So what do I want from an ISP? Certainly providing a reliable, quick connection is a major factor; but that’s not the whole story, there are two other considerations. Firstly things never stay the same in this marketplace so how well do they rise to challenges? Secondly at some point something will go wrong so how well do they respond to issues?
Having been heavily committed to the Plusnet Community (where I have the second highest post count of any user) and other forums I think I’ve got a good overview of how things are in the world of Plusnet so let’s take a look at what’s been happening. Some of these affected me directly but all influenced my opinion on the soundness of Plusnet as my choice of ISP.
Many people think of IPv6 as a new version of the internet. It’s not new – IPv6 has been around for over 20 years and it’s only since the pool of IPv4 addresses ran out that many providers have done anything about it. Back in 2011 Plusnet had developed and internally tested of what was needed for IPv6 and started a trial with around 20 users. A further trial started in 2013. This looked good and it appeared Plusnet was all set to steal a march on all the other large ISPs. So what’s happened since then?
- When the bng gateways were introduced it was found IPv6 didn’t work properly on them (users only get their correct address when they managed to hit an ag gateway).
- In the last year Plusnet have been moving users to their “new” WBMC Dedicated network. Why IPv6 wasn’t a key requirement of this I fail to understand.
- Recently it’s been announced that the ag gateways are being retired – see
Users have been requesting secure email for many years and Plusnet had been promising its coming for just as long. Late 2014 a selected number of users were told how they could configure their email to use SSL/TLS on their outgoing mail so it looked like Plusnet might be getting there. Since then nothing and all requests for an indication of when it might be available get a non-committal response (incidentally the outgoing secure email server is still there – I was using it up to the day I left).
New accounts system
For at least 8 years we’ve been told about a new accounts system that will address many of the issues that there are with the current system and there’s no sign that this will ever become a reality (I suspect that there may have been more than one rip it up start again). In the meantime there are these issues/needed improvements:
- Ability to select/change billing date
- Correction/cancellation of Direct Debit if user contacts Plusnet immediately on receipt of notification email
- Display contract end date
- Discounts maximum of 12 months when contracts can be 18
- Emailed statements or availability of pdf downloads
- Single account for multiple lines
- and many more…
The project to move from the current WBMC Shared to WBMC Dedicated has had issues. Around July time there were increasing numbers of complaints about packet loss and increased latency. It took far too long for the issue to be recognised and resolved and for some time they were continuing to move people across to the new network when it was known there were issues. Recently there have been packet loss reports again while they are still moving people across at a high rate.
Webmail and mail servers
Every few years, big issues emerge with the performance of the mail platform and recently it has been really bad. The current large topic running on these forums (“Webmail - Extremely Slow”) was started in May and they are now indicating a solution early December. At first the recommendation was to use an email client, but recently those using a client are also seeing issues.
Communicating with Plusnet
When I joined Plusnet calls were always answered in a reasonable time and for lower priority issues or questions you could raise a ticket. Most tickets were responded to within a few hours. Over time the wait times on the phones got worse and the ticket times did the same. When challenged we were promised it would improve (opening the Leeds office was supposed to make a big difference) – but it never has. Now tickets have been all but killed off and users are forced to wait either for the phone or the chat system. People have lives to live. For a simple request which they are happy to wait a day or so for an answer the ticket system was perfect; they don’t want to be hanging on the phone listening to over-loud noisic, or waiting for chat.
For the last year or so, wait times on both the phones and chat have been totally unacceptable. This is coupled with the quality of the support when you do get through often being below acceptable levels. One thing I have noticed in recent months is a significant increase in the number of times the Help Team, when responding to complaints on the community forums, have had to apologise and feed back to CSC managers. Increasingly this is not a failure to understand or deal with an issue, but getting it completely wrong.
Ever since the chat system has been introduced it has been known that ad blockers can stop it working. It would be so simple to put something on the page to pre-warn users that they needed to disable ad blockers if chat doesn’t work and apparently this has been pushed back but it’s taking a ridiculously long time for something to be done.
The standard of some of the automated emails from Plusnet is poor as well and this illustrates another issue: even when it is known and acknowledged that communications sent to customers by Plusnet need tweaking it doesn’t get done; even if this would reduce the number of support requests. The prime example of this is the email send out on a user’s billing date when they have ordered an upgrade from ADSL to Fibre. They get an email saying “Your broadband product change is complete” which any reasonable person would interpret as they should now be enjoying the higher speeds – it means no such thing, they still have to wait for the engineer to connect them to the fibre cabinet which could be a couple of weeks later. We have seen scores of people posting about this over many, many months. Apparently the Help Team has fed back on this many times but nothing gets done. It would be so simple to change the email to say something like “Your account has been changed ready for your upgrade to fibre. You will be advised separately when this will happen”.
Technical knowledge of Plusnet
I have concerns that the breadth of technical knowledge within Plusnet isn’t that great; there are a few people within Plusnet I have great respect for, but many of the excellent people who I have had dealings with over the years have now left. This really came home to me three years ago when I moved to my current house.
