I have an 8Mbps ADSL service with my ISP, PlusNet (formerly Force9, now owned by BT.) Except I don’t. It’s never run anywhere near 8Mbps. In fact, I thought I was still on a 2Mbps service until I enquired a while ago about an upgrade, only to be told I was already experiencing the thrill of an 8Mbps service.
The promise of this fantastic service sadly has not matched my experience with PlusNet. I have never seen my connection exceeded 1.6Mbps down. It has, in fact, got slower over the last couple of years, to the extent that the heady days of 1.6Mbps downstream seem a dim and distant memory. Every couple of months I’d lose another 200kbps or so from my connection speed. Once in a while I’d open a support ticket to see what my ISP could do to help me about it. Bugger all, is apparently the answer. BT (who own PlusNet) won’t investigate bandwidth issues on 8Mbps lines until the speed is 400kbps or less. Let’s just reiterate that. BT consider an ADSL service that reaches 6% of the advertised capacity to be working properly.
Well, today I noticed my connection crawling slower than ever before. Upon checking my ADSL modem, it reported that it was connected at just 224kbps. Even by BT’s rather pathetic standards this is classified as a fault, so I headed to my ISP’s support pages to log yet another support ticket. They have revised their reporting procedure for speed faults and now I have to run BT’s speed tester. This is a website which one visits but requires Java to be installed. This presented a problem as I run a 64-bit version of Linux and Sun (who make Java) haven’t bothered to make a version of their plugin for 64-bit Linux yet.
Fortunately I was able to find a 32-bit install which I could use, however the java application hangs at 96%. It seems I am unlikely to be able to progress my support request without this test having been run (as BT log the results of the tests on their servers and use it to check whether a line fault should be investigated.) It’s also worth mentioning that the speed tester site is a “stress test” for bandwidth. It times how long it takes to download a given amount of data and uses that to calculate the performance of the line. This sort of test is quite silly as it is easily affected by other applications or network resources using some of the bandwidth. However, the connection speed reported by the modem is always accurate and represents the maximum theoretical throughput the line can give in that session. So really that should be enough proof that the line is too damn slow, especially when the theoretical maximum is so pitiful. Here’s a screenshot from the web interface for my ADSL modem which should clearly communicate the state of my connection to someone who knows what they’re talking about:
That’s right, I have more upstream bandwidth than I do downstream. I decided to plough on with my support request and started to work through the broadband fault checker on the PlusNet website. First of all it asked me which Operating System, checked for known faults on the line and asked me what make of ADSL equipment I am using. All fair enough. It then asked me whether my issue was that I couldn’t connect at all, or whether it was a speed issue. I happily selected “speed”. The next question was whether I had ever been able to connect to my ADSL service. As if I was going to be complaining about the speed of an ADSL service to which I had never connected.
Pressing on, I was asked what date the service had last been fully working. Well, by BT’s metrics presumably sometime in the last week when it dipped below their magic threshold of 5% performance. However I consider the issue to be the gradual and continued degredation of my ADSL service, which started, as near as I can remember, back in September 2006. So I entered 01/09/06 in the date box, using the DD/MM/YY format requested. Next question was “On what date did the problem start?” Well, by logical extension this must be the day after the service was fully working. Surely? Unless I’ve missed some fundamental nuance in the question. So, I entered 02/09/06 as the date the problem started. Fail.
It seems there are some rather large usability flaws in the fault reporter. At this point I was left wondering which dates would be acceptable to PlusNet. Clearly the logical answer isn’t valid. I progressed the month and year values through the ages until I found one which the reporter accepted. Apparently January 2007 is the earliest a problem could have occured. Well, sadly, PlusNet is wrong in this case. The next suggestion was that a virus may be causing the problem. Well, a virus, or more accurately a network worm, might well be responsible for consuming upstream bandwidth and causing performance issues. However a virus wouldn’t cause the line to connect at such a slow speed in the first place. Also, while it is a worthwhile question for Windows users, all the machines in the house run Linux where there is no real virus threat at the moment.
The next step was the tenth of an undisclosed number. It required 3 completed speed tests using the BT speed tester site. You’ll have read already how this failed to work for me, and how, given the session connected as such a slow speed, a stress test of this particular fault is not hugely relevant. So I plumped for the option which said I’d completed the tests, figuring that I can explain the failure to actually run them once I’d opened the ticket. Constant or intermittent fault? Constant. I was able to give my explanation of the BT speed tester site in the futher comments box.
I continue to be amazed at the reliance of companies like PlusNet and BT on shoddy applications like this. I’ve been PlusNet’s customer for 6 years and yet they won’t help me resolve this issue despite their own logs showing a gradually decreasing connection speed. In fact, they seem intent on putting barriers in their customers’ way by using things like Java applications which exclude sections of their customer base. You really, really would think they’d know better. Right now, I’d be prepared to move to any ISP who charges about the same as I’m currently paying and would work with me, BT and whoever else to get my service back to what it was two years ago, because PlusNet don’t seem able to do so.Pin It