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Not quite what it seems
The great Broadband revolution in the UK is well under way, and with almost 29.5% of all Internet connections using broadband, xDSL or cable as of August 2004, and barely a whiff of a problem in the media, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's all going swimmingly. Well that's not quite true.

Back in March 2004 my exchange became enabled and I immediately went to sniff out a good broadband deal. Tiscali were advertising heavily and had certainly caught my attention. They weren't the cheapest, but one word was keeping me interested... "Unlimited".

First stop was their support forums to see what existing users were saying, but for reasons that are now apparent, you needed to be a member in order to view them. Not to make new posts, or edit your posts, you had to be a member even to view what was going on in there!! And I don't mean you have to sign up for their forums to see the posts, I mean you have to have a broadband account with them.

I was suspicious but figured that if anything too nasty was going on I'd have heard, I do spend 6 hours a day scouring the news after all!

Anyway, I signed up and all was well at first. I had noticed however that more and more disgruntled members were posting in the forums. Headlines about Tiscali not releasing lines, taking multiple payments, charging for services they hadn't provided and much, much more were becoming rife.

I didn't get any screenshots back then but here's a very small selection of some of the complaints posted on the Broadband Support Forum as of the 24th January 2005.

For my sins I didn't take much notice of all the negativity back then. My connection was reasonably fast and I'd had no dealings with customer support. All that changed however when, on December 21st, I got an early Christmas present from the Tiscali bad news fairy. It read:

Dear Customer

Your broadband internet access service use has been highlighted as extraordinarily high and may be affecting the service we provide to other users.

Tiscali is committed to providing the best quality of service to all of our customers and we have an overriding duty to preserve our network integrity. (See Clause 5.9 Terms and Conditions at Your usage is currently compromising this.

Under these circumstances we reserve the right to change or manage your broadband service and at peak times we may restrict the bandwidth available to you for high volume downloading, although regular internet use, browsing, email, streaming etc. will be unaffected.

If however you would like to cancel your Tiscali broadband service at no further cost, please contact us at:

Hold on!! They're limiting my unlimited account? I've heard of it happening to people who have downloads running 24/7, but I was clocking up less than 5GB a week on average, and that's between myself and a whole house full of users.

Naturally I complained and got this reply:

Thank you for your query - I have included some information here which should answer all you questions.

We are only managing bandwidth at peak times between 6pm and midnight. It only applies to extraordinarily heavy users - to put this into context, the average broadband customer uses 1.8Gb a month, these customers are downloading between 50 and 150Gb a month, which even at the lower end is equivalent to high volume downloading 10 hours a day 7 days a week.

We promote our broadband service as 'always on', which it will be even for very high users. Tiscali is doing this because we don't want to establish a cap for all users - other ISPs are capping at between 1-2Gb per month and a good guide for fair usage is 15Gb per month, this is what is applied by Wanadoo and BT and is fast becoming the industry standard .

Unfortunately we are not able to migrate customers to another ISP at this stage, this is because the majority of our customers are on DataStream and BT have not established a DataStream to IPStream migration process. We will ensure the swiftest possible cancellation for customers choosing to leave Tiscali.

This restriction will be in place shortly and will stay in place while downloads exceed 15Gb per month. A direct link to the Terms and Conditions is here

Hang on a God damned cotton-pcking moment, they promote their service as Unlimited, not always on! Unlimited does not mean always on, and now it seems their "Unlimited" service has a 15GB a month ceiling! Needless to say none of this existed when I signed up.

I complained again, and they made it clear this was the new policy and I could like it or lump it. They also repeatedly told me how easy it would be if I wanted to cancel my service and move on. Until I heard this I actually was going to cancel, but now I was on a mission, and along for the ride whether they liked it or not.

Of course, despite their claims, it's actually not that easy to cancel your service. At least not if you want a minimum of downtime. You see, back in August 2003, a new industry standard was agreed implementing the use of what's known as a Migrations Authority Code (MAC) number. This, without going into too much detail, lets a new provider step in and take over from your old provider with a minimum of disruption to your service. Half an hour at most in many cases. Unfortunately this is a voluntary code, though it has seen widespread industry adoption with names like Andrews & Arnold, Entanet, Nildram,, AOL, Freedom2Surf, Pipex, Vispa, BT (Broadband & Yahoo!) InterVivo, PlusNet, VNL Ltd (HomeChoice), Bulldog LCC Communications Ltd, Spitfire, Wanadoo UK, Community Internet, Mailbox Internet, Telefonica UK, Zen Internet, Easynet, Netplan Internet Solutions, Thus (Demon), Eclipse Internet and MetroNet Uniworld Communications Ltd already signed up.

Notice anyone missing?? Yup, Tiscali, who have decided that because they use a combination of Data Stream and IPstream, and can't offer migration to IPSTream users, it would be wrong of them to offer it to anybody. Their exact wording is that

"Although BT announced the new price of 11 for migration from 1 May 2004, BT said initially that it will be providing a process for IPStream to DataStream migration and vice versa in November 2004, however this delivery date from BT has slipped to an unspecified date in 2005.

Tiscali does not offer IPStream to IPStream migration as a matter of principle. We do not want to provide a migration service that we can't offer to all customers. The majority of our broadband customers are DataStream and therefore have no migration opportunity."

Very noble of them! Shame that same nobility doesn't extend to prices, but I'll get to that in a moment.

Of course there's always the option to simply cancel and live with the seven days or so of 'Net-free down time, but after reading countless tails of Tiscali leaving markers (placeholders) on people's lines, sometimes for weeks on end, thus stopping other ISPs from taking over, I was more than a little wary of this option.


