I’m pretty long in the tooth and so, as some kind of compensation for being an old fart, I like to think of myself as pretty canny, switched on, not so easy to be taken in as I might have been in my youth. Except, every so often, it is shown to me that my naivety is still very much there and easy enough for anyone to tap into if they have the desire to do so.
Broadband is broadband, right? You want some, you buy some off one of the many internet service providers (ISP) out there and you get it. Simple. Except it’s not, is it? There are different flavours of the internet with different speeds and by default different qualities of internet experience and, surprise, surprise, different prices of internet. This is the reason for my latest slap in the face with the wet haddock of unworldliness.
(This could all be a false memory but bear with me.) Back in the day, I wanted internet access so I bought internet access and a modem and all the other nomenclature that went with the deal before the advent of broadband. The internet worked and I went along happily enough searching the web, sending e-mails etc. I think I was on Wannado, which became Freeserve which became Orange which, in its latest incarnation, became EE and simple-minded and lazy as I am I have stuck with them all through the years. That in itself is probably a mistake but like changing energy suppliers I really can’t be arsed to switch and I also suspect we all eventually end up paying through the nose whichever company we’re with be it for gas, internet or insurances. Wireless came along and I jumped on the (broad) bandwagon (top shelf mash-up that) and happily carried on doing my online thing.
I’ve always looked on the internet as a tool, (I can’t imagine the Dark Age I’d thrown back into without e-mail) a bit like owning a spanner. Don’t get me wrong I know the internet is also great fun, who doesn’t like seeing a kitten cat get mildly electrocuted, but just as you can use a spanner to loosen the bolts holding Granny’s Zimmer together for a laugh its primary function is to fix or build stuff. So, as I’ve already said, to me the internet is primarily a functional gadget; one to use for getting things done, like these words in front of you, for example.
To get back on thought, this gadget of mine was becoming a little less reliable, disconnecting when it felt like and causing much gnashing of teeth, rending of hair and soulful wailing as the gamers in the house were cut off from ‘Fortnite’ just as they were about to win…apparently. It was time for a chat with my ISP but a little research was required first and it was at this point the magnitude of my naivety regarding broadband service was writ large and in neon before my eyes. ‘Different speeds,’ I mused, brow deeply furrowed, ‘surely the internet is either on or off?’ I know, it’s embarrassing, this information has probably been splashed all over the place for years and I haven’t been paying attention but in my defence, my broadband had been working fine until recently so why question it? Then the penny dropped, actually, it was several tens of pounds per month that dropped, as I was finally privy to the fact that if you want faster, so by definition better, internet you’re going to have to pay a premium for it.
Several packages were available ranging from the basic tortoise to the fuck-off-fast hare with several other fable animals of different velocity in-between, all for an increased monthly rate. ‘WTF?’ was my initial response. (It was actually ‘What the fuck?’ I’m too old to use the modern abbreviation; same with ‘LOL’, I still use the longhand ‘That was fucking hilarious’.) Surely a company should say: ‘This is the best quality internet we have to offer complete customer satisfaction and it is this price.’ If I was to buy a spanner I expect it to undo and tighten nuts and bolts of a specific size and it should do so every time I employ it without fail…and it was at this point another singular amount of imaginary coinage of the smallest denomination descended. Over the years I have had many spanners and I know for a fact not all spanners are created equal. Some can bend, break or worse still damage the fastening they are applied to beyond repair and be the gateway to a world of ball-ache. It is a rule of thumb that a Poundshop spanner (of which I own many in various stages of deformity) will be nowhere near as good one made by ‘Snap-on’* and the extra investment is always worth it. Thus applying this spanner logic to the world of the internet it looked like I was going to have to spend out more than I had wished to keep the frothing Fortniters happy.
Being a bit knocked off kilter and sweating at the thought of having to part with more money than I wished (which is any, to be honest) I decided now would be a good time to break the habit of a lifetime and read some small print. It turns out that the massive speeds on offer in the premium packages (a couple of hundred Mbps in some cases) aren’t guaranteed, they are merely theoretical possibilities. Such things as devices not being hardwired to the router, router placement and having any walls, mirrors or phones in your home all affect the quality and strength of your broadband. Even the distance of your location from the telephone exchange can bugger up your broadband efficiency. To allow for this, below the headline-grabbing Mbps figure, are some much smaller figures explaining things like ‘average’ speeds and ‘guaranteed’ speeds. Obviously, the guaranteed speeds are the lowest as they are the only ones you can hold the company to account for. That’s a bit off if you ask me, an offered two hundred should mean two hundred, not twelve. It wouldn’t happen if we were talking jelly beans, would it?
In fact, each and every one of the internet packages on offer, industry-wide, have the same wording; huge claims in the big print not so brilliant in the small. Surely this can’t be allowed? Are the ‘free’ routers provided for each package different, more expensive bits of kit? Or is it a matter of throwing a few switches at ISP HQ to beef up the signal? I suspect that some companies deliberately limit their output to save themselves costs while still collecting full revenues. What we need is a metering system akin to gas or electricity or water (the latter of which I am holding out against as detailed in a previous rant, in fact, I am also refusing the smart meter upgrade for gas & electricity and I may go into why another time but seeing as one of the advocates for the system has recently returned his smart meter, I assume I am onto something) so we can see what kind of service we are being provided with 24/7 and can be billed accordingly. The variously priced packages will still be available but once your guaranteed Mbps level for the service you have chosen is not met a refund system will kick in and the company will have to reduce your bill. Seems fair doesn’t it? If I pay thirty quid a month for a guaranteed 100 Mbps but the service has dropped to 50 Mbps the company now has to start refunding me for the time my internet is below the agreed guaranteed level.
Of course there could be many genuine technical matters to take into account I am not privy to regarding broadband providing and I know we have to bear in mind that I am far more naive than I like to think I am, I still suspect that the ISP will probably easily wriggle out of their responsibilities through some loophole possibly of their making but a stand of sorts will be being made against another metaphorical shitty spanner imposed on the world and at least it would let ‘them’ know that, like ‘Twisted Sister’, we’re not going to take it anymore.
(Dear reader: If this come across as even more disjointed and meandering than usual I can only apologise as I was interrupted on several occasions during the writing of this rant. I would like to put the blame at the doorstep of an Internet Service Provider but the truth is the disturbances that derailed my trains of thought were purely off-line human interaction.)
*I am more than happy to provide my postal address if anyone from Snap-on reading this would like to send me some complimentary tools for shameless product placement reasons. I’m not trying to influence your decision but a full socket set would be highly appreciated.