I have the kind of internet connection which, in this country, is officially classified as ‘broadband’. Of late, the previously tolerable speeds have become much worse. 300 KiB/s downloads have shrunk to 50 KiB/s in the evening—and, what’s worse, when a single HTTP connection is saturating the series of tubes, the congestion is so bad that it prevents even DNS requests. Download a file over a few megabytes, and I cannot browse another website until it’s finished.

Having established (by replacing it) that my ADSL modem/router was not at fault, I contacted my ISP, NewNet. They told me to run the BT wholesale speed tester application, a shoddily-programmed web page that combines incompetence in HTML, JavaScript, and Java into a massive trifecta of fail. It’s ugly, full of misspellings and grammatical solecisms, and conveys exactly the right impression: BT do not give a shit about you.

To be fair, it’s not my ISP’s fault. BT require them to use these broken tools before they’ll even consider consigning the request to bureaucratic oblivion. But the speed tester is especially bad. On my first try, it wouldn’t authenticate me. On my second and third tries, the Java portion of the mutant application printed an obtuse exception before hanging indefinitely with the useless message, ‘No of threads is 4 !’

Eventually, I was forced to find a way to run it in order to get anything done. I fired up a virtual machine: it does work with IE on Windows XP. Of course. But why should I need all that just to run a speed test?! And how do they manage to write a simple Java application that fails so badly at portability?

As I say, though, I managed to get it to run in the end:

Your DSL connection rate: 5440 kbps(DOWN-STREAM), 448 kbps(UP-STREAM)
IP profile for your line is – 4500 kbps
Actual IP throughput achieved during the test was – 806 kbps

So I’m getting a pathetic 18% of my full speed. You’d have thought this was enough to do something about it. No. As My ISP told me:

Bt only class this as a fault is [sic] the throughput is belwo [sic] 400Kbps,

Way to go, champs! BT bring a new meaning to the term ‘broadband penetration’.

I did a little investigation of my own with the Exchange Congestion Checker

Congestion status on this exchange is RED.

Your telephone line has been identified as being on a congested exchange. If you are receiving varying speeds between 400kbs – 2000kbs at different times of the day this is likely to be a result of the congestion issue.

A provisional date of Nov 14, 2008 has been set for upgrading this exchange.

So I shouldn’t really hope for a resolution any time soon. Apparently, the exchange was also due to be upgraded to use the 21CN network in August last year. Obviously, that didn’t happen, so I’m inclined to imagine that the new target date of the end of March is also unlikely to be realised.

As far as I can see, there’s no real incentive for BT to do anything about the problem: they can keep shovelling customers onto the exchange, getting paid regardless of how inadequate the service provided is as long as it’s above that pathetically low magic number of 400 kbps. Meanwhile, Ofcom will pat themselves on the back on reaching arbitrary targets of numbers of households with broadband-that-isn’t-really.

At this point, it seems like my only option for decent service is to switch to a different provider that has LLU equipment installed at the exchange. This unfortunately excludes NewNet. I’ve been very satisfied with everything else about their service—everything outside BT’s venal, incompetent grasp—but what can I do?

Did I mention I hate BT?