So what if I pay peanuts for my home broadband? I demand you fix it NOW!

The Zoom meeting I’m missing is already miles away

Something for the Weekend, Sir? "Do you know who I am?"

As if that line’s going to work. Too pompous. I might try: "May I remind you that I am a paying customer?" (One among millions, that is.)

Or possibly that most devastating of customer complaints, "I pay for a service and I expect it!" immediately followed by the throat-clearing Yoda-style affirmation "Hmm!"

My recently upgraded broadband has just this moment gone down and I would very much like it to be gone up. I am prepping myself before calling the customer service number. It’s important to get the recipe right: two parts insistent, one part petulant.

How dare my home internet service provider allow the service to stop being provided! Don’t they realise how important it is for the locked-down world economy that I be allowed to continue working from home? Are they deaf to the blaring DabbsKlaxon® that surely must have been blaring across their offices the moment there was a glitch in the Matrix at number 60? Quite simply, do they not know who I am?

I was in the middle of a lengthy video conference when the connection went TITSUP*. Perhaps I shouldn’t complain; in fact, keeping schtum might be the better option lest my return to the ghastly project-update borefest – as sudden as my unexpected exit – proves perturbing for my fellow meeting attendees. I wouldn’t want to wake them up. With a bit of luck they haven’t noticed I’m not there any more, and I can use the rest of the afternoon outside doing something else – such as, oh I dunno, some actual work?

A year ago, when the initial COVID lockdowns inflicted WFH on most of my colleagues for the first time in their lives since graduating, I embraced online meetings. They were briefer and had agendas. I got to speak to people face-to-face when previously I may only have had contact by phone call or email. It meant no more jovial asides, muttered sarcastic comments, off-topic diversions and random tangental anecdotes of the kind that would typically clutter up real-life meetings.

Yet here we are a year on, and virtual meetings have bloated into endless gob-churning, lard-arsed fartery. They are now longer than real-life meetings. Agendas are ignored. Everyone talks at once, on mute. So we have to tell them they’re on mute and then wait while they work out for the seven billionth time where the same old un-fucking-mute button is (hint: the same place it was yesterday, and the day before that, ad infinitum) and allow each of them to repeat their inane bollocks all over again, this time one by one.

One of my greatest regrets is no longer being able to leave my office stereo playing in the corner. In the old days, I’d just silence it during phone calls. For videoconferencing, however, I don't have earphones and have frequently forgotten to pause quiet music coming from the speakers before doing so. With the earphones pressed firmly in place, I then participate in a meeting blissfully unaware of subsequent noises babbling from the far corner of the office.

My attention was drawn to this issue by some online meeting attendees who asked if there was someone in the room with me and were they OK. It was only after removing my headphones I noticed Irene Papas was shrieking in orgasmic bewilderment while Aphrodite’s Child conducted a primary school percussion class in the background. Not my finest hour, nor Vangelis’ to be honest – although Irene seemed to be enjoying herself.

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Props to readers who can listen all the way through the above track without laughing. Extra props to those who have ever sat through the original, uncut half-hour version in a student flat high on psilocybin, cheap 70s wine and Old Holborn.

Anyway, part of me thinks that not being able to participate in an online meeting might be beneficial all round. You can now, after all, total the negative environmental impact of every Zoom meeting in terms of car-exhaust miles using this, er, online calculator. Such totals should be included systematically at the end of every meeting minutes.

None of this makes me feel any better about being unceremoniously booted out of my own broadband. It’s the principle of the thing. "Unreasonable Angry Customer" persona ready for action, I phone up my internet provider’s customer services number.

I am put on hold. The wait music is Infinity by Irene Papas and Aphrodite’s Child.

Some 30 minutes, five rollies, a small envelope of shrooms and a bottle of Blue Nun later, I am put through. Stop everything else you’re doing, I tell them. I’m a really important customer and demand satisfaction. I insist all their technicians be redeployed to reconnect me immediately. They must squeeze. The spice must flow.

"Do you know who I am?" I add haughtily, after a somewhat disconcerting silence. Yes, they reply, because you gave your customer number when dialling in.

They proceed to confirm back to me exactly who I am: an annoying English twat who pays peanuts for a virtually dedicated personal gigabit fibre connection thanks to daytime underuse by my technonoob neighbours but who evidently goes fucking mental simply because it stopped working for 15 minutes. They also confirm that I opted not to pay for even the most basic of ongoing internet support, let alone an SLA for the broadband delivery.

"Hang on, did you say ’15 minutes’?"

Yes, they reply. The service came back online half an hour ago. Haven’t you noticed?

"No, of course not!" I yell. "I’ve been on this stupid phone!"

The phone you are calling from? The one on the same fibre line as your broadband?


I log back into my online meeting and everyone is still there, still discussing the same things as they were when my connection crapped out nearly an hour ago. "Bloody internet providers!" I chortle, explaining my absence, and they nod sagely in agreement. "But do please carry on."

They do and I go on mute. I also turn the speakers back up on the office stereo, casting a wry glance at the pristine and unpackaged 40-metre reel of fibre optic cable accidentally left behind by the broadband installers from the other week. All things considered, I don’t think I’ll invite them to collect that box after all.

They may know who I am but they don’t know who they’re dealing with.

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He would like to point out that the story above is not true. When his fibre broadband borked, he switched to his backup 4G access point. The 40m reel of lost-property cable is real, though: we’ve seen it. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

* Total Instant Termination of System at Unexpected Point-in-time

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