Anyone familiar with contacting a tech support helpdesk has heard the groan-inducing line: "Have you turned it on and off again?" For that reason, we can't help but doff our cap to indie ISP Zen Internet, which instructed one customer beset by connectivity drops to contact his MP.
The suggestion was made to one El Reg reader in North Leatherhead who contacted the Rochdale-based ISP after experiencing repeated disconnections and a marked slump in network performance.
Alan Brown, a network manager at University College London, told us he had experienced no less than 28 breaks in service on 16 February, adding: "I am paying for 80Mbps service and am currently getting 16Mb/s with loads of DSL carrier drops."
In response, Zen Internet passed the buck to its infrastructure provider Openreach.
"I've looked into this issue for you, and I'm afraid that we will not be able to raise a DSO in this case, as Openreach will not accept it. This is because our relationship with Openreach is one of supply and repair where we will supply a service on the line, and repair it if it breaks. However, our relationship doesn't extend to infrastructure issues such as this," the company rep said.
"The best way forward would be to report this to your local MP, who will hopefully be able to get this issue addressed," the Zen rep added.
The acronym "DSO" refers to Openreach's Directors Service Office, which is the highest point within the infrastructure provider's fault escalation procedures. It is reserved for the most pressing issues such as those likely to cause reputational or financial damage for Openreach's downstream providers, or pose a risk to public health and safety. It's understood the DSO can also respond to requests made from MPs acting on behalf of their constituents.
Openreach itself says on its website that as a wholesaler, it is "set up to work for communications providers – the companies that you buy your home or business phones or broadband from. Contacting them is the fastest way to fix a whole range of problems." However, the nation's broadband plumber adds, "if they think the issue is with our network, they’ll contact us and arrange for us to fix it."
Brown, who has worked in the telecoms business for several decades, speculated the problem may be caused by water damage to a nearby cabinet.
"This is an ancient ECI cabinet and the lines here have been problematic forever (lead sheathed paper insulated - which might give an idea of the age)," he told me.
"On top of that it turns out the DSLAM cabinets can be latched closed without properly buttoning up the weatherproofing - and as a result, water damage has occurred/is occurring in a number of the things (including mine). The situation here has been a story of: 'rotten weather, DSL goes intermittent/rotten for weeks, then clears up with the weather and then stays OK until the next round of bad weather'," he added.
Zen definitely isn't known for bad customer service. Between 2016 and 2019, it was the recommended broadband provider of consumer champion Which?, regularly scoring high marks for customer satisfaction. The outfit was also dubbed Britain's best internet provider in 2020 by Broadband Genie, handily trouncing larger competitors like BT and Virgin Media.
The ISP has since made an about-face and said told Brown it will submit a DSO request to Openreach. In a statement provided to The Register, Mike Piggott, operations director at Zen Internet, said:
“We pride ourselves on our reliable customer service and this case obviously falls short of our high standards. We can confirm due to an initial mix up on the Director Services Office (DSO) escalation process, that a DSO case was not opened, but this has since been rectified. Furthermore, we are in direct contact with the customer to keep him updated and have initiated refresher training for our support team on DSO criteria and how such cases should be handled.”
Why the change of heart? An inquiry to Zen PR firm from this humble Liverpudlian telecoms journalist? Or did Brown's insistence on copying Zen Internet CEO Paul Stobart into all our correspondence have something to do with it? Hmmmm. We may never know. ®