Sunday, 29 May 2016

Droney McDroneface

This is the start of a series of posts on drones.

Some may recall I got a Parrot AR ages ago, It was not easy to fly, rather flimsy, not good video, and not good in the slightest gust of wind, so hardly played with at all. If anyone wants to buy it - just ask.

However, at the weekend, I made the mistake of going in to the Apple shop while my wife and daughter were in Primark (it seemed the better option). I only wanted a lightning cable. Well, I left with a DJI Phantom 4.

I have to say the difference from the Parrot AR drone is unbelievable!

It is much more stable, much better picture, much easier to fly (has proper dual stick controller connected to phone/iPad, not using the iPad itself), way better in wind. It really does what it says on the tin!

The problem with drones are the rules! The Civil Aviation Authority and the Air Navigation Order. They are a bit complex, but basically there are restrictions flying near people and property. So short of finding some field somewhere you don't get to do much legally with the drone.

Well, I may have done a quick test flight (after getting hobbyist insurance on-line). Just up around down, from my property. Of course, instantly, my nosey neighbour came round (before I had even landed), asking what the rules are for drones now, and so on. I am not 100% sure if that is allowed. There is a "test flight" exception in the rules, and one related to property you have control over, but it may be stretching a point. I convinced him it was fine :-)

Sorry CAA, please don't prosecute me - I'm going to do it right now...

What that means is taking an approved course, with theory and practical tests, and then applying for a permission for aerial work from the CAA (for 12 months). Once I have that, subject to the rules on safety, and proper operating procedures, and so on, I will be allowed (from CAA point of view) to fly near buildings, and do things like aerial surveys of people's houses and stuff. I'll need insurance as well. I'll be able to do the flights commercially too. I'll need to consider any DPA issues and registration. Whilst I think it is obviously hassle, as it is a 4 day course, I am thinking I'll go for it. It will be a new skill ("certified drone pilot" sounds good). A&A already sells photographic services, why not start selling aerial photographic services, at least locally. With any luck I can pay for the drone and course with some work. I may even have two pilots on staff...

There will be a lot more on the process of getting training and permission in future posts. It will be a few months as I need to go do some proper practicing (in a field) first, and book the course, and do a practical test, and then apply for the CAA PFAW. I'll post more on this as I go.

In the mean time, just a few points on the drone itself. We did go find a deserted car-park with no people around, and permission to be there, and had a bit of a play well away from any nosey neighbour.

I have to say, one of the most impressive features is the tracking mode - I can point at someone on the screen on the iPad and tell it to track them, and it does - hovering, flying, and directing the camera. It has built-in collision detection and avoidance, and just flies itself. It also has GPS, and in the beginner mode was even smart enough not to follow someone anywhere near the road (restricted area!). Very smart.

The "home" mode is good too - using GPS, it shoots up like 30m, flies over everything and lands back at the start. And it can do that on loss of signal automatically.

The 4K video camera is excellent quality too.

So, assuming I maintain the motivation on this, more posts to follow and a new A&A service in the making...

Friday, 27 May 2016

Photographing children

Interesting article here on police intimidation in the UK.

Basically a reporter taking a couple of pictures for a story, having identified himself as a reporter, from a public street, where a school was evacuated because of a bomb scare.

The police intimidated him in to deleting the pictures!

The odd thing is some of the reaction on twitter. Some people seem to think that taking pictures of children is illegal. The police officers suggested the pictures may be for "personal use" and that somehow that made their request for the images to be deleted valid.

Now, let's put this in context. I do not think that even pedophiles find images of normal fully clothed children arousing. If they did, then they just need to get a copy of the Mothercare catalogue to be happy. And bear in mind that people see children in public places all the time. If someone finding a fully clothed child arousing was somehow a "harm" to that child, you could not take children out in public at all, just in case. Do consider, just going shopping with them, many CCTV cameras are taking a picture of your kids 25 times a second.

But just think about it - I bet every parent of every kid there has pictures of those children for "personal reasons" and did not for one second think that in some way wrong or illegal. I have loads of pictures of my kids and grandchildren, even with no clothes on! Bear in mind the vast majority of child sex abuse is by family members, so that is not an irrelevant comparison by any means.

This is nothing to do with pedophiles whatsoever. This is a lot to do with police state intimidation of the press!

