Thursday, 6 January 2011

The great LLU swindle

As some of you may know, for the past six weeks I have been struggling with the most intermittent of broadband and telephone connections. Initially, I was told that disruption had to with my migration from Tiscali to the new Talktalk network and could last indeterminately. Most recently I was cut off entirely for several days over Christmas, in the midst of a family bereavement, with no forewarning, no apology and since finally contacting an engineer four days ago, an incessant barrage of conflicting calls and SMS updates, including the prospect that I could be charged £100 if the fault was deemed mine... 

Since I had been down this sorry route with BT some years ago, I decided it was time to switch. Simple, you may think, get the MAC code just as OFCOM suggests, and off you go. Not so. Somewhere along the line, or should I say lack of it, I have been switched to an LLU network - or at least that is what the suppliers were telling me. In fact, each had a different account of my line status and switching costs: without an LLU connection I was not eligible for a cheaper tariff (add up to £10 a month), or because of my LLU connection I needed to pay over £80 to have a new line installed with a different number. 

First off, let me say that there is absolutely nothing for consumers on the OFCOM website about LLU networks or switching between these, despite a host of technical and industry reports. Moreover, when I rang, the representative I spoke to seemed quite unperturbed that suppliers should be asking me for money to switch, stating that this helped to make the market competitive. For whom, I asked? The market, came the reply. I lodged a complaint: the market is anything but competitive when consumers are confounded into paying additional charges merely to leave a supplier that fails to deliver a service, and for a public body which is paid to represent consumer interests to condone this is outrageous.

Perhaps I should be satisfied that I was given the phone number for the only OFCOM approved telecomms comparison and switching service, Simplify Digital, who promptly secured a deal at slightly less than I am paying, without additional costs, but I am not. No offence to Simplify Digital who are clearly ethical, professional, reassuring and offer a freephone and web based service, but the fact that there is only one intermediary to put an end to the conflicting information given out by suppliers is a dangerous precedent to set.

Like Billy Bragg, I am looking forward to 2011, for whilst I have been unable to upload all sorts of information about our model for participatory market intelligence, in which consumers represent their own interests through cooperative membership, I know this: the days of fudging market forces are well and truly numbered.



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