Bloody Virgin Media

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I’ve been with Virgin Media since they took over NTL in 2010, and to be fair I haven’t had many problems with them – and certainly not ones you could turn against them for. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve needed to call them.

I’ve had hubs break, which they send out replacements for, of course. And there was the problem with POP mail servers a while back. But apart from the time a prick of a boy racer took his mum’s car without permission one morning and spun it out into the main local hub on my estate (it took a week to rebuild, and my only complaint about VM is that they wouldn’t give me his address), no major outages.

VM gets a lot of negative press because its call centre is in India, and as we know, absolutely no one in the UK is racist – it’s just that they just don’t like foreigners, especially if they have dark skin, and are prepared to burn them if they get themselves worked up enough about it. But they’re not racist, of course.

I don’t care that the call centre is in India, and enjoy a chat with them about the weather. My gripe is that it is a call centre in the first place – and that’s because I used to work in one (for a while, when I was training to be an ADI), and know full well how they operate. That gripe was given wings a few days ago.

I started to have connection issues. Not a complete loss of service at that point, but niggly little things, including my Birdcam stream playing up. I rebooted my router, and that didn’t fix it. Then I rebooted the Superhub (which I have set to modem mode), and that broke it completely. The hub was now flashing a blue ring light after each attempt to negotiate a connection. This is where the fun began, because it was necessary to call tech support.

I got through almost immediately – after the usual laboriously slow ‘two letters from your password’ thing, which never works, and didn’t work this time, either. Then they asked me my security questions, one of which was the amount of my last bill. I explained (without giving in to the temptation to swear) that I couldn’t get online to check, so could they ask a different question? But they couldn’t. Fortunately, my last bill was the same as the one before, which I could check in my inbox in Outlook (I’d have been well screwed if I used online email). It was the right answer, so the tech support part of the call commenced.

No, there isn’t a fault with the network (oh, really?) Yes, I’ve rebooted my computer, my modem (I explained my configuration), and my router. And yes, it was still not connecting. No, there is nothing else connected to the hub apart from the router (I explained my configuration again, and emphasised that the VM hub was not connecting to the VM-supplied internet feed, and that my local network on the other side of the chain was working fine), but I disconnected the router, and yes, after rebooting the hub yet again it was still not connecting. They ‘sent out a signal’ at least four times, and I rebooted the Superhub as many times. Yes, we have exactly the same problem.

Finally, they had me press the factory reset button on the Superhub, and then told me it could take up to an hour for the thing to come back online if it was fixed. So that’s where the call ended. She asked if there was anything else she could help me with today, and I laughed and said ‘I know you have to ask that, but I don’t think you really can do anything else until my connection is back up’. She thought that was funny, too. We had a quick chat about Mumbai, then the call ended (it lasted 59 minutes).

An hour later and everything was still down. But as a result of the withdrawal symptoms I was experiencing, I had set my phone up as a hotspot and was hammering my mobile data allowance using my laptop. The first thing I did was head on over to Downdetector, where it immediately became clear that user reports of no internet had gone through the roof at exactly the time I had first encountered problems. It was so severe that the national media reported on it the next day. Next morning, the hub was glowing a healthy… white (it had been green previously). Judging by the various emails I get from my security software, the problem started around 4pm (when I noticed it), and was fixed at 6.20am next day.

But the call centre didn’t know about it!

After a bit of messing about repairing the damage caused by doing the factory reset (Superhub back in Superhub mode (that’s why it was white instead of green), password reset to factory default, IP address ‘wrong’ as a result (so the camera stream RTSP was wrong), and so on), I got my Birdcam streaming again and we were back up – other than for the fact that whatever the problem was, it still keeps coming back (as in this afternoon, where I was having problems getting on to websites, and noted an increase in reports on Downdetector again).

The problem with VM isn’t that its call centre is in India. The problem is that it is a huge company which has appalling communication, and regular readers will know that I experienced that for many years when I was in the rat race. Oh, the call centre is part of the problem, to be sure – but only because it is a call centre, which as I mentioned, I have plenty of experience of.

Any real problems I have ever experienced with VM have always ultimately turned out to be problems at VM’s end, though they never admit to it in the call centre. That’s because they aren’t allowed to unless it is a transient one – they absolutely will not admit to hardware or network faults. Only Head Office will do that. But the call centre always proceeds as if the fault is at my end.

The one I worked in wasn’t quite as bad, but it wasn’t far off in many cases. Agents were ordered to go through all the simple routine things before proceeding to anything bigger, and that could easily mean customers being asked to run disk defragmentations on computers they’d bought that morning, or stupid ‘resets’ even though they called in about a bang, a flash, and then smoke – especially if the agent they had come through to was inexperienced and a stickler for the rules.

The trick to getting around VM’s ridiculous tech support issues is to write to their Head Office. They told me that they have to follow up any such communications, and things get sorted out much quicker using UK-based technical staff. You used to be able to email Head Office, but they’ve closed that off now (the last time I did it, I emailed Richard Branson and that did the trick – they admitted there was an ongoing issue with the POP email servers and also gave me a timeline for the fix. The tech support line was still blaming me – and so were the VM support forum ‘experts’).

Edit 10/05/2023: It happened again for most of the morning until mid-afternoon. However, after an hour or so, the camera stopped streaming properly again, even though it is still technically online at my US-based streaming provider (they tell me clearly when it is offline).

Edit 11/05/2023: It’s happening again this morning (camera stream not working correctly). It cleared up for a couple of hours, then it started again just before 2pm. That was for a short time, and it has now started again around 3.20pm.

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