Okay, so what do we have so far. Well, we have an unlimited Broadband service with a 15GB a month limit, no way to view customer feedback until AFTER you sign up with them and no migration facility if you want a painless way out again. This in itself is enough to get reasonably miffed about, but there's more.

After a long exchange of emails complaining at having a limit put on my unlimited account, they agreed to reduce my monthly charge from 24.99 to just 19.99. I was thrilled, I was even prepared to consider reducing my download volume for a price like this! But this is Tiscali we're dealing with here, so all was not as it seemed.

I decided that rather than reduce the price, I'd instead opt for the new, 1GB service and pay the same price, only that wasn't possible because:

"Unfortunately 1meg is currently unavailable to you. This is due to the current network you are on and we are unable to upgrade this location at present. I can however offer you 512 at 17.99 per month which we are offering users who are unable to have 1meg."

Wow that's a hell of a saving. A 24.99 connection for 17.99!! Trouble is, their 512K connection doesn't cost 24.99 any more, it costs 19.99, and apparently has done since last April (2004), just a month after I signed up.

At this point I dig out my bank statement to see what I've been charged. Sure enough, 24.99 has been taken from my account every month to to date. Excellent!! a rebate too!! But no, Tiscali company policy is that you have to notice the price changes yourself then apply for a service change to get the new price. I wonder if I'll be allowed to continue my service at the existing price if they ever go UP rather than down?

As Tiscali user Stuart Widdowson told me:

"In December, I visited Tiscali's website (I had no reason to beforehand) and noticed that the price for 256k Broadband (which I am on) had dropped to 17.99 (I was paying 19.99), I emailed the billing dept and was sent a mail back telling me to downgrade to the 17.99 package, using the Upgrade / Downgrade option on the website, I tried, only to find out that this was 'temporarily unavailable' as Tiscali had some 'Exciting New Packages' due for release in January, I was not too pleased.

I was even less pleased, when I found out that the 17.99 price had been in since April 2004, Tiscali had not contacted me to inform me of the price change, as they should have done in the T&C's

Stuart, like many others, does a great job over on the Tiscali support forums in helping people who are having trouble, while at the same time trying to get Tiscali to clean up their act and play fair. A thankless task for sure!

I'm certain you think this saga is drawing to a close by now. I only wish it were. The day after Tiscali so generously cut my charges to just 17.99 per month, they also cut my speed too. Not by half, not even by two thirds, no, it dropped from around 56K/sec to under 1K/sec! I was angry!

I immediately got on the phone to give them a piece of my mind, and probably would have done if I thought for one second that the Indian call centre operative on the other end of the line had the faintest idea what I was saying. I've recently posted this snippet of the conversation on the front page, but for those who missed it this is how it went:

Conversation held 20th January 2005

  • Them:: can you please email everything you just told me to this email address
  • Me:: No, my email client is neither sending nor recieving, it just craps out after several hours of trying. I've told you that three times now!
  • Them:: Oh,sounds like there's a fault somewhere
  • Me:: No shit Sherlock!
  • Them:: Can you use a different email account?
  • Me:: It's not the account that's at fault, it's the connection, and if what you were trying to say was can I use a different PC, all the people I know are at work or out at the moment. Can't I phone this department?
  • Them::They don't have phones
  • Me:: Bullshit
  • Them:: well, they have phones, but only to dial out. Nobody can dial in, it's not allowed.
  • Me:: Not even you?
  • Them:: No!
  • Me:: So what are you going to do to get my connection up to speed. Can you email them for me?
  • Them:: We can't do anything from here.
  • Me:: Then why was I transferred here?
  • Them:: To correct your fault sir
  • Me:: Okay then, correct it
  • Them:: We are trying
  • Me:: Trying How? You haven't explained the problem, offered to diagnose the problem, agreed to get the engineers on it, told me how long it might take.
  • Them:: We can't tell you that, you need to speak to technical for that
  • Me:: Then let me speak to them then.
  • Them:: You'll need to email them.
  • Me:: Look, this is ridiculous, you're charging me for a full speed broadband connection and I'm getting a fraction what I'd get on dial-up!! It's not good enough
  • Them::You're right, I'd put all that in writing when you email them
  • Me:: Listen! read my lips, I HAVE NO EMAIL!!!
  • Them:: Oh dear, that's no good
  • Me:: Look, just put me through to someone in the UK, I've had enough now.

after several clicks I get someone in the UK

  • Them:: Tiscali technical help, Steve speaking how can I help? (Name Changed)

After explaining the whole thing to them for about the 5th time, and him telling me he can't discuss details of my account with me because somebody has left a message on the computer telling them not to (he wouldn't clarify this further other than to tell me not everyone has this message on the computer) he tells me

  • "We don't really do the technical stuff here"
  • Me:: Then who does?
  • Them::It's a different department
  • Me:: Then for God's sake let me speak to them
  • Them:: You have to email them I'm afraid
  • Me:: Are they limiting my bandwidth?
  • Them:: I can't discuss details of your account, there's a note against your account on the computer telling me not to.
  • Me:: You mean for security reasons?
  • Them:: No, I can discuss accounts with some other people, yours just has a note on it for some reason.

I slam down the phone.

What an ingenious idea! What a wonderful way to cut the demands on your customer support team. Get customers, some of who will have no 'Net connection at all, to email details of their fault before you agree to help them! It's foolproof! All you need is a few automated excuses by autoresponder and you're done!