I am shocked that any reporter caved in to this - but I can appreciate the police can be intimidating. That is the problem, after all. Personally, I hope I would have had the nerve to ask:-

"Either my taking these pictures is a crime, in which case you are asking me to destroy evidence of a crime, or it is not, in which case I can go about my business without intimidation from you. Which is it?"

Maybe I would not have the nerve. At best I would turn off, and hence lock, the phone and offer it to them to either use as evidence to charge me or to return later with an apology - and then leave the scene.

The fun part is that the technology is already changing, and I am surprised any reporter with any clue is not already set up to auto-upload all photos to his editor in real time as a matter of course. That solves the issue with a "sorry mate, already in the cloud, nothing I can do".

One thing someone asked if whether the "press" are special, and for the most part they are not. The freedom of the press is a basic principle of any free and democratic society, but everyone is allowed to take pictures in public, pretty much. The press do, however, have some exceptions in the Data Protection Act to cover public interest where personal information is involved, so the fact kids may be identifiable from such pictures would not be an issue when published.

So the problem goes away with technology, thankfully. But this does not address the total paranoia of people that think anyone with a camera is up to no good. We all have eyes, and can see what we can see in public - using a camera is not a big step from that and is legal and normal and sensible. I hope that the fact that almost all of us now carry several cameras all the time is going to change that paranoia.

P.S. As a courtesy I did check my daughter was happy for these pictures of my grandson to be published. The original taking of these pictures was not seen as any issue by me or her though.

When is a KCI3 not a KCI3

Sorry this is technical, but it is just so BT that it is scary.

This is one of the final niggles with the renumber+export process, one we can work around somehow and is mostly just an annoyance.

When the renumber order completes, we want to send another order to BT to set incoming barring on the newly assigned number. This is a number that will not be used and already has outgoing barring or direct connect on it. This is a final tidy of the line to be a "naked DSL" line.

So, the renumber order completes, and BT send us what they call an KCI3, which is to tell us the order is completed. There are a lot of clues in the XML including:-
  • LineStatus: Completed
  • CompletedDate: 2016-05-27T11:43:00
  • Message: Order Completed
KCI stands for "Keep Customer Informed", by the way. We feel very well "informed" with this message that maybe, just maybe, the order is now "Completed". Wouldn't you?

But it turns out that no, the order is not in fact complete. When we send the next order we are told "A pre-existing open order has been found on this line"!

Apparently there is still a "robotic process" which can take 24 hours, and we will get a KCI3 when it finishes. To my surprise we do, indeed, get one!

Same clues in the message:-
  • LineStatus: Completed
  • CompletedDate: 2016-05-13T11:38:14
  • Message: Order Completed
The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed a new "CompletedDate", one that is 14 days ago?!?!

The new "CompletedDate" looked familiar. We checked our original order, and we sent:-
  • RequiredByDate: 2016-05-13T11:38:14Z
This is actually when we created the order, as we want it ASAP, and BT adjust to the minimum lead time (10 working days). But wow! what a co-incidence! Except it is stranger still as the really eagle eyed will spot that 2016-05-13T11:38:14Z is not 2016-05-13T11:38:14. At this time of year they are an hour different. 11:38:14Z is in fact 12:38:14.

So it is almost like they plonked the UTC time of the CRD in to the CompletedDate as local (summer) time, in this robotic process, for an order that actually completed 14 days later.

I'd love to see that really special programming BT, and the comments that go with it. I wonder if, as a BT shareholder, I have any right to ask to take a look? I doubt it. Perhaps I should go to one of the shareholder meetings one day.

I'd also love to have a definitive way to tell the real KCI3 from the fake KCI3 so I can know when it is safe to send my next order.

The good news is that our "take over line and port number" system is apparently working right up to this point, and this is a minor last tidy up order which we can probably find a way around or do manually until BT fix it.

P.S. BT presumably use one of these big commercial XML B2B systems to do all of this. In A&A we use an XML library I knocked up. However, for us to do what BT are doing here would be really hard - we don't process date/times as text, they go in to a time_t right away, so we'd actually have to mess about taking 3600 off the date/time when in the summer to fill in the XML like this, it would be hard work.

Fun with numbers

As I have posted, we are working on stuff with BT renumbering and number export (which is going quite well now actually), but in part of the process I got to understand the BT systems a bit better.

For amusement I checked, and the quite distinctive telephone number that we first had when we moved to Bracknell was in the free number pool. We have not had that number for over 20 years now. So, as part of my testing I had a play, renumbered on to a line, and exported to VoIP. It worked!

