Following the acquisition of Telecom Italia by the Iliad Group (trading as Free) late last year, 150 resellers have had to find a new provider for their customers. This has affected the English speaking expat market particularly hard, with many experiencing difficulties with the change to a new service.
Naturally customers will take the opportunity to look around for the best deals on the market whilst some of the biggest companies are using telemarketing teams to promote their service. Large numbers are now reporting that the services they were sold over the telephone that offered big savings simply do not work. This is because the savings are made by removing or reducing the line rental cost, putting all calls and services over the broadband service. Whilst this service works very well it can not be received in all locations and proper tests have to be made.
This is where the problems start as the telemarketing teams are unlikely to offer to undertake the simple test as they are only employed to make a sale. If you find after you have purchased such a service it does not work the costs are considerable. Apart from having a very poor and intermittent telephone call service the broadband connection may be unstable as well. The only solution will be to cancel the service, but as it is usually sold with a minimum 1 year contract the balance of the contract will have to be paid in full. On top of this you will have to pay for a new telephone line to be installed and subject to a reliable service being available a new broadband service, with all the costs associated with it.
The message could not be clearer: buyer beware!
The choices used to be simple, either you could only get a slow dial-up service or if you were lucky enough to be in an area where it was available a broadband connection with a speed related to the distance your property was from the local exchange. Now there are so many choices it is very hard for you to be certain you are being offered or have chosen the most appropriate service. This is made worse by there being no apparent place to go for good honest advice. This complicated market can be understood if you know what questions to ask. The comments here apply to services where you have chosen another provider to take over and manage your broadband service. Here are a few examples of what is available:
Non Degroupage: (Found mainly in small towns and villages.) This is where the broadband service is applied to your France Telecom line and the broadband equipment in your local exchange is owned by France Telecom. You will still have to rent your line and you may be able to make some savings by sending your telephone calls over the broadband service (VOIP). Several providers also offer unlimited call packages. This service is the most widely available and estimated at 85% of the English speaking expat market and is the most stable with speeds up to 20mb. Beware that this service is also sold at a low price with a speed limited to just 512K with extra costs for an upgrade in speed. It is also the more expensive of the options and this is why customers are keen to examine the alternatives.
Degroupage: (Found mainly in big and medium cities.) This service also uses the France Telecom line but the provider (SFR for example) has installed its own equipment in your local exchange. This service is often linked to a reduced line rental cost and again depending on the supplier unlimited call packages will be available. The maximum speed will be 20mb.
ADSL Nu: (Found mainly in small towns and villages.) This service uses the France Telecom broadband equipment in the local exchange, but the line is managed by the broadband provider. This is the other most widely available service and in the right circumstances is also very stable. Not all providers offer unlimited call packages with this service. This offer is also available to approximately 85% of the English speaking expat customers but if the service proves to be unstable all services will be lost. Those particularly at risk will live in rural areas where the quality of the signal is low and where mobile coverage is also poor. Without doubt this service produces the majority of customer complaints through being miss sold so do check with near neighbours to see if they have it and what they think.
Degroupage Total: (Found mainly in big and medium cities.) This is where both the line and the broadband equipment in the exchange are owned by the same provider and is the one where the ‘voice’ narrow band spectrum of the telephone line is disabled cancelling the line rental cost. Only 15% of the expat customers are likely to live in an area where this service is available. Those particularly at risk will live in rural areas where the quality of the signal is low and where mobile coverage is also poor. It offers very good savings if you are lucky enough to be in a good location but has caused more customer dissatisfaction that most any other product in this market.
What to ask if you get a sales call in English: Many French telecoms companies are targeting the English speaking communities offering these services. One important consideration is if the technical support is in English also. In many cases it will not be and problems with Broadband are much more difficult to deal with than with problem telephone services. Technical French can be a real problem for some people and if this is something that will trouble you it would be wise to consider companies that provide technical support in English that can be cheaper as well. It is also wise to check the quality of the service as many can take up to two days to respond to a loss of service and several providers require you to call their premium rate number for help.
A few words on telephone calls and call packages to help you make additional good savings might be useful. Nearly all French providers charge a ‘connection fee’, meaning that every time a number you have dialled is answered a one off flat fee is charge, typically €0.12 in addition to the cost for the time the call is in progress. It is a charge that has long since disappeared from the UK market and can add a significant amount to your bill. Typical savings for someone with a typical expat call pattern of 60% can be made by seeking an alternative to France Telecom and with most of their competitors making similar charges it is worth taking some time to seek out better deals without sacrificing quality.
Unlimited call packages are also worth checking very carefully. The principle is that for a single monthly payment you can make an unlimited number of calls to the destinations included in your chosen group, which can include one or more international destinations. The ‘free’ calls are nearly always limited to ‘landlines’; that is ordinary numbers using the equivalent of the UK STD code. Mobiles, premium rate and marketing numbers except French 0800 numbers will not be included. Again, there is a big difference in how marketing numbers are charged and if you regularly call UK marketing numbers you will need to check these costs out to avoid heavy bills. One other thing to look out for is a small minority of providers who charge a connection charge to all ‘free’ calls in their packages. This charge can be much higher than the usual €0.12!
With the very low prices now available you may be better off choosing a ‘pay as you go’ service first and once you know what you are likely to spend on calls decide if an unlimited call package will actually save you money.
With a poor exchange rate and very low interest rates likely to be with us for some time enthusiasm for making savings has never been greater, but a wrong decision will cost a lot so seek a reliable company that is committed to not miss selling any of its products and change will be a positive experience.
By Bob Elliott, Commercial Director, UK Telecom Ltd