A recent poll of PC Advisor readers suggests that fewer than half of web users are content with their ISPs. And in a 10-month period last year, 27,000 people complained to Ofcom about their ISPs. Even for the nation that produced Mary Whitehouse (although I still suspect alien-involvement there), that's a lot of moaning. Do we expect too much from Internet Service Providers, or are they failing consumers?
Dealings with my own ISP have been almost comically irritating, comprising as they do duplicate payments and unpaid rebates, ropey equipment and a 'support line' that has never once, not ever, been answered when I've rung it. But it's reasonably priced, the line itself is pretty stable and, crucially, it's a huge and expensive hassle to change providers mid contract.
And, even at the peak of my rage, I couldn't quite summon the requisite bile to contact Ofcom - and I'm no slouch in the bile-summoning stakes. It just didn't seem right, somehow.
But the internet is no longer an added extra - it's a utility. Almost every aspect of my life involves some web action (I said 'almost', smut fans). When I moved house and experienced life without on-tap internet, I was lost. Literally on more than one occasion. I didn't know how much cash I had in the bank (not always bad news), I couldn't work from home (ditto) and my Stick Cricket average went through the floor (genuinely sad).
I'd rather be without my phoneline than live unplugged - fixed-line or mobile. And this is where the problem lies.
All the other utilities are multinational behemoths, rooted in nationalised industries. They're unwieldy, byzantine and impersonal, but they have to provide solid service. If your gas supply fails, you can have an engineer round in hours, and if the water company regularly refuses to empty your loo, the shit will (figuratively) hit the fan.
We require a similar sort of service from ISPs, but often they are simply not set up to provide such customer service. (My own, mid-sized ISP claims an email turnaround of 'seven days'. I'm here to tell you that when the managing editor of a large PC title CCs the managing director of the company on an important support enquiry, there's no response within a fortnight).
So here's my big idea - let's nationalise the internet. We'll get the unions and men in donkey jackets to sort things out. Of course, we'll be at the mercy of strikes and at some stage we'll end up having to get our internet from a standpipe on the street, but the complaints procedure will be excellent.
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