I think it is quite cool getting a really old phone number back. I found I could get my wife's old house number from when she was a kid, but she was not at all interested. Maybe it is just me. It is not really a "service" we can offer though, sorry.

Anyway, first and only call so far on that number:-

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

M&S, could have been good, failed badly.

Tried ordering a shirt, that is all!

Welcome to M&S Live Chat. An adviser will be with you shortly.

I can't order. Watch
Thanks for your patience - an adviser will be with you soon.
Thanks for your patience - an adviser will be with you soon.
Thanks for your patience - an adviser will be with you soon.
Thanks for your patience - an adviser will be with you soon.
Magdalena has joined the session

Hi, this is Magdalena, welcome to M&S Live Chat. How may I help you today?

I can't order. Watch

Sorry to hear that.

Please can you confirm whether you are able to login to your M& account?

Have you watched that video?

It shows the whole problem

Unfortunately, I am unable to view the given video.

Well, I have gone to the bother of recording the exact problem, the fact the login button does nothing, the fact that trying to register again says my login failed, the fact you lost my order totally, all to make it easy, and have now published to a few thousands twitter and Facebook followers, and you cannot even watch it. That sucks

I'll just put on my blog, that has been known to get over a million hits a month. Maybe someone at M&S will be able to watch the video then.

Don't they let you have access to the internet?!?!?

If I give you a youtube link, does that help - uploading there now

I have raised an alert to the relevant department. Who will contact you within 24 to 48 hours. 

Ha, OK...

You can surely provide that. I will send it to the relevant department.

One moment


Youtube stuck at 95% processing, will have it in a moment

No problem.

And my blog

Thanks for providing that.

I'll look forward to their response...

Definitely our team will contact you within the given time frame.
Chat session ended

P.S. Apparently, for security reasons, their customer service team cannot view the video. I have been buying M&S shirts for decades, and I thought I would try one of their made-to-measure ones. Sounds like I'll find somewhere else to get shirts now.

ADR and broadband switching

Thank to ISP review for drawing my attention to Call for Evidence on Improving the Consumer Landscape and Quicker Switching issued by BIS.

As anyone that follows my blog knows I have some "views" on ADR! I feel like a dark part of my life has come back to haunt me just typing those three letters. I may go and lie down for a bit...

However, apart from a lot of scathing suggestions, I have made one concrete proposal that there should be some sort of on-line service to allow complaints to be registered to an ISP/telco. This would then automate the escalation to ADR, and allow the ombudsman access to the debate and evidence. It would avoid any confusion over whether something is a "formal complaint", the date of complaint, the content of the complaint, and if it has already been resolved or not.

Evidence re ADR (PDF).

The other point of interest is consumer switching. What is crazy is that OFCOM just finished a process of consultation and change to move broadband switching from 5 working days to 10 working days lead time, and gaining provider led. BIS want 7 working days!

Again, I have come up with a concrete proposal - one that avoids the need for a trade off between a long lead time to avoid slamming, and a short lead time for convenience. Simply add a positive confirmation message via losing provider (just as there is a reject via losing provider now) allowing order to move back to earlier completion date (even next day). This solves a lot of problems in one go, even the issue of fixing mistakes.

Evidence re Switching (PDF).

Let's see what they say.

P.S. If you want to submit evidence, the first email address in the BIS document does not work.[fixed]

20CN reprieve?

After my last post, the good news is there appears to be a rebate for some of the 20CN bandwidth on 20CN only exchanges. This is BT's wonderfully simple pricing at work! We are reviewing what this works out at exactly, but it looks like it gets a lot closer to breaking even than we expected, for now.

This gives 20CN a bit of a reprieve, at least for a few months.

However, the underlying problem remains that the 20CN is a reducing number of lines and has its own separate back-haul billing. So the end game is the same. Even if you got to as low as £50/Mb/s/month then that last one 8Mb/s 20CN line would cost us over £400/month, and as we reduce to fewer and fewer active 20CN lines, the costs get closer and closer to that level.

So, at some point, probably this year, we have to come up with a solution for how we handle the last 20CN lines. Right now, we'll leave pricing unchanged.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The 20CN dilemma...

[See also 20CN reprieve?]

