For once, the lack of updates in this blog has been due to circumstances outside my control. I've been mugged by the UK's largest telecommunications company. BT took my phone line and forced me into a twelve month contract with them.
New neighbours moved into the house next door and asked for a telephone line to be installed. BT looked at their database and, instead of simply switching the previous tenant's account over to the new tenant, accidentally switched my telephone line over to my neighbour instead.
Now, I wasn't with BT. I paid my bills to another phone company who rented that line from BT (if you want to know why I wasn't with BT, just try phoning their customer support -- the number is 0800 800 880 -- and see how you get on).
So BT switched the line over in error, cutting me off without my consent. My old telephone provider said they couldn't reconnect me -- they needed that BT line back.
I called BT customer services on my mobile. They promised that their complaints department would contact me within 48 hours.
Of course they didn't.
I called them back: a three and a half hour phone call, during which time they kept me on hold for three hours. If I'd known it would take that long, I would have watched a couple of films, back to back.
BT informed me that they would reconnect the line within two working days. The cost to me? A mere £50 deposit. They refused to reconnect the line without this payment up front. If I wanted a phone I had no option but to cough up.
*Sounds of spitting fury from this end of the conversation*
And there was worse to come. Because BT disconnected my phone in error, and the only way I could get my phone line back was through BT, BT insisted that I sign up for a 12 month contract with them -- at a much higher cost than what I was paying my old provider.
"Is that legal?" I asked, incredulous. "It sounds like extortion."
They remained sympathetic, but insistent. Twelve month contract or no phone.
"I've had no phone or internet for a week a now," I explained, "and I need those reconnected so that I can work. I have a deadline. The final US proofs for my second book will be emailed to me any day now, and I need to be in contact with my editor -- I need to send documents and queries back and forth to the USA. If I can't do that, the book will be delayed and all the money Bantam spent on advertising will be wasted."
Again they remained sympathetic, but insistent. Twelve month contract or nothing.
And it really seemed that I didn't have a choice. I called every other phone company I could think of. They all told me the same thing: "We need a working BT line."
Obviously, this works out well for BT. By disconnecting the phone line of a customer with a rival company and by being the only provider willing to reconnect that line, BT can steal that customer away from the rival company and then strong-arm them into a new contract with themselves, all without that customer's consent. Good for the shareholders. Bad for customer relations, but then who cares about the customers, right? Three hours waiting on hold really nails that point home.
I'm told this is called "slamming" in the telecommunications industry. It feels like I've been mugged.
I needed a phone, so I had to pay, and I had to sign up for the 12 month contract. They didn't reconnect me in two days, as promised. The whole process took 17 days, during which time I remained cut off.
That's BT for you. If you're thinking of going with them for your phone, you can call them on 0800 800 880. If you decide to go with another company instead, you might end up with BT anyway.