British Telecommunications plc has never been my favourite company. I often thought about switching to a cheaper telephone company, but I rely heavily on an uninterrupted telephone supply, and some of the horror stories I heard from people who had switched companies always put me off the idea. So it was always a case of the devil you know.
I was one of the first people in the UK to be hooked up to broadband. Hastings was one of the first three towns to be equipped, and I somehow managed to find myself at the front of the queue. What a difference it made, no longer having to wait for ages for a page to download. A superfast 500k!
I moved premises after a couple of years, only half a mile, and kept the same two phone numbers. Transferring the broadband connection was no simple matter though. I had to give a month’s notice to terminate my existing contract, and then start a new, minimum one-year contract. I had something to say about that, as you can imagine, but they were intransigent. That was their only procedure. I was probably the first person with broadband to move house, so they’d never had to deal with it before. It’s much easier now.
So I terminated the contract and started a new one at the new premises. A few days later I received a letter which began, “We are sorry you’ve decided to terminate your contract with BT…”.
I don’t know why, but that really irritated me.
So a telephone engineer arrived at the new premises and hooked me up to broadband. Great! Everything working fine.
A few days later, the same engineer turned up to disconnect it again! He was as puzzled as I was, but those were his instructions.
I quickly sussed out what it was. The 30-day notice on the contract at the old premises had just expired, so he had instructions to disconnect the broadband at that telephone number. But I’d taken that telephone number with me, so it was now showing my new address on their records, which is why he’d turned up at the wrong place.
But it was too late! The broadband had already been disconnected at the exchange. He’d just turned up to pick up the equipment.
I was furious, as you can imagine, but I managed not to take it out on the engineer. He was actually a very nice guy, and as helpful as it was within his powers to be. But what was done was done, and apparently it couldn’t be undone. There was no alternative apparently but to go through the whole line-testing and setting up procedure before my broadband could be reconnected.
I spent hours on the phone – mostly on hold, and being passed through several different departments – and I sent several emails. I never got a reply to any of them, and I never managed to speak to anyone who had a clue what was going on. I never got an apology, and I certainly never got a refund for the 10 days that I was without the broadband that I was paying for.
I gave up in the end. The broadband was reconnected and the stress of trying to get anywhere with BT just wasn’t worth it.
I mentioned that I had two phone numbers. I didn’t really need two lines any more. I don’t know why I didn’t terminate one of them when I moved. I should have done. And I thought about doing it shortly after I moved, but the number I wanted to give up was the line with the broadband, and the thought of all the hassle it would entail after what I’d just been through, moving the broadband from line to the other and probably being without it again for 10 days, put me off the idea. So I kept paying for a second line that I no longer needed. Silly really.
It was two years before I managed to pluck up the courage to do something about it. And boy do I wish I hadn’t.
My first point of contact was Beryl, who told me that it wouldn’t be a problem and that it would only take two or three days. But it didn’t happen. I spoke to numerous people over the next few weeks, who all promised me it would happen, but it never did. The only thing that did happen was that that my broadband connection was eventually terminated on one line, but not connected to the other.
I’d love to tell you the whole story, because I kept it all documented, having learnt the essential necessity of this from past experience. It’s all there; dates, times, who I spoke to, what they said, what the outcome was, and what did or didn’t happen.
But I doubt there’s enough storage space on WordPress’s supercomputer to tell you the whole story. Suffice it to say that what I was told would take two or three days took two or three months, and ended up with me having my telephone and broadband disconnected by BT, and my contract terminated, because of hundreds of pounds of unpaid telephone bills.
But there were no unpaid bills. Everything was up to date. I didn’t owe them anything. It was all caused by BT amalgamating two separate billing departments into one at exactly the time I decided to cease one of my telephone lines and transfer the broadband to the other line.
You wouldn’t believe the number of different people I spoke to on the phone, and the hours I was kept on hold. It was many weeks before I eventually managed to speak to someone who was clued up and who sorted out the whole sorry mess. He was fantastic, I have to say. He couldn’t believe that such a fiasco could have occurred, and was acutely embarrassed by the whole thing. I ended up receiving compensation and quadruple the bandwidth I was paying for, free of charge.
I never really got a chance to use it though, because two weeks later I came to Cyprus.
So how does the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority (CYTA) compare?
