Wednesday, 17 November 2010

An open letter to Paul Lawton

Paul Lawton is the MD of Opal Telecom Limited, my current Internet Service Provider.  This is the letter that I have just sent to him, detailing the less than satisfactory service that I have received from his company.  The only editing has been to remove my personal details such as telephone numbers, logins etc.

If I receive a reply, I will publish it here.  If I do not, Opal will cease to be my ISP.

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Dear Mr Lawton,

Broadband Service - Telephone Number *******

I am contacting you directly because I am not happy with the manner in which your company have dealt with my account, and because I assume that you would like to hear directly from me so that you can take the necessary steps to improve your company's service; I doubt that I am alone.  I would also like to improve the Internet service that I receive, but that is only a secondary reason as I can achieve this by contracting with a different ISP.

I am writing to you at the address for Opal Telecom Limited, because this is the only address that you have elected to give to Companies House, and I therefore infer that you are able to receive personal letters via this address.  I expect this letter to be conveyed to you, as I am writing to you personally in your capacity as a director of Opal Telecom Limited at the address given by you for such correspondence.  

I should first point out that this letter is being published on my blog at, and a link has been placed via my Twitter feed at  I will of course publish your response, unless you raise a valid objection to this.

I am a former Pipex customer, whose custom you acquired when the Pipex business was merged into yours.  I am, indeed, a longstanding Pipex customer; my first contract with them was for a dialup service sometime around 1997 or so.  In about 2000 or 2001 I moved to a 500k broadband service from Pipex, and re-appointed them when I moved house in 2004.  Later, Pipex unilaterally upgraded my 500k service to a 1Mb service, and subsequently upgraded this further to a 2Mb service.

So, as you can see, I am more than willing to remain with a supplier when I feel that their service is of a high quality at a reasonable price.  Nevertheless, I am currently considering moving away from Opal, for reasons that I will explain.

The Transfer from Pipex

I have the original flyer that was posted to me with your letter of 19 February 2010 after you had acquired Pipex.  It stated that "everything stays the same" and, indeed, that I would "receive a more resilient service offering faster broadband speeds".  I took this to mean that neither the level of service that I would receive nor the price that I was paying would change as a result of the transfer of my account (unless I opted for a new Opal package).  Your letter also stated that Opal would be looking at the accounts of all the ex-Pipex customers to see if a different Opal package would suit them better.

I was very pleased to see this.  I had been aware for some time that my 2Mb Pipex service was becoming uncompetitive, and was beginning to think that I ought to look at alternatives.  The news that you would, in effect, be doing this for me was re-assuring.  I decided to put this issue onto my mental back-burner and wait to hear from you.

That was a mistake.  I have not yet been contacted by your company with a suggestion of a better Opal package.  Instead, you have left me on the old Pipex package, which is (as I can prove, see later) overpriced and under-performing.

Worse, you have not kept me on the same level of service.  Pipex had been providing me with a 2Mb service, but you downgraded this to 1Mb without mentioning this to me.  I appreciate that my formal contract with Pipex referred to a 1Mb service, but Pipex had for some time been providing 2Mb as a concession - in the apparent knowledge that their 1Mb service was overpriced.  Now, you may say in your defence that you maintained for me the level of service that Pipex were contractually bound to provide me, and on that specific point you would be correct.  However, that was not the tone of the promise made to me, and as your customer I was disappointed when I noticed this.

So, in my opinion, you did not meet either of the promises that you made when you took me on as a customer.

Fault Handling

About six weeks ago, a fault started to develop in our broadband service.  The fault has now been diagnosed - it appears to have stemmed from incorrect wiring of the telephone cables within our house when BT originally installed the line for the previous owners.  So, therefore, no blame whatsoever for the fault lies at the door of your company.  Your company did, however, delay the resolution of the fault and, in fact, made our service worse during and for some time after it was rectified.

Initially, the fault was a very intermittent one - the broadband signal would be lost for maybe 20 minutes, before returning for the next few days.  This was merely tiresome.