Back at the turn of the century BT were deploying ADSL (broadband) equipment for the first time. Back then the equipment used ADSL version 1, with service profiles allowing 500kb/s, 1Mb/s and 2Mb/s. BT did a good job covering the many exchanges in the country even the smallest and most remote.

Since then, things have changed. 20CN allowed speeds up to 8.128Mb/s sync (7.15Mb/s IP throughput) with BT's "max" product and then came newer technology - BT's 21st Century network with new BRASs in the exchange equipment using ADSL2+. This offered sync speeds of 24Mb/s (21Mb/s IP throughput). The older kit was then called 20CN, and for over a decade BT have been upgrading exchanges to 21CN.

Now we have VDSL (FTTC) which is even faster with equipment in the street cabinet, but the fallback for all those lines not equipped with FTTC, or on direct exchange lines is still ADSL using 20CN or 21CN.

For as long as BT have been upgrading 20CN exchanges to 21CN, we have been moving customers to 21CN (free of charge). Even when BT were dragging their heels, if Talk Talk had kit (which is all 21CN / ADSL2+) we regraded people from 20CN to TT (free of charge). There are even a handful of cases where people can even go from 20CN to FTTC (but not to 21CN or TT).

The problem

The problem is that the upgrading of exchanges is taking a long time, and so there are a lot of very small exchanges with 20CN kit as the only option. The problem is made worse by the fact that BT charge a small fortune for back-haul for 20CN circuits. To put it in to context I could pay a transit provider that will guarantee no packet loss sending packets to thousands of interconnect points around the globe at a rate of under £1/Mb/s/month, but BT charge £138/Mb/s/month to send packets "best efforts" to a few hundred 20CN only telephone exchanges in the UK.

The big issue is that we have now got to the stage, after the latest batch of 20CN to 21CN regrades (which was around 1/3 of our remaining 20CN lines) that 20CN is making a significant loss for us.

We have worked out that on average, what we pay BT for the ADSL line and the bandwidth, is now around £60/month (plus VAT) per 20CN line. We have customers paying only £20/month on our older units tariff, £25/month on Home::1, and as little as £12.20/month where it is an extra line on units tariff. Yes, we do have people paying more for higher usage, but it is clear that overall we are now making a serious loss on the few hundred 20CN lines we have left.

We have to do something...

Abandon 20CN?

One solution is to abandon 20CN lines. For now, I have stopped sell on 20CN circuits, but if we find an alternative solution we may lift that. A simple solution would be to give customers a month's notice that we are ceasing their 20CN service, giving time to migrate to another ISP if they want. Many ISPs have stopped 20CN for the same reason.

This would be simple, but not very nice to customers.

Run 20CN as a non profit?

Another idea we are floating is that we make 20CN non profit - sell at cost price. The idea is that each month we would take the total bandwidth cost divide by number of lines, add the tail cost and advise people that for the following month that would be their price. Even publishing the figures clearly.

This would only cover the back-haul and ADSL line costs we pay to BT, not a share of the BT interconnects, or costs for running our network or transit or staff or anything else, so it would be very much the lowest tangible element of cost and selling as "cost price".

The issue is that it is likely to be around £60/month (plus VAT) per 20CN line now, and that can really only get worse. Obviously when usage drops, as people leave, the cost of back-haul goes down, but so do the number of lines. The end game would be one line left, getting 7.15Mb/s throughput and costing, to allow for 8Mb/s back-haul, £1,104 per month, plus VAT. That would be crazy, but so would us paying that for one customer that pays us £25/month - so a line has to be drawn somewhere.

What should we do?

Which of these ideas make sense, or are there other options? Very keen to hear feedback on this.

Obviously if BT have some sudden plan to update all remaining 20CN only exchanges in one go in a few months, we'd be prepared to wait. I doubt that will happen, sorry.

P.S. Notice..

Whatever we do we have to let end users know in advance, but I am not sure it makes much odds if one month, three months, or six months. At the end of the day, either you are able and prepared to move to another ISP or cease service, or you are not. If you are, you only need 2 weeks notice to migrate so a month gives 2 extra weeks to decide. If you are not, then when you get cut off, or whatever we do, does not make much difference apart from how long we spend losing money. As such, whatever we so, I suspect it will be with a clear calendar month's notice.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Apple practising bistro mathematics

Rather annoyingly I smashed my iPad mini coming back from the beer festival. I dropped it about 4 times, and only when I finally got home did I finally manage to smash it on my driveway. Gutted.

