I’ve got a phone line in my new flat at last. I had wondered whether I could manage without a fixed line, but the latency and spottiness of 3G data connections has convinced me that I still need some old-skool copper for a decent internet experience.

Since the local exchange (Bermondsey) has terrible contention on the BT ADSL network, I wanted to use an LLU operator—that is, one who has their own equipment in the exchange, and who doesn’t rely on BT for any more than the last mile (or two) of wire.

I’d heard good things about both Be and O2, who share the same hardware and backbone but operate as separate companies. I started off at Be’s website, and typed in my phone number. (Web developers will want to point and laugh at the form that says ‘Copy & paste is not permitted in this field’; view the source for full humorous impact.) The computer said:

Unfortunately Be is not available in your area yet.

That’s not true: I know for a fact that they have equipment at the Bermondsey exchange.

So I phoned them, and got through to an offshore call centre somewhere I couldn’t quite identify. The person I spoke to was charming and competent, but that’s all. She was able to tell me that there was an existing account associated with the number, but couldn’t take it any further.

On a whim, I decided to see what O2’s website had to say:

Order already exists against this number in system.

Despite the geeky terseness of the message, it was at least accurate, unlike Be’s website which appears to make the cardinal sin of catching any error and assuming that it’s the most common one.

Right next to it, they had a free phone number, so I called them. This time, I got through to a Scottish chap who was actually able to help me. He went to talk to a manager to work out how to deal with the unusual situation. He called me back on the same number to verify that it was correct—having taken a mobile number first, just in case. He submitted a request to BT, gave me a case number, and told me to call back if I haven’t heard back by Saturday.

This wasn’t an offshore/onshore issue per se—it was one of initiative, and I’m sure that the way that call centres are managed and their staff evaluated is at least as important as any other factor. The fact remains, though, that whereas Be’s phone support wasn’t able to break out and handle this odd case, O2’s was. And that’s why I’ll be signing up with them for ADSL service.

Once they’ve sorted out this minor problem, that is.