Thursday, November 10, 2011

BT Broadband Blues

At the end of October I received the following email from BT (excerpted):

Good news. We’re rolling out our faster broadband and we’ll be upgrading our network in your area on 31-Oct-11. This’ll make the things you do online quicker.

For the first ten days or so after your upgrade, your broadband might slow down or even stop now and again. That's normal and your speed will soon settle down. You can help it along by leaving your BT Home Hub on all the time and using your broadband as much as you can for this period.

BT's perception of incipient Good News was indeed prescient. All this month the Internet link has been randomly dropping, maybe three minutes downtime every couple of hours. More seriously, when I write my articles for I have to upload images to WordPress: mysteriously, their pop-up window for image upload stopped working.

Naturally my first thought was that this was a W7 laptop problem. I tried uploading with my business machine (W7 starter) and my old business machine (XP): nothing worked. Then I tried with my Vodafone 3G connection and the upload worked just fine. I had already checked that the problem was not with WordPress so it seemed clear that the failure lay with BT.

This morning I nerved myself for what I knew would be a tedious and difficult technical support call. The first ten minutes was spent trying to find a number. Like Amazon, BT make it extremely difficult to search out a technical help number. After five layers of IVR menus I eventually got through to the Indian call centre.

I explained that BT had put a new DSLAM or, as I believe it's called in BT-speak, an MSAN in my local exchange, probably upgrading to ADSL2+ and that I believed this upgrade was the root of the problem. I'm not sure the guy in India had a clue what I was talking about.

Clearly something which is not affecting general Internet access (layers 3 and 4) but is messing up session/application connectivity (layers 6/7) is going to be down to some kind of application-proxying appliance. I asked whether BT in its upgrade was perhaps installing new application-screening firewalls in response to the latest scare on adult content.

The BT guy was handicapped in that he had no access to network-upgrade data (how helpful is that?) but he dutifully took over my screen and we rehearsed together that the image-upload didn't work. Then he closed down the call saying he had no idea what was wrong.

I briefly tried the "Internet Chat" technical help facility, getting through to "Claire" with an initial message describing the problem. Nothing happened for a long while so I wandered off: when I returned the chat session had timed out with Claire's last response indicating that BT couldn't help with third-party issues such as Vodafone 3G.

Today, however, is the magical tenth day after the upgrade and this evening, while I was delving into the BT Home Hub firewall to see whether that could be the problem, I discovered that the problem had gone away.

So what's the answer? I think the BT engineers did indeed connect an appliance to the (upstream) link of their new DSLAM to monitor usage. And I think that this introduced some subtle effect that degraded the session link with the WordPress image-upload function. At close of business today the engineers took it away, and normal service was resumed.

Moral? There isn't one. Exasperation and wasted time? Off the scale.