Over time, the seriousness of the problem grew; eventually the signal would spend more time down than up.  So I had to call your technical support line.  Typically, by the time I had run the gauntlet of the "Is your router plugged in?" questions that I accept you need to ask, one or other of the various tweaks tried by the technical support assistant would coincide with the signal returning.  At that point, the problem would be declared solved.

Sadly, it was not and would return later.  I eventually insisted to your technical support staff that the problem needed proper investigation.  They agreed to send an engineer, and a visit was booked for a few days later.  When he arrived, his reaction was to drop us from a 1Mb to a 500k service as the line was clearly having difficulty sustaining a 1Mb connection.  This despite the fact that the line had previously sustained 2Mb.  After doing so, a connection was (as usual) obtained, and the engineer made to leave.  My wife stopped him leaving and, as she expected, the connection promptly dropped after a few minutes use.  Eventually, he had to admit that a BT engineer was needed.

I shall not detail my dissatisfaction with BT.  We do not have time.  However, within an hour or so of work by the BT engineer, he had identified a fault in the wiring, corrected this, and our signal had returned.

The signal that returned was of course a 500k signal, not the 2Mb signal that I have been paying for, because your engineer's limitation was still present.  It took a further 4 days and three separate requests to your technical support staff to remove this, leaving me once again with half the level of service that Pipex had been providing.  Please forgive me if I am not exactly overwhelmed with this result.

It is my opinion that your staff were overly keen to declare the problem solved, and left us unassisted for several weeks while the problem actually grew worse.  The reluctance of your company to accept that an intermittent fault required more thorough investigation left us without an effective Internet service for several weeks, causing us severe disruption.

Your Customer Service Staff

During the extensive fault-finding process, I spoke to your Customer Service staff in order to try and deal with the overpriced and underperforming nature of the service that you have been providing.  The results were not exactly encouraging.  The member of staff to whom I spoke was helpful and polite, but he did not have the necessary authority and had been provided with a script that was not helpful.

I asked why my service was so unreliable and whether a better service could be provided.  His opinion was that the unreliability was due to my service being hosted via older Pipex servers and that a move to new Opal servers would help immeasurably, This would also allow me to move to the 3.5Mb service that (in his opinion) my line could sustain, at a price some 25% cheaper that I am currently paying.  This does of course prove that my current service is overpriced and underperforming.  

I asked whether this move would solve my reliability problems.  In his opinion, it would.  I asked whether it could be done quickly.  He told me that if I agreed there and then, the transfer could be made within days.  I was very tempted.

However, with (I admit) a degree of suspicion, I asked whether any other terms of my agreement with you would change.  At this point, he admitted that a new contract would be required.  I asked that this would mean.

He explained that it would have mean a minimum 24 month agreement.  Two years.

At this point, I became a little annoyed.  I pointed out that tying myself to a company that had been providing an overpriced, under-performing service that had also been extremely unreliable for some time was not exactly a tempting prospect.  I pointed out that I had been a Pipex customer for over ten years, that you had promised to look at my account several months ago but had not, and that I expected better.  I pointed out that with BT Infinity due to arrive in my area within months, there was simply no way that I would accept a two year tie and that you would therefore lose the account.   I pointed out that if Opal could provide a reliable, fast, and economically priced service, then I would have no need to leave you, even for BT Infinity.  Therefore, if he could remove that tie or at least reduce it dramatically, Opal stood a chance of keeping my custom. That remains the case.

He said that he did no have the authority to do so, but would speak to someone who did, and that I would hear further from Opal.  That was a few weeks ago.  I have not heard from your staff.

Now, I know that much more reasonable terms are available.  BE Unlimited, for example, can offer exactly the same for a mere one year tie, or the same speed at a slightly higher cost for only a 3 month tie.

Interestingly, better terms that I was offered are available from ... Opal itself.  Your website offers the same terms, for £2.50 per month less than your customer services team offered me.  Are these terms, in the immortal phrase, for "Brand new customers only"?

