Joining the 21st century

Further to my last post, and yes I’ve been somewhat busy of late and not posting; I finally got sick of Virgin Media. It’s been on the cards for a while now but the whole Phorm issue pushed it over the edge.

For the record, here’s why I’ve left Virgin Media:

1. Price. It’s possible to get faster and cheaper packages so they’re not price competitive. I was previously on their 2 for £20 offer in that being the phone line and broadband with free TV. Now I will pay £10.50 for line rental from BT and £7.50 for broadband from O2 because they also happen to be my mobile phone provider. This is for an 8Mbit connection as opposed to a 2Mbit connection from Virgin.

2. Customer service. There are a number of elements to this aspect and I’ll do a direct comparison with my new provider O2. When Virgin Media swallowed up my then provider Telewest who were actually very good, they did a number of things. They outsourced the technical customer services to (presumably India) in an obvious attempt to cut cost. They then changed from the previous free call to a premium rate line in an attempt to further cream off money from customers. I don’t like this. I’ll be the first to admit that as a techie I’ve never called their technical line but there is a principle at stake. I don’t like shifting call centres overseas and as a Trades Unionist and pretty patriotic kind of guy I’d be a hypocrite to not be supporting British based workers as much as can. In contrast O2 have wholly UK based customer and technical services and are actually available all round the clock as I’ve just experienced having needed to get a few settings off them. Oh and they’re customer/technical services are free to call on an 0800 number. I like that.

3. The technical angle. I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as a bandwidth intensive customer for any ISP. I don’t download music or movies and certainly don’t do any illegal file sharing stuff. However as a techie I do on the odd occasion require the ability to download large files. Usually we’re talking an ISO image of a Linux operating system distribution but we’re talking anything from 650MB to 4GB. In such circumstances the use of torrent file sharing technology is handy. Sadly though it is obvious that Virgin Media monitor the nature of their customers traffic and after 5 minutes of so using torrents I’ve had my bandwidth throttled down to below dial-up speeds. Even on a box standard FTP download it’s clear to see throttling going on as speeds a sequentially cut in half until it’s a quarter of the speed I’ve been paying for.

As a bit of a contrast, here’s a little screenshot from an few hours ago of me downloading a few updates:


Yes, that would be 2351 kiloBytes per second which I work out to be around 18.3Mbits per second. After having a chat to the technical guy about an unrelated matter I did mention how impressed I was and was told that for the first day or so it does run un-capped so I shouldn’t get used to that kind of speed but even with their top package being £15 a month, those kinds of speeds are very tempting (don’t tell the missus).

I also deliberately tried a torrent connection (a download of a 3.3GB iso image) and the exact same file took close to 12 hours on Virgin but only took less than 45 minutes today with no drops in speed or throttling in sight.

4. I feel like an adult again. I may be getting old and grumpy but my interpretation of my relationship with my ISP and indeed any other company that I deal with is that they provide a service and I pay for it. They’re not my mate or chum, they’re a company that does (hopefully) what I pay them to do. Equally I am an adult, I’ve not been a teenager for a very long time and I don’t like a company trying to be all hip and trendy talking to me in ‘yoof’ speak. I don’t like reference to terms and conditions as being ‘legal stuff’ and I’m sick and tired of the error screen on my account that provides me with a picture of a young female model who looks like a heroin addict.

In contrast so far I’m impressed with O2. They’re staff are courteous and polite, don’t patronise me but are simply informative and helpful. Oh and they don’t seem to try and mislead you either which brings me on to the next point.

When you quit Virgin there’s a special department that deals with presumably trying to talk you out of it. They ask you why. Strangely enough I mentioned some of the above points and was told there was nothing wrong with my connection speed and they don’t throttle torrents. They also helpfully informed me that I wouldn’t be able to get more than a 2Mbit connection from an ADSL connection. This I thought a bit strange given all these other companies that aren’t cable based are offering much higher speeds than 2Mbit. Then it dawned on me that this was a very crafty bit of not necessarily wrong but rather misleading advice. There are of course different versions of ADSL from the box standard ADSL which yes, is technically only capable of up to 2Mbits but there’s also ADSL Max services which go up to 8Mbits and ADSL2+ which will deliver up to 24Mbits. So in just saying ADSL they’re being technically truthful but given how many other providers office ADSL Max and increasingly ADSL2+ it’s a bit disingenuous and may deter a non-techie from arguing the toss which of course I did.

So for the munchkin at Virgin Media who tried to convince me I wouldn’t get anything faster, please feel free to take another look at the screenshot. Yes, that’s 18.3Mbit/s across an ADSL2+ connection with local loop un-bundling at the exchange which incidentally is a plus given the exchange is less than half a kilometre away.

5. The biggie really, Phorm and this also links into my little experience while trying to leave Virgin and also the nature of what I want from an ISP. It’s pretty simple, I pay for a connection to the internet, that’s where it stops. I don’t want value added, content or targeted advertising I simple want a connection that can exchange packets of data. What a certainly don’t want is miserable little companies that used to bang out spyware intercepting all my packets of data, analysing it to work out what kind of consumer I am to bang up adverts for it although if anyone really wants to know, I’m an incredibly arsie a merciless consumer which probably puts me out of their target audience anyway.

That said, personal information is important to me, this isn’t an episode of The Prisoner, I’m not a number (or bleeding cookie file for that matter) and I don’t appreciate people wanting to profile who I am in an attempt to flog me stuff, not that it would work anyway. The ‘please don’t leave us’ marketing lady did attempt to point me in the direction of a web page outlining all the wonderful benefits of Phorm but for some reason when I decided to start getting into techie details I think just decided to give up on trying to convince me otherwise.

So there we go. One day into being a customer of O2 and I’m very happy so far. I did have trepidations as I’ve been a very happy mobile customer of their’s for over a decade (yes I know technically speaking they weren’t O2 then and yes I still have bills with BT Cellnet on them filed away) but I’d have hated for them to have let me down on the broadband front. So far so good though, one thoroughly contented arsie consumer here at the moment and as long as they stay away from Phorm I may be around as a customer for a very long time.

4 thoughts on “Joining the 21st century

  1. Hey, nice to hear from you again. What sort of channels do you need? I can’t say I watch much myself, our house is now technically incapable of receiving UK televisual broadcasting if you don’t include Sky News. We generally only watch German TV these days via Free Sat off the Astra 19 satellite.

    I’m playing around with a MythTV setup at the moment apart from having a hideous time getting tuner cards.

    I’ll have to get an aerial up sometime before next March though, so I can watch the Formula 1 back on the Beeb though.

  2. Hmm… Are we talking music channels, kids channels or the old National Geographic/documentary type channels?

    Off the top of my head excluding Virgin and Sky there’s only Tiscali who port it via IPTV that have such a large range of channels. How cost effective that might be to you I don’t know and I’ve no idea how good an ISP they are. Does that help?

  3. Never tried them but I would probably have guessed as much. Bit stumped then, I guess it’s easier when you can’t be bothered watching telly. Perhaps there’ll be an explosion in channels porting everything through the net and then it won’t matter. There’s lots on channels out there at the moment with various content. Have you tried something like Miro?

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