As James now works in Reading I asked him to pop in to the Apple store for me. They said they replace them now at discounted price, and would have to order one. They said it would be £207.50 and handed him the quote.

Turns out the quote has the rather odd mathematics as shown on the right whereby the price is £207.50 (as advised) but somehow it makes a total amount due of £229.00!

I cannot fathom that at all. Even the Total states £207.50 and £229.00, which is it?

Well, it turns out that it is actually £249.00. Yes, that is what they actually charged the card for the new iPad. James did not notice until he got home.

This sort of mathematics would have made Douglas Adams proud.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

New door, and google image search

Having done the garage conversion, Sanda went a bit mad on doing up the house, including renewing all of the double glazing in a dark brown instead of white.

But she wanted a new front door, a proper one.

We asked a local firm to quote for a solid wood door, and they came up with a figure and some pictures. It was a tad pricey.

But one of the doors in the pictures looked exactly what Sandra wanted. However, I had a moment of inspiration and did a google image search for the door she liked from the image in the quote.

I found the image they had sent had in fact been lifted from someone else's web site! What a cheek...

I contacted the company that actually made the door, Taylor Made Joinery Ltd, and their quote for the same door was about two thirds of the price. They even had custom leading on the glass done for the windows.

Anyway, they installed it today. Couple of minor snags. Sandra went for the multipoint locking mechanism rather than the electric locks, which is a shame. I have some more ABS lock cylinders coming tomorrow as it comes with cheap locks.

But, overall, it was an exact fit. The fitter did a good job, and properly screwed it in to the brickwork (with screws behind the hinges so no wood plugs in the frame). Interestingly the old double glazing unit was stuck in with expanding foam, and that was it. A good pull would have taken it out of the brickwork altogether!

Monday, 16 May 2016


Wow, there is a top level domain for .rip. which is nice. Makes sense with more and more memorial web sites.

What surprised me is that it is just like any other of the of the TLDs, and sells 2 to 10 year registration. I think they missed a trick. It should be like £500 for 100 years registration as only option... Would make a lots of sense for a memorial domain.

I assume that is what .rip. is for!

Maybe I should grab now, just in case.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Barclays cut off times?

I worked out long ago that internal account transfers on Barclays are cut off at 18:30 local time.

This means that whilst the transfer is instant, the effective statement date is based on whether before or after 18:30 local UK time.

Well, they have added some text to the transfer now stating, so I assumed it had changed :-

So I followed the link.

So they are stating, categorically, that for a UK sterling transfer the cut off is 18:00 GMT (19:00 BST).

Well my transfer was in time... 18:44 BST, but is dated the 16th.

Don't lie to me Barclays. And don't think of charging because I was £2 over drawn today because you did not do the transfer TODAY.

Also, one wonders why the hell the cut off is not 00:00:00 like normal clocks!

It is possible to move number to VoIP and not kill broadband!

Finally I can confirm it is possible - we have done it - we have managed to port a BT landline number to VoIP without breaking the broadband on the line in question, just renumbering it to a new number.

We have a long way to go still...
  • BT are giving us no clue as to whether they have fixed the underlying issue with orders like this, or if they just managed to brute force one of the orders through.
  • There is still an issue on lead time (currently 10 days) which will make the process slightly messy.
  • We still have to co-ordinate with a VoIP provider to handle the ports, but that is looking like it may be solved this morning.
  • We have an issue that TalkTalk reference the broadband by its phone number, but have no process to update that on a renumber, which will break all sorts of things.
However, this is a major milestone - a ported number on a phone line with broadband and the broadband not breaking in the process.

I really should not be quite so pleased that such a simple task has been achieved, but it is one of those massive battles that has lasted well over a month with multiple emails to BT every day. At least now we know it is actually possible and can work on making this a proper product that people can order from us.

We'll be in touch with the people that have contacted us to trial this as soon as we have ironed the last details out with BT. Thank you for your patience.

P.S. We think it is working well enough that we are now allowing the take-over-line and port-number orders on A&A broadband ordering page if customers want to try this. We have people in BT that are taking it seriously and prepared to help sort any issues out.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Check my physics here...

As we have already seen there are moves afoot in Europe to reduce the power of various household appliances.

Update: See comments below - as this sounds like bad media reporting.

We have seen this in tumble dryers already, and there is a report (here) on kettles, toasters, and hair dryers.

