UK Internet service provider, UK Online, has quietly stopped signing up new customers for any of its consumer broadband packages.
The precise reason for the unorthodox move, which dates back some weeks, remains unclear, but it is unlikely to be a lack of resources. The company is owned by FTSE-100 company BSkyB as part of a portfolio that includes the SME broadband and service operation, Easynet Connect, and has an unbundled presence in a large number of BT exchanges around the country.
What is unusual is that the company has only made it public when asked about the matter – the website still appears to be up and running for new custom. It is only when prospective customers try to sign up that they find it impossible to proceed.
“We are currently experiencing a number of technical issues with the UK Online website which is affecting some of our web-based services and sign-up processes, so we have taken the decision not to sign up new customers temporarily until this issue is resolved so as not to give new customers a bad experience,” read an emailed statement to ComputerWorld UK. “This does not affect existing customers and the UK Online network is completely unaffected.”
No date was named for the re-commencement of sign-ups, even in the most general terms, which hints that the issue could be more serious than a mere technical hiccup.
UK Online is one of a handful of broadband companies targeting the higher end of the consumer market, with packages that offer the popular feature of UK-based call centres, freephone customer support and access to a non-BT network in return for relatively high tariffs up to £25 ($41) per month. Its reputation is considered to be good.
Being an unbundled broadband network– Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) to give its technical name – should give UK Online a huge advantage over rivals forced to re-sell BT’s reputedly mediocre Access broadband. Other rivals with a similar level of end-to-end control over their LLU networks include Virgin Media, Talk Talk/Tiscali, Orange, and the BT-owned PlusNet.
A source familiar with company told ComputerWorld UK that parent BSkyB might be having second thoughts about the high-end consumer broadband model, and had stopped signing up new customers while it ponders the future of the operation. Such an interpretation is, of course, entirely speculation, and seems hard to tally with the high margins companies can achieve once the investment in unbundled broadband has been made at exchange level. More likely is some kind of technological glitch.
While UK Online sorts out its mysterious woes, the business-oriented UK Connect wing of the company remains very much up and running to accept new customers. Its sales team appeared to know nothing about UK Online’s problems.