they could argue that it is only the higher speed web broadband I am not getting, so bad luck.
- Do they provide any compensation for loss of service? Opal Talk Talk do not, at least no more than the cost of the service itself. So 3 days without Web access will mean I could possible claim compensation of about 99p (based on the £10 per month broadband deal). Not good when you have about 30 websites to manage and clients wanting updates, reports, analytics etc.
There are probably many other things to think about, but I am exhausted from barking up the wrong tree all day and getting nowhere.
So what next? Who knows…. hopefully I will be able to comment with some good news tomorrow.
If anyone else in Great Baddow is having problems with broadband from any provider, especially from Opal, Talk Talk or Carphone Warehouse (I think they are all the same company now) then please leave a comment below. Or if you have had problems with Opal Talk Talk, with the quality of tech support or on site engineers, then speak up.