Now, I am not going to debate the whole climate change thing! It makes a lot of sense for things to be more efficient in what they do, and save energy. I agree with that!

My problem is that some things are generating heat as what they do, and that is pretty much 100% efficient from electricity. There are tricks to do more, such as air-con, which is clever, but that does not help when talking about a toaster or hair dryer or kettle generally.

A kettle is a perfect example - an amount of energy is needed to raise the temperature of a quantity of water from room temperature (e.g. 20℃) to boiling (e.g. 100℃). There are some issues with heat loss from the container in to the environment, but the main factor, as I understand it, is the energy to heat the water.

You can heat the water quickly or slowly. If quickly you have a "high power" device, which is what they want to ban. If you heat it slowly you do not actually save any energy at all, you just take more time and cause more annoyance for the user.

Now, I am sure that there are some things where the power usage is not purely on heat and as such it may do a similar job with less energy - making something more efficient. But some things, like toasters, kettles, hair dryers, tumble dryers, and the like, are there to impart energy as heat. That is their job. That is what they do!

How exactly do any of these initiatives save energy in any way?

It is always worth remembering that people will be people so there is a side effect of such changes. In my house we have seen this happen. We used to have a US style tumble dryer - high power. When it finally broke we tried to get a new one and could not - all were much lower power because of EU rules. It was annoying. So, the simple solution, we purchased a "commercial" tumble dryer instead. It was not much more expensive. It needed a 30A feed which was not that hard to arrange, and is way more powerful than we had before.

So the EU initiatives have resulted in us buying a way more powerful device.

The same will happen with kettles and toasters if they are limited by EU directives.

At the end of the day, the energy we use depends on efficiency of devices, and more modern devices tend to be more efficient. Yes, save energy, but why try and save power on devices whose job is to impart energy - that makes no sense at all.

P.S. Simple example, room temperature 20℃, heating element 21℃, next to bread to make toast. Will the bread turn in to toast? No. It may turn in to stale bread given long enough, and use energy doing it. Clearly at this extreme of "low power toasting" nothing happens.

Friday, 6 May 2016

BT plc anticompetitive stonewalling?

We have now tried a simple BT order called a "Renumber and number export" some 11 times in the last month.

It is a relative new system, created about a year ago. This is a simple concept - the existing number on a phone line is renumbered to a new number, and the old number is "exported" to a new telco (in this case a VoIP provider).

The key thing here is that it is done by the existing BT wholesale line provider sending the number to the new telco, and not the new provider grabbing the existing number (and service). When grabbing the number the line is always ceased, and so is any broadband.

The key reason for using this type of order is that this will not break the phone service, it carries on with the new number, and it will not break the broadband. A renumber does not upset broadband. This is the crucial bit, and will allow us to offer our "copper pair" service for broadband with a VoIP service for the number. A new package which is already popular even though we have not launched it yet. So many people do not use a "phone line", but many would like to maintain their old "number" anyway.

The problem is EVERY SINGLE ORDER has failed!

The failures are not all the same, we have three lines we are testing with. Some go through to "Committed" stage quickly and even allocate the new number for the line, some "Committed" and no new number. Either way, on the two week lead time (which is meany to be 4 days) they fail and get cancelled. Some get stuck in "Acknowledged" state indefinitely and never progress at all.

The issue here is nobody in BT plc is prepared to actually fix the issue. We are told "there is an exception, wait 24 hours for it to clear". The "wait 24 hours", or "there will be an update at end of day" are classic stalling tactics to make us go away for another day or a weekend. Meanwhile nothing is fixed, nothing is explained.

This is hampering our ability to launch this new product of "broadband and copper pair and move number to VoIP" which so many customers would like from us, and is clearly ANTI COMPETITIVE. BT plc presumably want to hinder us and hinder competition and have every interest in stalling us at every stage. They have no commercial interest to actually make this type of order work at all, it seems.

Now, let's be clear. WE ARE HAPPY TO WORK WTH BT and I have said this many times. If this is some technical glitch, or change to how we send the order or whatever, I am more than happy to work with BT to fix this. The problem is BT seem incapable and unwilling to work with us.

We are over a month of this now, and the latest, apart from "update by end of day" which has not happened, was "this order DN status shows Working which needs to be spare if it's for renumbering"!

