Thursday, February 24, 2011

You could have been receiving me

Yesterday I posted a lament about lack of access to RTÉ channels. It included the following:

Cable had to be Virgin, formerly NTL. To our surprise, they didn’t include RTÉ channels in any of their packages.

It now turns out that we were misinformed and you can get RTÉ1, RTÉ2 and TG4 on Virgin.

How did this happen?

In February, we received a leaflet through the door, quite by chance given the situation with the chimney and Sky as described yesterday, informing us that we were already connected to Virgin Media. It suggested we might like to switch, proposed a special offer until 31st March, and gave a number to call or web site to visit. The number was 0800 052 1216.

That was the number Nick called, and he was told there was no RTÉ service available.

I called the same number this evening, and was put through to a very helpful woman who confirmed that when my postcode was typed into her system, it did not say RTÉ was available.

The web site is no better. It provides a list of channels available which doesn’t include RTÉ, no doubt because the service is only available in Northern Ireland. I checked that myself at the time and again this evening.

The leaflet suggested a third option for getting more information: ‘pop into a Virgin Media store’. Now whoever on earth does that nowadays unless you know what you are going to buy once you get there, after having checked it out on the internet? Of course we didn’t pursue that option - until this evening. So where was the local store? No details in our brand new phone book, delivered a few days ago. But the Virgin Media store locator on the otherwise useless web site told me that there was a Virgin Media store in Castle Court. The phone was answered almost instantly and the sales assistant confirmed that yes, RTÉ was included and we should come into the store to arrange installation and discuss a number of current special offers. Through gritted teeth, I explained why we were not in a position to do that.

I am steaming mad about this. So how can I complain? With great difficulty:

• The call centre woman couldn’t find a phone number for me to do so.
• The web site includes a complaints form that only accepts complaints from existing account holders. I want to complain that I wasn’t able to get that far. So I can write a letter – come on guys, this is the 21st century!
• Ofcom requires me to take the matter up first with the supplier – which in this case is not my supplier.
• Most ludicrously, the local store doesn’t accept complaints to Virgin as a company because ‘we only sell and install their products’. I’m sure we are not the only customers they have lost due to misinformation and they are not prepared to do anything about it.

So what are we going to do? I intend to write to Virgin but I don’t expect to get a response. The practical issue is that we have to decide whether to write off £134 and go for a Virgin service anyway, now that we know we can get it.

Problem is – after all this, do we really want to become their customer?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Are you receiving me?

Much consternation in out house recently over changes to our TV reception. Soon after Christmas we had to have our chimney removed for structural reasons. Great relief all round as it stopped a roof leak. And then the man came round to re-connect Sky – the dish had been attached to the chimney – and he couldn’t get a signal from anywhere else on the house. Too many trees in the area, apparently. We could ask for them to be cut down, he suggested. Hmmm, we thought. Sky reception but no trees? Not a good exchange.

So we investigated the alternatives. Cable had to be Virgin, formerly NTL. To our surprise, they didn’t include RTÉ channels in any of their packages. How about Freeview? No, they were UK channels only. Could we still get an analogue signal for the Southern channels? Yes, but we’d have to pay £100 or so for a separate aerial, which would only be available until the end of 2012, on top of the charge of more than £100 to get the Freeview stuff done. Apparently the Republic’s Saorview digital service is due to start this summer, but it was impossible to get any precise information. In particular, it’s wasn’t clear whether we’d need a second set top box and/ or second digital aerial.

At one stage, Nick was told we were entitled to RTÉ under the Good Friday Agreement. Surely that can’t be right? I thought. Surely the GFA, along with peace, love and integrated education, doesn’t give me the right to watch Fair City and The Panel?

I looked it up, and of course that wasn’t quite correct. Section 6 is called ‘Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity’. It contains a section on ‘Economic, Social and Cultural Issues’, which amongst other items addresses access to the Irish language, including the commitment of the British and Irish governments to ‘explore urgently with the relevant British authorities, and in co-operation with the Irish broadcasting authorities, the scope for achieving more widespread availability of Teilifis na Gaeilige in Northern Ireland’. That’s TG4 now. So Ros na Rún (subtitled) is nailed at any rate - not that it did us any good.

A further alternative was to get rid of the set altogether. We could watch online, listen to the radio, go to the cinema and read the newspapers. Being a ‘we don’t watch much TV’ kind of couple, it was nice for a few weeks to find out this was actually true, and feel smug. But then withdrawal symptoms set in. So we’ve just been reconnected to the UK channels via a Freeview box and intend to get the Southern digital service as soon as we can, and watch online until then.

Northern Ireland certainly isn’t as British as Finchley, but right now I have the same TV choices as my outer London counterparts and I don’t like it one bit. It’s good to have Newsnight back, though.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

On the doors

To Co. Louth today to canvass for Labour candidate Ged Nash, with a few others from the old Irish Labour crowd. Much note-taking had gone on the night before, making sure that I knew the VAT rate and so on.

There were about ten of us in all and so we were able to cover a lot of ground. It was a stinking day for it and we all ended up soaking wet but it was worth it to get out there early in the campaign. We saw no canvassers from other parties, perhaps due to the weather.

There was the usual high level of people out or not answering. Of those who did open the door, most were only just starting to think about their voting choices and wanted to know a great deal more before making up their minds – but rather than say they were voting Labour to make you go away, they seemed genuinely to be unsure what they were going to do. Some were very vocal about their disillusion with all politicians (as also found by the Irish Times today) and some of these said that at this stage they were thinking of not voting at all. The fact that they have bothered to open the door means it’s possible to have a discussion about this. Labour’s candidate being local, well-known and trusted was important – which is not good news for Sinn Féin.

But for the first time in nearly thirty years of canvassing, I also saw quite a few ‘no politicians’ and ‘no election material’ signs, which have to be respected. In those cases, people had already given up. They didn’t want to engage with the democratic process at all, because they just can’t be bothered. Normally this infuriates me, but I can understand it on this occasion.

The question is what’s going to happen to all this confusion and disappointment. Will voters turn to the United Left Alliance and to Sinn Féin, in the misguided hope that things can carry on as they were after all and the EU/ IMF deal can be unilaterally reneged on rather than renegotiated? Will they stay at home, concentrate on minimising the damage for themselves and their families, and to hell with everyone else? Or can Labour win these votes on a pragmatic but fairer solution to the crisis that isn't going to go away?

Tomorrow’s poll in the Sunday Business Post apparently show Labour up 3% to 22%, with Fine Gael at 35% (down 2), Fianna Fáil 17% (down 1), Sinn Féin 13% (up 1), the Greens 2% (down 1) and others remaining at 11%. Promising for Labour, but it excludes the don’t knows.