I had been on Max Premium on 20CN (8Mbps down, 832Kbps up) in two previous homes with no issues. On moving here I kept getting disconnections every time the phone rang for an incoming call. I had several engineer visits who confirmed the issue (including one who saw the issue when connecting to my line directly inside the exchange), but no resolution. Eventually I contacted AAISP with a view to migrating to them under their “We’ll fix your line” guarantee (see http://aaisp.net/broadband-trial.html). They immediately told me this was a known issue with Max Premium on Marconi 20CN exchange equipment and they’d get me moved across to different equipment. I fed that back to Plusnet who came back, saying no alternative was available and offered to downgrade me to standard ADSL Max. This did cure the disconnections. On contacting AAISP again to say no alternative was available they checked my exchange and said “oh yes it is”. Finally Plusnet got my line moved and put back on Max Premium and all was well.
So the one significant technical line issue I’ve had over the years was solved by me getting the necessary information from another ISP and telling Plusnet what needed doing!
I’ve lost count of the number of posts I’ve seen where new users have placed orders and some time if not weeks later they are wondering when they’ll be moved across. When they contact Plusnet it’s found that the order from Plusnet to their suppliers failed and it hadn’t been picked up. Again this points to issues with systems not being addressed when it would reduce customer dissatisfaction and reduce support requests.
The Pro add-on was introduced before any of the genuine unlimited accounts were introduced. On the old accounts it did make a difference and was worth users paying the extra. On Unlimited accounts it is pretty pointless as 99.9% of the time (and acknowledged as such by Plusnet: see message 6 from Chris on https://community.plus.net/t5/Broadband/ADSL-Max-Pro... which was posted three years ago. Yet for years they continue to offer it to users on Unlimited accounts when the principal affect was to make the user £5 per month poorer with no improvement to the broadband (and in some cases it made things worse).
Fibre Product Range
For a long time they offered the choice of 40/20 (Fibre or 80/20. The 40/20 made no sense as they still had to pay OpenReach the same amount as 80/20. They then stopped that, but instead of offering the standard 40/10 they offer 40/2 – the reason seems to be that their rival who they want to compete with (TalkTalk) has that as their entry fibre product. Recently they’ve downgraded all the people who were on 40/20 Unlimited to 55/10.
We see numerous posts from people who have migrated in from other ISPs where they were on 40/10 and are surprised to find their upload is reduced to a fifth of what is was – the upload speed on Unlimited Fibre is well hidden! To add to this madness Plusnet will not sell Unlimited Fibre Extra to people who cannot sync above 40 – the only choice people whose download speed is limited have is to go to another ISP such as BT. Offering a choice of 40/2, 55/10 and 80/20 would offer a perfectly balanced portfolio which is why OpenReach introduced 55/10 in the first place.
When I joined Plusnet they didn’t advertise at all – they didn’t have to. They enjoyed steady growth through word of mouth and the referrals system. When they were bought by BT the whole approach changed. BT itself was still charging the premium prices to its users and wanted a way to compete on price with Sky and TalkTalk.
It is now apparent that the over-riding aim of Plusnet’s management is to gain customers which is why we now see frequent adverts, stunts like the sponsorship of Big Brother and a continuous stream of introductory offers (usually with cashback) to match those of TalkTalk. All of this has produced a steady stream of new signups at a faster rate than they’ve grown the support department. The inevitable consequence has been the decline in support as we’ve seen. The result has been a lot of users who bitterly regret coming to Plusnet have suffered the consequences of the poor support and leave again at the first opportunity. Not only are they permanently lost but they will also put the word around about their experience.
The changed approach has also had other consequences:
- It has changed the type of users that Plusnet attracts. They now appeal to those who are solely out for the cheapest deal and still expect first class support; they will show no loyalty at all and will leave again as soon as they are out of contract and a better offer is available.
- The most likely time for users to need support is when they join or upgrade to FTTC from ADSL. The current strategy means that there will continue to be high demands for support so I cannot see any prospect of a return to the high levels of service we saw in the past.
- Developers are continually engaged preparing for new campaigns and small tweaks that could make improvements for existing users never rise to the top of the development stack.
I nearly moved away 18 months ago when FTTC first became available on my exchange, but at that time I’d have had to deal with moving two domains as well as a lot of other things going on at the time. I’ve been watching as the 18 months passed to see if there was any sign that Plusnet would return to being the ISP who I would be confident would deal with problems if they occurred, promptly, efficiently and competently. Instead we’ve seen support so overwhelmed that they had to post a service notice apologising that it was taking up to 5 days to deal with faults. They tried to blame it on “their suppliers” but it was strange that I saw no other ISP indicated they were having such problems. That was the final straw!
AAISP November 2016
(Previous ISP Plusnet November 2001 to October 2016)
Telephone rental: Pulse8