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  • Writer's pictureJason Nisse

Tell Me Lines, Tell Me Sweet Little Lines

“Daaaaad. The WiFi’s not working.” We’ve all heard it echoing down the stairs from a teenager’s bedroom. But what to do?

In the modern age of AI, IoT, WFH, social media etc etc, the tech revolution is only as strong as its weakest link, and the kink in the hosepipe is often your home internet service.

Critically, in the post-pandemic world, most office workers spend a large part of their time working away from their main workplace. Research by my client AWA shows that, on average, knowledge workers only come into the office 1.5 days a week. This puts a lot of the emphasis for keeping the economy running on the pipes that carry data to our homes.

So what happens when they go wrong?

Firstly you only find out when you try to connect. Then you get the little lines telling you the (alleged) signal strength or the dreaded “No internet” message or, confusingly, both at the same time. You aren’t informed by your supplier, which for an essential service seems bizarre. If your gas or water was cut off, or your train wasn’t running, you’d be informed. But not from your telco.

Secondly the service simply drops out. This I find happens on a regular basis, with no rhyme nor reason, and then it comes back on again. Also the service often runs slow, so you aren’t getting your advertised speeds. The only way to know that it to check with a speed checker – but use an independent one as I have found my telco’s speed checker often suggests better speeds than seem to be the case.

Thirdly, the supplier is often reluctant to admit that anything is wrong. Our WiFi dropped out at 7:22 this morning (I know because it also knocked out our heating, and the app for that tells you when it stopped working). Going onto the teclo website, it claimed all was OK until about 10am when it admitted something was wrong in our area. I am currently connecting via my 5G hotspot, the equivalent of operating by candlelight if your electricity isn’t working.

Of course you are entitled to compensation – which works out a £9.33 per day from your supplier if “their service has stopped working and it is not fully fixed after two full working days” says the regulator Ofcom. Two full working days? Your kids will have moved to their friends and your boss will have fired you if you are offline for that length of time. Also this compensation only comes into effect from the point when you tell them that the service is not available. See above.

So what to do?

1: Make the system more reliable. I’m told that is being worked on, but I live in Zone 2 central London and most suppliers can give me ultrafast cable. What hope is there for folk in remote parts of the countryside?

2: Automatically tell customers when their WiFi isn’t available. Take a mobile number and send an automatic text to inform people of internet availability. Surely this is not beyond the wit of the teclos, many of which have mobile networks anyway.

3: Reform the compensation scheme to be like the railways “delay repay”. Pay compensation for every hour that they can’t provide the internet advertised. And like delay repay, make it automatic that you receive this when the telco detects the problem, rather than you have to register for it.

In 2021 UK households paid an average of £44.21 a month for basic broadband options. This rose to £56.99 a month for a superfast package and £79.40 for an ultrafast package. Price rises, as we can see, are ahead of inflation. This means people are now often paying the best part of £1000 a year for an intermittent service, with little comeback when it goes wrong.

Surely it’s time for reform.

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