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Posted on March 20th, 2014 by Barry Collins

It’s time to fine networks for prolonged outages

Coins and notes

We’re told that broadband has become the fourth utility, after water, electricity and gas. So why do big companies get away with depriving us of it so frequently?

Last night, EE’s mobile network went down for a period of anywhere up to ten hours, according to some of the comments from customers I’ve seen this morning, yet there’s no suggestion of EE being punished for failing to maintain a network that around 40% of the country relies upon.

Indeed, EE’s Twitter account treated the outage as something of a joke.

EE Gremlins

Some joke if you’re stranded on a motorway and can’t get a signal to call for help, or if you rely on EE’s 4G network for work.

We routinely report on mobile and fixed-line broadband outages, sometimes spanning days, yet the networks are never hit in the pocket for their carelessness. They’ve got your monthly fee, what do they care?

It’s high time Ofcom got tougher with the network providers. Networks should be forced to automatically refund customers for any loss of service greater than 30 minutes, in the same way train companies are obliged to provide refunds for delays.

That £5 back at the end of the month might not make up for a prolonged outage, but it will certainly make a difference to a company’s bottom line when those refunds are multiplied by a customer base spanning millions, if not tens of millions.

Let’s see if they still find those “gremlins” quite as funny, then.

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14 Responses to “ It’s time to fine networks for prolonged outages ”

  1. Pete Says:
    March 20th, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    The first text I got after yesterday’s EE outage was a text from them telling me that my bill was ready, this was followed by an apology.

  2. ElectronShepherd Says:
    March 20th, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    I think a sense of perspective is needed here.

    If your house goes without water for three days, you’re in serious trouble with basic hygiene, even assuming you have another source for drinking water. If your house goes without gas for three days in the winter, an elderly person could develop hypothermia or related condition.

    If your house goes without cat videos for three days, it’s not that important.

    How about not asking the big bad wolf of regulation to “punish” a company, but instead vote with your wallet? If you don’t like the service, simply switch provider.

    If you must have a high level of internet access, there’s plenty of companies who will provide all sorts of guarantees, at a cost above standard domestic broadband.

    If you must have a working mobile phone, get an additional SIM-only contract from another supplier, and switch SIMs if one provider fails.

    As an aside, if you break down on the motorway, you’re supposed to use the emergency phones, not your mobile. It helps the Highways Agency pinpoint your location, which means they can get you faster.

  3. Robin White Says:
    March 20th, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    ElectronShephwrd has it spot on. Have a spare sim and phone for emergencies and stop being babies.

  4. Clive Pugh Says:
    March 20th, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    And who will end up paying the fines? Us customers of course with higher bills.

  5. Tim Says:
    March 20th, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    Sadly OpenReach customers don’t always have the luxury of switching providers. We were without broadband or a landline for three months, while they repeatedly failed to send engineers as agreed and failed to co-ordinate with their hole diggers. As a captive customer it is extremely frustrating to watch them fill in their hole and then send an engineer who was meant to work in it a few hours later. I should mention they cut off a third of our road in the process as well. Ofcom’s rules meant that Sky got compensation but we didn’t.

  6. Barry Collins Says:
    March 21st, 2014 at 8:04 am

    ElectronShepherd/Robin White,
    Thanks for your comments. Two rebuttals:
    1. You often can’t vote with your feet, because you’re tied to an 18-month or two-year contract.
    2. Paying for an extra/backup SIM for emergencies really shouldn’t be necessary.

    Barry Collins

  7. ElectronShepherd Says:
    March 21st, 2014 at 9:35 am

    A rebuttal of the rebuttal:

    There’s ISPs out there (Zen springs to mind) that do one month rolling contracts. They are more expensive that those that want to tie you in for 18 or 24 months, but there’s a reason for that. The fact that they allow you to move with one month’s notice is an indication that they are prepared to stand by their service offering. If you pick a cheaper 24 month contract, don’t be surprised if it’s not as good. There’s no point complaining – you consciously selected a cheaper offering, and like most things in life, if you want higher quality, you need to pay for it.

    Of course, you don’t need to pay for the second SIM before it needs to be used. Most providers will let you buy an “empty” SIM and that can be activated over the wire if / when needed.

  8. Surefire Says:
    March 21st, 2014 at 10:52 am

    I agree that broadband (and normal telephony) providers should be hit with automatic requirement to compensate for outage, but I can’t see the point for mobile operators as they are losing revenue every minute their network is down.

    Having said that, I suppose the shift to so many people buying more inclusive minutes than they ever use would negate the logic of saying outages are self punishing.

  9. Jonathan Gray Says:
    March 21st, 2014 at 11:16 am

    ‘mobile operators as they are losing revenue every minute their network is down’ – Isn’t that the case for all utility providers? Maybe more so for the reason you point out?

  10. Chris Says:
    March 21st, 2014 at 11:48 am

    “mobile operators as they are losing revenue every minute their network is down”

    I don’t think so, I pay three £15 a month, they have got my monies up front, now for that it includes speech text and data, for arguments sake if Three went down for that month they still have my money but I don’t have service, IMHO they have lost nothing.

  11. Surefire Says:
    March 21st, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    Yes, to the above posters.

    I was still thinking in terms of a much earlier revenue model. My take would only really apply to PAYG and I’m not sure what percentage of revenue that provides. (Quite small I’d imagine.)

  12. David Wright Says:
    March 21st, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Calling for help – you can do that when your provider goes down.

    All GSM phones must be able to send an emergency call for help, so even if the SIM card is locked or your provider is not available, as long as a rival has a signal in your area you are able to make that emergency call.

  13. sutty Says:
    March 21st, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    I want to be able to use phone when in area that has no EE signal so have PAYG 2G phone on Vodaphone network. Want to be able to use a 3 PAYG in 3g phone but can’t because it is locked. There is no reason to lock phones now but they want £25 to unlock and let me use it, not good enough. Contract up in a month so then it will be goodbye #EE and get unlocked phone and another sim only contract with someone who care about their customers. Only chance of keeping me as a customer is to unlock my phone now so I can use it with another company when they are down.
    Too many dropped calls since the merger.

  14. Sofia Koutsouveli Says:
    March 22nd, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    I had my broadband cut for 3 days due to outage, and guess what, I didn’t care, I just couldn’t watch funny cat youtubes, so what?


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