An open letter to Virgin Media

A complaint letter I sent recently, posted without comment.

I have been a Telewest customer since August 2003. I’ve had pretty much the same package ever since then – now branded TV L/broadband L/phone M. I was very happy with Telewest’s service quality and the breadth of the service.

Since the takeover by ntl and the rebranding as Virgin Media, I have been experiencing a number of issues:

1. The complete inability to supply what was a previously excellent 4Mbit broadband connection between January and April 2007. This was apparently due to an overloaded UBR, causing slowing even at off-peak times to 300Kbit/s and below – making sites such as youtube completely unusable. Upload speed, on the other hand, was perfectly fine (and exceeded download speed a lot of the time).

The fact that there seemed to be a complete lack of updates on this major fault internally – your helpful newsgroup support were continually only able to tell me that the repair was in “planning” and couldn’t find out any more than that – was the largest annoyance here. My broadband connection is very important to me, much more than any of the other services I take from VM, and it was simply not worthy of the £25/month I paid for it – especially since in my area competition from local loop unbundled services (eg. Be Unlimited or Sky) is just a call to BT away.

2. The reorganisation of the TV packages. I am not someone who complained about the loss of Sky One; as a matter of fact, the way VM dealt with the loss of Sky One had my full support and may well have prevented me from cancelling due to the broadband fault. However, I have been irritated by the recent, unheralded and unwarned of change to the TV L package that has seen the removal of MTV Hits, The Box and VH1 Classic and their replacement with MTV UK and VH1. I accept that these are “better” brand names for a TV package, but this brings the number of channels that show music videos without filling half the screen with opaque junk or relying on useless celebrity programming to zero (from one: VH1 Classic). With the price rise in TV L, the gain of just one channel (Bloomberg, which doesn’t interest me) and the fact that certain channels which are free to air on satellite are only on the XL package on VM (Zone Horror, for example) I’m finding this very hard to take.

3. While I do appreciate the free weekend calls on basic telephone line rental, per-minute billing is intrinsically unfair. Switching back from the fairer per-second billing has been another annoyance, especially since it was hidden on the small print of the flyer.

4. The introduction of bandwidth shaping on broadband services: I don’t disagree with the need for curbing heavy users on what is after all a shared connection, I just disagree with the fact that no-one has actually been told about it. Sure, the newsgroups know and it’s all over the user support websites, but I haven’t received any email telling me about this major change in my broadband service’s provision from unlimited 4Mbit to unlimited 4Mbit between midnight and 4pm, and I feel that it is entirely unacceptable that only those who read the newsgroups or support forums know about it.

5. The special deals being given to customers who complain about the loss of Sky One are particularly irritating right now. This is it in a nutshell: there are forum threads pretty much everywhere on the net right now encouraging people to call into VM, complain about the loss of Sky One (which, of course, they don’t really care about, otherwise they’d already have Sky) and get a better deal.

There are people getting L broadband/XL TV/L phone for £35/mo – this apparently exists as an internal designation called “package 9”. I’m paying £47.50/mo for L/L/M, and £12.50/mo is a considerable amount of money for me to be paying more for an inferior service. If you’re going to give deals to people, don’t hide them – give them to everyone. Personally I would be very happy with this, but I’m not sure how long I’m going to be in a VM area (my university course is finishing soon) and do not want to be tied down to a 12-month contract that I might not be able to keep to.

6. Your email support web form (at http://help2.virginmedia.com/assets/html/
customer_feedback/customer_feedback_querytype_2.html
) only accepts a certain number of characters in a message. This of course is mentioned nowhere on the web form itself and the textbox accepts many more; thus when trying to send this letter electronically I received an autoreply telling me that “due to a technical issue we only received part of your email”. Since you do not provide a real email address for receiving customer messages, this has forced me into sending this by postal mail. Providing an actual email address read by people would be the best option here, but please at least fix this problem.

(From the two days late auto-responses I’ve been getting to my cut off complaints it appears to strip line spaces from the text as well, which would have made this letter unreadable in any case.)

7. The most recent irritation, however, has been the emailed announcement about the change to broadband technical support services from free (through 150) to a 25p/minute premium rate number. Even considering that you will not be allowed to put people on hold, the various calls I made to you over issues that were entirely your fault in the early part of this year would have made about £10+ in extra income if they were charged for in this way – the time taken up by various computer rebooting, etc., despite the fact that it was the equipment provided by Telewest that obviously was not working.

Your competition in my area and in most other cable areas, Be Unlimited ADSL2+, has a freephone support service. Sky has an 0870 number. Premium rate support is simply unacceptable ethically; I am not going to pay 25p/minute for issues which are your fault. If this policy stays I am afraid that, despite everything, I will have to cancel service.

