Basil Howitt’s report on the fraught and prolonged installation of WiFi in his remote village of Lansac in Le Fenouillèdes

“France Télécom can wipe out its reported 70 billion euros of debt at a stroke and become a profit centre worth limitless trillions. All it has to do is to continue siphoning off monthly direct debits from the limitless people who don’t exist.”

In March 2007 I reported in a Panama-based website on the initial shambolic attempts of France Télécom to install its broadband wireless internet system (Packsurfwifi) in our tiny village of Lansac.

In the end it took fully nine months in our own case for the service to be up and reasonably running. The hardware was efficiently installed by a sub-contractor in October 2006, but it was not until late July in 2007 that we had broadband or “haut débit” access for more than a few minutes or hours at a time. Fortunately our local Mairie is very close by, and was equally affected by the constant cut-offs. Having more clout than any individual villager, the Mairie repeatedly rang the Commercial Engineer responsible for the installations. And just as well, because if ever we ourselves tried to contact “technical services” we were hardly ever rung back. And if we were, we were told that our installation didn’t exist: they couldn’t find us in their records and we had no contract number. This was true in the sense that although we had signed contracts with the Commercial Engineer, the contract number in every case had been left blank! Other neighbours in our village are currently experiencing an identical response when they ring up “technical services” with their problems.

We must have had altogether up to a dozen visits from baffled, head-scratching technicians over those 9 months. Annoyingly, because the fault was intermittent, the system sometimes worked when the technician arrived and stopped when he left. C’est normale! At other times, the system was dead all day and suddenly sprang into life at around midnight. One of our self-employed neighbours could only get his essential work on the internet done by working night shifts and sleeping in the day. C’est la vie!

Every conceivable cause for the malfunctioning was identified, from faulty modems to incorrectly configured routers. In despair we even employed our own local computer whizz-kid in nearby St Paul-de-Fenouillet to try to sort it out, but he threw up his hands in despair. “It’s France Télécom. What do you expect?”

Finally, finally someone discovered the cause of the problem. It’s hard to believe that it was nothing more than the WiFi television set of one of our neighbours. Every time he switched it on, our connections were cut off. All that was needed, apparently, was to separate his television and our internet channels and voilà, we were all home and dry. These days disturbances are minimal, and can be cured by switching off, unplugging and replugging the mains connection and the router, then rebooting. After which we are back in business! A small inconvenience to pay when you live in the back of beyond.

However this isn’t the end of the story! Although we were finally up and running in late July, we were billed by standing order in October for the rental of the WiFi connection since 1st June. Fortunately I had kept a daily bulletin of our connection breakdowns and emailed our Commercial Engineer demanding a refund for the two months of June and July (51,80 euros). I emailed about every two or three weeks and each time received only an automated acknowledgement. On the advice of the Mairie and other neighbours requiring refunds, I then sent (on 12th November) a signed refund demand by La Poste to France Télécom’s claims department in Nancy.

Still nothing for several weeks! Steeling myself to the task I rang the “réclamations” section of France Télécom (1014, then press 3). I luckily found a helpful lady called Cécile who spoke clearly and not too quickly, gave me her fax number, asked me to send her my contract, and promised to ring back.

She did – she did! Something of a turnup for the books in our experience. When she rang back she said that my claim for the 51 euros had been received but could not be processed because I had no installation contract number. Quite literally, neither I nor the installation existed.

 

Cartesian dilemm

I was in a mind and matter dilemma that must have set Descartes dancing in his grave. I didn’t exist, yet I had a bank account from which I was being milked for a service I hadn’t received. With such sleights of hand France Télécom can wipe out its reported 70 billion euros of debt at a stroke and become a profit centre worth limitless trillions. All it has to do is siphon of monthly direct debits from the limitless people who don’t exist.

When all else fails mention the Juge de Proximité

I woke up on Monday morning of 17th December and decided I had had enough. I would threaten our Commercial Engineer with legal action in the small claims court. After googling for a while around the phrase “comment porter plainte” (how to sue) I wrote him a blunt letter saying that if he did not organise my refund before Christmas I would lodge an “injonction à payer” against him personally (as France Télécom’s relevant employee) with the Juge de Proximité in Montpellier where he is based.

This worked wonders! Our beloved commercial engineer moved like greased lightning. I had barely clicked the send button on my email before he rang. He became very focussed and assured me I would receive my claim. And today – 4th January – I have a letter in my hand promising me a refund on my next phone bill!

The Small Claims procedure in France is simple and completely free. You can download the form Cerfa no. 12947*0 and away you go.

© Basil Howitt 2008

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