Wednesday, October 19, 2005

19 October 2005: Broader

As Wilma (the hurricane, not Mrs Flintstone) coils dramatically and seems to be preparing to smack into south-west Florida on the weekend, and as bird flu advances inexorably across eastern Europe, and as Saddam faces trial (at least until they adjourn) for murdering his own citizens, I found myself shocked by something a little less global in its range this morning.

I went to the student shop here on campus and found myself putting my purchased sandwich and ball of string (I need it to hang my chilies up to dry, ok?) into a black plastic bag that proudly displayed, in big white letters, "BULLDOG - Broadband from Cable & Wireless". I nearly dropped my purchases in shock and disgust. I mean, they were on the TV show 'Watchdog' just a few weeks ago, under fire from hundreds and hundreds of complaining viewers, and were questioned as to why they hired so many sales people yet had a vastly under-staffed support network. This meant that when a new customer signed up for their super-fast broadband service, and suddenly the phone stopped working, say, or the broadband speed was no faster than it had been before, they had no means of even logging the problems, let alone having anyone available to fix the problems. Followers of this blog will know exactly what I'm talking about. Bulldog responded, in front of a national television audience, that they weren't actively seeking new customers nor were they doing any kind of aggressive marketing campaign, instead they were ploughing their efforts into their support network and getting things fixed.

Which explains, presumably, why their web banners are over all the big ADSL sites and why they're spending money making plastic bags instead of getting our broadband up to the speed they promised me when I first signed up for their load-of-old-rubbish service. I will say this: the plastic bag does its job well, far better than their ADSL service. Perhaps they've found their niche?

But beyond that is the news that broadband will soon be brought to us by hot air balloon. No, not a joke, at least it's not the first of April: apparently its going to be better, and cheaper, than satellite broadband. Radio links on high-altitude balloons have already been shown by the University of York to give download speeds of 11Mbps (ten times our Bulldog speed, and that's when it hasn't lost the connection), and they think speeds of up to 120Mbps should be possible and commercially available within three to five years.

And that got me thinking: perhaps the plastic bag wasn't a bag at all, but a mini hot air balloon being trialled by Bulldog as part of their dodgy alternative. Fill it with the hot air from their sales reps, fit it with an old CB radio from the 1980s that keeps cutting out, and there you have it: Bulldog's vision of high-altitude broadband.

Which reminds me, whatever happened to that Ofcom investigation into Bulldog?

Update: within an hour of this blog appearing, The Register reports that Ofcom has cleared Bulldog on two conditions: firstly that they fulfil their pledge to improve customer services, and secondly that they give 'a material level of credit' to those who suffered the poor service. Also, any more spikes in complaints will result in a re-opening of the investigation. Maybe I should send the plastic bag to Ofcom as part of their evidence?

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