or, why getting ADSL in France really sucks…
(follow up to 5 Days Without and my ISP FAQs)
The French media is abuzz today with news that customer complaints against French broadband providers are up over 50% year-on-year for the 2nd year in a row.
In a land where there are 400 different words for cheese but none for customer satisfaction it is not surprising that French customer service has the reputation of being the worst in this quadrant of the galaxy. And, if there is any one industry segment in France that has worse customer service than all the others, it is arguably the broadband supply sector.
So we are talking really really bad. Which looks like this:
The French consumer, who until recently lagged behind the rest of the so-called Modern World in terms of Internet uptake, has finally discovered the benefits of Internet, ADSL and illegal downloads, and is rushing to a) buy computers and b) hook them into the network. To spite the ex-telco monopoly, France Telecom, (“Serving France badly for over 200 years“), the French are using their new-found consumer empowerment to choose new broadband companies such as Free, Cegetel, Alice, etcetc. to supply high-speed internet. (That many of these new companies are ex-monopolies from other European countries or Old France is an unworthy detail.)
Once a frenchpersonne decides to go for it, there are 2 ways to approach getting an ADSL connection. According to where one lives, one can either choose to keep one’s good old FT line and piggy-back third-party ADSL onto it (called adsl non-dÃ©groupÃ©), or, heh heh, one can renounce FT altogether, and have the ADSL supplier furnish a techno-enchilada — voice services, TV, and broadband (called dÃ©groupÃ©).
Whichever ADSL is chosen, it is always an FT technician (FT still owns the copper wires) who takes the consumer’s phone wires at the central station and plugs them into either blackbox A for non-dÃ©groupÃ© customers or blackbox B for dÃ©groupÃ© customers. Afterwards, the technician certifies the information to the ADSL supplier, who immediately starts debiting the client’s bank account for 30â‚¬/month.
This is when the complaints generally start. A huge proportion of new ADSL subscriber lines simply don’t work from the get-go, even though the customer is told that they do. To add insult to injury, many of these unfortunate victims lose their voice line in the process (which was working perfectly up til then, thank you very much).
All one can do then, is call the provider’s support line. You use a friend’s phone of course, because you don’t have a phone line anymore. You should be prepared to beg, plead, and whimper. This costs you up to 1â‚¬/minute for the call. You are put on hold for 10 minutes. You are told that you should call back another time because all the support staff has gone home for the day. Or, if there is anyone left to talk to you, you are told that a) it’s all some dumb-technician-who-works-for-another-company’s fault and you need to call France Telecom. Or, you are told that your line checks out perfectly.
You are asked if there is anything else that you wanted to talk about. Numb, you answer “But, but, but..” but it’s into a dead phone line.
Since it’s your neighbor’s phone, you don’t bang it against the wall until it’s reduced to plastic shards. You owe your neighbor 12â‚¬ for the call. You are mortified. Apoplectic. You’ll have to do it all over again tomorrow.
Dante never saw Hell so darkly as this.
- Well, we are in a country where the very words ‘customer service’ generate severe migraines.
- Phone calls to tech support generate a sizeable proportion of a broadband provider’s revenue.
- Some people theorize that the FT technician mentioned earlier plugs a certain number of the new lines into a hitherto unidentified top secret device, call it Box C, which is really made of styrofoam painted to look like a hi-tech ADSL DSLAM and is connected to nowhere. FT and the third-party supplier, split the support line revenue.
- I don’t know.
My best advice
1. Don’t go with FT’s service, Orange. It is expensive and dull.
2. When choosing amongst the other contenders, never ever ever order ‘dÃ©groupÃ©’ (which means that you’re giving up your France Telecom phone line) straight away. Not because FT is good or warm or fuzzy (they’re not) but you’ll need the voice line to call tech support for the first few months while your ADSL doesn’t work.
3. As a corollary to Â¶2, if you live in a part of rural France that has only just received ADSL service, you have probably been using RNIS or NumÃ©ris phone service (ISDN in english) for your internet. In your joy about finally having broadband possibility, DO NOT cancel your RNIS line at the same time that you order a new analog line to carry your ADSL. You will probably find yourself without telephone service for months or years.
Order the analog line with ADSL, then when it all works fine, cancel the RNIS.
4. I have recommended Free for many years, and it is true that their service, when it’s up and running, is the most technologically correct. But over the last year, I have noticed that new lines ordered through Free rarely work for the first few months. You spend 50, 100â‚¬ on tech support phone calls and all the while, they’re debiting you 29.99â‚¬/month. It can’t be allowed anymore. Choose someone else.