Now just a second - when we renumber a line the existing line has to be "working" and the number "working" not "spare". What the fuck are they on about? No explanation (after 3 hours since I asked) for this odd comment. We have had every excuse under the sun, with how orders have exceptions, are not built correctly on their system, and not a SINGLE instance of someone saying WE HAVE FIXED IT, let alone explained the problem.

Next step, OFCOM! BT plc are clearly, in my view, being anticompetitive. This needs fixing. I am available to work with BT on this all weekend, but if not sorted by Monday it will be formal complaint and threat of involving OFCOM.

P.S. Letter drafted, solicitor checking it first, will go to formal complaint 9am tomorrow.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

#IPBill commons committee stage... Was it worth it?

Looking at the report here, I see almost entirely typographical or grammatical changes and nothing else.

These include serious changes like:-

And perhaps the most meaningful change I can see is:-

I know there were many proposed changes (I help draft one) that would actually impact meaning. I see almost nothing that does that.

The Lords have their job cut out for them now.

P.S. I was a bit confused as the date is April, but no, this is the changes released start of May...

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

ASA broadband and "line rental"

Once again the ASA are not quite getting to grips with how things work in their latest set of rules on broadband pricing.

The good news appears to be that they "recommend" adverts "Show all-inclusive up-front and monthly costs; no more separating out line rental". Well, I am fine with recommendations, it is only when they start treating them as rules that make no sense that I have an issue.

So, first off, I welcome anything that makes adverts clear on what you get and what it costs and indeed I expect adverts to be clear on everything. I do find it a tad annoying that you get things like this, which is BT saying their Phone only package for unlimited weekend calls is £0/mth and then £17.99 line rental in small grey print. Note that this is just an advert for phone service, not broadband, so not covered by new ASA ruling. Similar adverts for broadband where a line rental is required are also annoying.

So I see where the ASA are coming from.

But saying we have to include the line rental in the main price is going to cause confusion.

For a start, companies not offering line rental don't have to, so before we did line rental A&A could advertise our entry level Home::1 package with 100GB as £25/mth and people would compare to ISP offering broadband for £27.99/mth. Except that the £27.99/mth includes £17.99/mth line rental so not a fair comparison.

But because we happen to also offer line rental (well, copper pair, no phone service) as an option we will have to quote our Home::1 package as £35/mth. This makes comparison to £27.99/mth easier to make, except you are not comparing like for like. For a start, our broadband will have different characteristics in terms of usage levels, type of line maybe, technical aspects, top up costs, and so on, but if you are really comparing solely on price (who does that?) then it is easier to compare.

There are, of course, companies offering Internet Access by some means which does not require any sort of "line rental". Their prices will look good, except for when people think that they will include a telephone service with them. Why would they? But if all adverts are prices as including a telephone service then consumers will assume that comes as part of a broadband package even when it does not.

We will have a similar problem in that a lot of people will expect "line rental" to provide a telephone service and even some calls included maybe. Our "copper pair" is cheap, only £10/mth, but does not do that. So if someone comes to us paying £25/mth and retains a BT line at £17.99/mth then they are paying £42.99/mth and not the £35/mth we advertised. To get that price they would have to take "line rental" from us. Whilst we have a lot of people taking a "copper pair" from us for broadband, the majority still use someone else for "line rental", so the advertised price of £35/mth is not meaningful to most customers.

We are working on a way to more seamlessly move numbers to VoIP, but again, that is confusing as we charge £1.20/mth for the VoIP plus call charges, so to compare against a phone line (even forgetting call costs) you need to have us advertise a total of £36.20/mth to include "line rental" and a "telephone service" (albeit VoIP) and "broadband" in one package. The ASA do not seem to have gone that far in what they are asking. What is scary is there is some comment on some news that the total package price including TV should be shown one day. Why assume that people are always buying a bundle?

At the end of the day we will have some ISPs advertising a headline price that has no line rental (but still you need it with someone like BT); others advertising a price that includes line rental which is optional at a price which will not apply to most customers that won't take that option but still use BT line rental; Others advertising a package price including their mandatory line rental; and others advertising a price for some pure fibre service or wifi or other type of service with no telephony included.

How will customers be expected to understand the differences?

Personally I would have said that any pricing should quote clearly any mandatory components with the same prominence. E.g. "Internet access £35/mth, copper pair £10/mth" or something.

Given this is a recommendation, we'll review the best way for us to present pricing on our web site to be as clear as possible.