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A tale of two suppliers

2010 June 23
by Malcolm Sleath

Over the weekend it finally dawned on me that every time I downloaded email, I was getting an error message about one particular RSS feed that was failing to connect to the server.

It was the user forum for Voipfone, the excellent voice over internet service that I use for all my inbound calls, sending faxes and all kinds of other stuff. On the very rare occasions when there is a problem with the service, the RSS feed from the forum site is the way I find out about it.

Usually the emails take the form of:

Hey, you might have had a problem doing this or that for a few minutes. If you did, it was us. But we’ve solved it. If you are still having problems then do this, and if that doesn’t work, call us.

I tried my browser, and found that I could not raise the site even after double checking the URL. So I sent Voipfone an email asking what had happened to their user forum. No problem with the site, they said.

So I did all the usual things, and some new ones I found on the internet. I rang my ISP Virgin Media Business. On a Sunday. The young man sounded helpful. He could access the site without difficulty, and suggested I ‘ping’ and ‘tracert’ the IP address. That worked. But doing the same with the DNS address (the www version) didn’t.

I tried a few more suggestions I found on the internet, but none of them made any difference. By now I was 90% certain the problem was not with our computers or the router. So around 11:00 am on Sunday morning (sad or what?) I wrote a detailed email to the address for customer service given on the back of my Virgin bill, explaining what I had done so far, and attaching the text reports from my pings and so forth. I sent a copy to Voipfone to keep them in the loop as it could be that a major ISP was blocking one of their sites.

Within a few minutes, I had a reply – from Voipfone. They had read my email, looked at the reports, and diagnosed that there was probably something up with my ISP’s DNS servers. There were options, and they gave me links to two free alternatives, where I found instructions on how to redirect my router. I chose Google on the grounds that there is probably not much about my surfing habits they don’t already know. Ten minutes work and the result? – no problems with the forum site or the RSS feed, and overall responsiveness during web surfing also seemed faster.

Forty-eight hours later I had still not heard from Virgin. So I called Virgin technical support. I told them what had happened. Oh, the man said. Actually we changed our DNS servers a few weeks ago…

I still wanted to know why I had not had a reply from customer service, so I asked to be put through to them. The delightful lady who answered could not see my email but said they would contact the team who filtered incoming emails and I would get a call-back.

Twenty-four hours on: no email acknowledgement, no call.

Bear in mind that Voipfone have no commercial responsibility whatsoever for sorting out my DNS problems. Virgin have.

Quiz question for the day. Which supplier (and Voipfone also supply broadband) will I recommend to my friends?

Update 28th June

A note from Virgin in the comments today (see comments). I redacted the name of the person – but I spoke to him/her and  s/he does exist!