Well they’d have to go a long way to measure up to the incompetence of BT. But they’re trying. They’re giving it a go.
Broadband speeds are ridiculously slow. I’m paying for a 1M connection which I never achieve. 500k is the best I can ever expect – the speed which I was so delighted to have all those years ago, but which now seems not much better than using dial-up. That’s because as broadband speeds have increased, so has the amount of graphics information on most web sites.
The broadband connection was very unreliable in the first few months, often dropping out, but it’s been pretty stable in the last few months.
It isn’t cheap either. £35.65CYP per month just for the broadband. £8CYP per month on top of that for the landline fixed charge. That’s about £50 sterling per month before you’ve even made a call.
But telephone calls are very cheap here, as are mobile telephone calls. However, if you’re not a home-owner then they require a £100CYP deposit for the landline. And if you want a mobile phone contract, which makes the calls even cheaper, then they want a £300CYP deposit. As I have no desire for the millstone of owning a home again, I had to fork out the deposit for the landline, and use pay-as-you-go for the mobile.
Thankfully, there have been no problems with billing. They send me a bill. I pay it. And that’s that.
Until this morning, that is…
It’s started. The incompetence has started. Everything’s about to go horribly wrong. I just know it.
There was a letter from CYTA in the post this morning dated 15th September. Two weeks ago.
“According to our records, there is an outstanding amount of £43.99…”
No there isn’t! There’s never been an outstanding amount of £43.99. Where did that come from? The bill they’re referring to was for £45.06 which was paid three weeks before the date of this letter.
I’ve got 20 days to pay it apparently before they cut me off, 13 of which have already expired.
“It is also noted that your bill for August which amounts to £8.45 is not yet settled.”
You’re quite right. But it’s not due to be settled yet!
And £8.45? If only!
“CYTA is committed to providing uninterrupted, high quality service, but this naturally requires the timely settlement of any obligations by its customers.”
What a lovely way of putting it. “Pay up you bastard or we’ll pull the plug!” That’s what they meant.
And they might want to rethink the wording of ‘uninterrupted, high quality’.
“For the preparation and sending of this letter, due to the non timely settlement of your bill, CYTA has been forced to bear additional costs…”
Here we go. Another £25 added to the bill no doubt.
“…and thus £0.50 plus VAT will be charged on your next bill.”
50 cents! What costs is that going to cover? The cup of tea that whoever instigated this fiasco was drinking at the time?
“Reconnection of any disconnected services will entail reconnection fees to be charged. The reconnection fees applicable at present are itemised on the reverse of this letter.”
Why? Why make me turn the letter over when you could have put it here?
So I turn the letter over expecting to see £40 or £50.
“The applicable reconnection fees are as follows:
Analogue telephony – £1”
Not much of an incentive to make you pay the outstanding amount is it? They should take a lesson from BT. Or British banks!
So, 50 cents for a letter. £1 to be reconnected. I think I can just about afford that.
But the whole point is of course, that I don’t owe them any money. And ok, it says at the top of letter “Please ignore this letter if you have already settled your outstanding bill”, which I have. But no doubt I shall be charged the 50 cents for the letter, and I shall of course take issue with it. As ever, it’s not the money, it’s the principle. (ok, you’re right. I enjoy it too!)
But the worrying thing is that I settled it three weeks before this letter is dated. In person at CYTA’s shop. In cash. I have the receipt in front of me. So it went onto the computer that day. That instant. So how come the computer is spewing out a very nicely worded pay-up-or-we’ll-break-your-legs letter, containing two erroneous amounts, a whole three weeks later.
Is history about to repeat itself? Am I about to undergo the trials and tribulations, and all the accompanying stress that only a utility company or a bank is capable of inflicting? Will I be deported for smashing up the CYTA shop in a fit of temper?
I’m a nervous wreck after reading that letter. I can see it all. I shall visit CYTA rather than phoning them, and they will assure me that it’s all been a terrible mistake, and apologise profusely…
…and next week my phone will be cut off!
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I’ve already been on the blower to George about this one. He thought it was very funny. But he says not to worry because he’s going to invade Cyprus anyway as soon as he finds out where it is, and start his own company called The Bush Telegraph!
He also said that Nicosia sounded like a good place to get his wife some new underwear!