If you live in Vidler Square, part of the new housing development of Valley Park, Rye, you will have learnt quickly that this might be the age of optic fibre broadband – which BT proudly markets as Infinity – but it also takes what might seem an eternity to get a phone line.
Anne Grainger, who lives at no 8, told Rye News: “When I lived in my rural abode in Icklesham I felt lucky to be able to access BT infinity. Since moving to Vidler Square I am back in the dark ages. I have no landline or broadband and my only internet access from my home address is by 3G!
“I first contacted BT, my phone and internet providers, on January 16 to advise of my planned move to Rye on March 2. I spent hours trying to get through to them over the next three weeks. Each time I got through I was promised a call back and each time no call back was received
“Getting very frustrated I contacted the chief executive of BT, Gavin Patterson. I was given a complaint number and a BT contact called Kieran Farrugia. I was told that my order would be monitored and I was given a provisional engineer visit for March 2, subject to survey.”
But on the day, Grainger, parish administrator at St Mary’s Rye, was told that ducting leading to the site needed to be cleared before an engineer could attend. “Since that date I’ve had excuse after excuse for no work being done.” The situation is much the same at numbers 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 10.
“In this day and age this failure of BT to connect us beggars belief,” Grainger added. “All of the residents of Vidler Square have been left equally stranded and, despite regular correspondence with the complaints team, I am no nearer to getting a service.
“I was told they needed a permit from the council to do the work and that would happen on March 17. Next I was told that the work hadn’t been done because East Sussex County Council had refused the permit because a utility company was working in the same area . . . I drove up Ferry Road and Udimore Road yesterday and there was no evidence of a utility company working anywhere!”
Her neighbours, she said, had heard other excuses. “Some were told there were delays due to Arancorp, the site developers. Another was told by a BT Openreach engineer that the problem was in getting the cabling under the river.
“My argument with BT is that this work appears to be off site and should have been done in readiness for new residents moving in and I can’t get an explanation as to why that wasn’t done. They refuse to investigate my so-called ‘customer journey’ until they have got the connection finalised. To me, my customer journey has been straight into a brick wall of excuses, indifference and incompetence.”
Grainger described some of her neighbours’ “customer journeys”:
- The family at no 7 moved in on December 7. “Anthony Bremner and his partner Kelly have a young baby. Anthony is a British Gas engineer and needs the internet for his work. He has had to buy a dongle to do this. They have been told not to expect another update until June 2!”
- The couple at no 3 moved in at the end of February. “Keith Whiteway usually works from home one day a week. He has had to buy a dongle to do this. They moved from Fairlight and, like me, contacted BT giving prior notice of their move. They are equally frustrated.”
- The couple at No 6. “Mr and Mrs Halsey, like me, contacted BT on January 16.”
- The couple at no 10. “They moved in the week before me. They have been told by their provider today that it will be at least another month!”
She added: “More families are due to move in this coming weekend and the flats in Griffin Court will also start to be occupied, so more and more people are going to be affected by this issue.”
Kieran Farrugia, of BT’s executive level complaints department, told Rye News: “I’m very sorry for the ongoing delays in providing service to the residents of Vidler Square. I can assure you that we’ve taken full ownership for Mrs Grainger and other residents in order to provide service. Our senior engineering team are also involved to ensure the relevant work gets completed.
“The current situation is that the engineers have to clear three blockages in the ducting opposite Udimore Road, two-way traffic lights are needed and part of a footpath needs to be closed. They also need to clear a blockage in a duct opposite Ferry Road. Again two-way traffic lights are needed and part of a footpath needs to be closed. As there is a utility’s company working in the area, this means that our engineers / contractors will not be able to start until they have completed. We’re aiming to start work during the Easter weekend and will continue to monitor.”
But is that true? Just before we were due to publish the story Grainger told us that she had been comparing notes with another neighbour, Damien Martin at no 1. Farrugia, again, was the BT case officer. But she and Martin were not receiving the same information. Angrily, she fired off this email to Farrugia:
“He [Martin] tells me that BT Openreach don’t plan to do any work until the end of April and that East Sussex County Council have no knowledge of these works. This means, basically, that I have been fed a load of misinformation. I fail to see how you can defend the indefensible. It is appalling. How do you expect people to manage? The longer it goes on the more difficult it becomes to communicate with the outside world.
“I have had to renegotiate my mobile contract to give me unlimited calls which has cost me money. I’ve had to upgrade my phone so that I can get a 4G connection. I have important work I have to get done online and cannot rely on 3G. This is all costing me extra money and this is all down to your failure to provide a service. I expect to receive a refund for these additional costs and compensation for the stress you are causing me.
“Can you please now provide me with a further update of what the actual position is and not the pile of pap you’ve given us so far. We need to know when we are going to get connected and you need to get this ludicrous situation under control.”
Rye News has written to three people at BT in support of the residents – to Patterson, the chief executive, Farrugia and Paul Hayward, a BT media team member. We asked for answers to the following questions:
- Why did BT not discover it had to dig up new footpaths to install basic telephone infrastructure until four months after residents moved in?
- Why is BT telling different customers different stories?
- And why is it not engaging in offers of compensation?