Writers are multi-talented beasties. I have a background in e-learning, computers, librarianship, information science, and other such crafts. As such, I often get asked for help with anything computer-related. Computers are complicated. Variants of hardware, software, drivers, settings, operating systems and so on. Inevitably even a genius like myself needs to seek help with some problems. But my other interest is communication, and words - surely it shouldn't be difficult to find that help?

Today I had to help a family member who had upgraded their broadband connection to BT Infinity. It wasn't something I was familiar with, because I prefer to use independent, ethical or green companies, such as the Phone Coop, GreenISP, and Triodos. The basic problem was that every device connected to the new Wi-Fi router with no problem, except for the laptop my mother uses. It just didn't ask for the router password. I forced it to use the password via advanced settings, but it still didn't work. Since I didn't have the Internet yet, I couldn't use online help, so decided to ring BT support.

If you have ever rung BT support you'll know that - in common with many big companies - they outsource it all to India in order to maximise shareholder profits at the expense of local jobs (unlike the kinds of smaller companies I mentioned earlier). BT also added an "automated voice recognition operator" which you speak to, and the computer tries to understand you. Needless to say this fails more often than it works, usually meaning you have to start all over again. The days of speaking directly to a UK IT person from a single number are long gone with BT. So it was no surprise when I was transferred to India.**

I explained the problem, and wondered what settings we could look at and check, since I felt sure there must be a way to get it to work - the previous BT router had no problems at all. Unfortunately, the general conversation went like this (heavily truncated from 30 minutes spent on the phone).

BT: "Your laptop is too far from the router. Walls block the signal."
Me: "It shows maximum signal strength."
BT: "Still too far away. Buy a signal booster."
Me: "I don't want to buy more gadgets. I don't think that is the answer. Anyway, it worked before, with the old router. And it is not that far away at all. A lot nearer than the distance between my laptop and old router at home."
BT: "In that case, I think it must be a problem with Windows XP. I suggest you contact Microsoft and ask them to help."
Me: "Firstly, Microsoft don't support individuals in that way. Secondly, Microsoft don't offer any support for Windows XP any more. Thirdly, this is something that BT has changed. It worked before. You sent me a new router. Therefore, being logical, there is something about the new router that is different."
BT: "BT has changed nothing. It works."
Me: "It doesn't work. There must be some setting that is different, that BT-" 
BT: "No, we changed nothing. It works with Windows XP."

The final answer I was given - find someone who knows about computers and pay them to fix it.

I then spent another three hours trying everything I could think of - with and without Ethernet cables; trying different physical locations; using another device to search online discussions; installing and uninstalling buggy BT "Desktop Help" software that crashed the laptop... I was just about to give up, thinking I’d have to buy a new laptop, or a USB network dongle, or just take a flamethrower to everything. Then I tried one last thing, looking at the admin router settings on a different PC. I lowered BT's default router security from WPA2 to WPA – and it worked! It seems so obvious in retrospect, since WPA was the older standard, and the one common when the laptop's network card was made. I'm astonished that BT suggested things that would not fix the problem, and they denied that it was a change on their part when it blatantly was (they had changed the default settings on the router they had sent from those on the previous BT router - and that was the problem). Any decent IT department would have twigged on to this much quicker than I did: the error I was telling them about was to do with authentication/certification/validation, which should have immediately led them to their own security settings.

Communication, eh? So much depends on it. I'll end my rant now, I just needed to get that off my chest. So glad I'm not with BT...


** The irony there is that as someone who works from home, I get about 5 spam calls a day, usually from India, telling me they are from Microsoft and Windows has an error and that if I install their software it will fix it. BT say they can't do anything about these calls; and despite BT having 35 years to implement one of the effective anti-spam systems, they have never bothered.