8. In a sense then the main problem I am having with VM that I didn’t have with Telewest is the lack of information. Faults are in planning for months, TV packages are changed without any warning, broadband packages are changed without warning, “package 9” only is known about through hearsay, the entire way my phone is charged was changed in the small print, and then when you try to complain the email web form silently cuts off most of your message. When Telewest did things like that they sent letters or emails, or at least gave slightly more information than “it’s in planning” when you asked them why. I’ve never had a fault that lasted more than 24 hours before the takeover. And support for their products was always free.

What I would like, therefore is for my service to improve back to the level it was for my first three and a half years as a customer. If you can’t do that, then I and others like me will be forced into alternatives, and I really don’t want to have to do that; while I’ve got too much of an ethical conviction to go to Sky (or lie to you that I want to go there), these don’t apply to BT and ADSL2+ LLU. I know how good my service can be. Can you get it back?

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5 thoughts on “An open letter to Virgin Media

  1. I have been with ntl for years now but since virgin media took over it has been 1 hell of a ride .virgin media must be the fastest company in the world to upset so many people at once they lost the top sky programs (sky 1) they tell you you can get 20meg broadband but they don’t tell you you can only use it for 21mins before they cap your speed to 5meg and call it traffic management you have a problem and you get someone on the other end of the phone that you cant understand and now there going to charge you 25pence a min for the privilege now how can company’s get away with it they say 1 thing and do another i wont be staying with virgin media if this continuse

  2. I’m in agreement with most of what Les has already said, although my circumstances are slightly different.

    I was never really happy with the level of service i was getting from NTL , Cable & Wireless or Ninex before that, but VM have managed to lose my confidence in only a fraction of the time.

    Although the loss of the Sky channels were an annoyance, I understood the position they were in and the Setanta sports channels have been some consolation.

    Apart from the generally bad service and the points that have already been made, it’s the 25p a min charge fault line that may be the final straw that forces me to cancel my subscription.

    If VM had set out to deliberately alienate customers, I can’t imagine a better way to do it than to add a 25p a min charge to those subscribers who are already experiencing problems with their service.

  3. Just noticed my connection (VM 2mbit package) being throttled on the newsgroups recently. Realise now that the ‘router issue’ I’ve had with torrents over the last couple of months is likely to be pure bandwidth throttling. I’m in the Dundee area and have never had an issue with stability or contention, but now my usual speeds suddenly get halved for downloading from the newsgroups in the evenings – 250-ish becomes 115-117k.

    I was aware that some trials were going on in certain areas – and that mine wasn’t one of those areas, but have heard nothing from Vigin that this was being rolled out nationwide. An e-mail at the least would have been nice, but really I feel a new terms and conditions booklet should really have been posted out to all customers clearly highighting this fact. Yeah, it’ll increase call volumes and complaints, and yeah they’ll lose customers, but honesty counts for something, you know…

    I never had a problem with Blueyonder – the service was rock-solid and everything was supported well. Under Virgin Media the bills have slowly crept up (including a raise to a fiver for “non-DD payment processing”!) and increased phone charges and worse TV services have quietly snuck in the back door, plus the throttling – despite what they still publicly claim. Virgin saw the chance to get two well-subscribed networks in NTL/Telewest and the ability to squeeze the customers loyal to those brands. I wouldn’t use an ADSL package because of the poor service they all offer (unless you’re on a London-only premium service) and the capping issue. Only, it now seems that’s exactly what Virgin Media are bringing to the cable party… Also, I worked tech support for BT Openworld business desk for a while (honestly, my worst job ever) and I know how bad ADSL can be.

    I’ll admit I am a high-useage user and I don’t support the arguement (especially when it comes from fellow customers) that paying for an internet connection of a stated speed doesn’t guarantee you 24/7 at that speed. I’m paying for a service at a set cost; if they can’t support all their customers’ demands then they should improve the network capacity or reduce stated speeds and not inflate what they CAN do, not penalise customers who have agreed a contract and are now enjoying the service.

    Oh, and I couldn’t care less about the lack of Sky One and I, too, supported VM on the issue, but I am also annoyed with people telling each other to ring up and complain to get a discount. I haven’t done it – which you may say is more fool me – but I am also of the agreement that it should have resulted in a saving being passed on to all customers immediately, not just pocketting the convenient rise in profits and giving special rates to those customers who bother to ring. I, too, am opposed to switching to Sky – especially becuase I prioritise my net access over the rest of the package, so Sky would be a step backwards even from this Virgin service.

    I haven’t bothered complaining before now, but it’s getting to “the final straw” stages. I just long for the good old days of Telewest/Blueyonder… Ahh, happy days.

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