Sunday, July 30, 2006

Broadband as utility

Back online now after a week without broadband. After a year of reliable service, my PlusNet connection has been down twice over recent months, first time while they upgraded me to an 8Mb connection, second time for no apparent reason (although ADSLguide's Broadband Speed Test suspiciously now reports a 4Mb download speed...)

Still, things could be worse - a number of colleagues were signed up with E7, whose homepage now beseeches customers not to panic before informing them that "As of the 1st July, E7even UK Limited will no longer able to provide your Internet services." One colleague decided to take the opportunity to register for Talk Talk's free broadband offer. Alas, Carphone Warehouse massively underestimated demand and he's been told he's unlikely to be online before September while they work their way through the backlog.

All of which has got me thinking about the extent to which consumers increasingly think of broadband as a utility, like electricity or gas, which will be available 24/7/365 (not unreasonable really when it's billed as 'always on'). Unfortunately the fledgling broadband infrastructure doesn't appear to be able to match consumer expectations in either resilience or customer service.

When my connection when down the first time, I had to dig out an old laptop with a dial-up modem in order to log the fault via PlusNet's online form (heaven help you if you want to phone up and speak to an actual person). It then took a week for them to fix it. Did they offer me a discount on my monthly bill? Hell no.

Like many nascent industries, broadband providers have thus far been predominantly concentrating on price. I suspect that resilience and customer service will become increasingly important factors in consumer choice over which service provider to pick. Here's hoping...

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