So, as you can see, I feel that I have been let down badly by your firm.  I await your comments.  If you would like to retain my custom, then I also await your proposal.

Yours, etc...

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Update 18th Nov:

An interesting email received today:

...together with a request for my account details.  Progress?  Maybe.  Will keep you up to date.

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Update 19th Nov:

The Head of Customer Services from Opal has just called.

With regard to the technical side of my line, arrangements are now in place to gradually up the speed of my line in 0.5Mb steps until we find the best speed it can cope with.  To avoid having to go through the call centre every time, I will also be getting a direct contact at Opal's technical centre.

In relation to the customer services issue, she is investigating.  In the meantime, my bill is dropping commensurate with the speed that I am getting.

So far, so good...

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Update 29th Nov:

Opal have been investigating the best speed that my line can cope with.  To their credit, they seem to have been pretty through about this.  They have however concluded that 1M is the fastest that it can currently cope with :-(

Opal have however suggested that we try my other line into the house.  Now, that is a little complex in that it has extensions that are dotted around in places that are inconvenient for the PCs.  However, we could ask BT to use the cabling for the second line as an extension to that line ... but that would cut off the only line that is currently giving me broadband.  Opal have therefore agreed to put broadband onto the other line, temporarily, to see if it is any better.  If it is, then we will switch.  If not, I'll just have to settle for 1M (until BT Infinity arrives...).

This is very co-operative indeed of Opal, it should be said.

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Update 2 Feb 2011:

Well, the alternative phone line was no better.  So we are back to 1M on the original line, but at least it is stable.  Opal have also agreed a refund in respect of the period when I was effectively without any form of reliable service, and a fair rate for the slowish speed that I am now getting.  BT Infinity will be here (allegedly) in two months, at which point I will be off like a shot.  

My opinion now that it is finished?  Once I got in touch with their head of customer care, things went very well and were done very efficiently.  The handling of my account from that point on reflected on Opal with credit.  It is just a shame that it took a minor internet campaign to get me there.  Given the amount I was paying, I'd expect that kind of service to be available to al their customers, not just those that kick up an almighty fuss in public.  Prior to then, I was subject on the one hand to aggressive sales staff who were quite happy to spin me a line and avoid difficult questions to get me to sign up, and on the other to support call handlers whose script was designed to fob me off at minimum cost and make me think the problem was with my equipment.  

Which is a shame.  They are clearly capable of better.  There are skilled, able and helpful people working there.  But there is also a layer of call centre staff seemingly designed to keep you away from them.  My advice to Opal customers with a problem?  Get yourself a blog and a twitter feed (if you can get online, that is).


  1. I have been with BE for three and a half years. It broke down once because they moved their DNS servers without telling their customers to change their settings. Once the new numbers were entered service was resumed.

    Opal is Talktalk. 'Nuff said.

  2. Look at Zen; they have a 1 month notice period.

    Presumably they keep their customers: by keeping their customers happy.

    Best regards

  3. Thank Blue - BE looked good and are currently in line if Opal don't get things right soon.

    Hi Nigel, welcome to the blog. Will take a look at Zen, thanks. Sounds like they have a good business plan!

  4. Opal have nearly ended my business before it has started. I only wanted phone lines. I do not think three months is an acceptable time to wait for a business phone line. Have you heard the one about the telemarketing company with no phone lines?

  5. Ouch.

    Oddly, no - I've never heard of the telemarketing company with no phone lines...!

  6. I took up a line rental offer from Opal in November 2010, switching from BT because Opal had a 12-month half-price deal. Nildram (ie Opal)was already supplying my Internet and call services.
    BT is still billing me for line rental (1st Feb 2011) because they say they haven't received any instruction from Opal. Opal are also billing me for the line rental and say my problem with BT does not involve them. I'm a low-spending pensioner so I suppose I don't matter.

  7. Hi all,
    I think I can beat your story of exceptionally bad service from Opal Talk Talk
    Read my story here as its to long to post here
    Good luck all

  8. Yep, you guys both beat me on that score. I'd congratulate you, but... err...