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I’ve begged Virgin Media to restore my old service. I can’t record RTÉ and my phone won’t work

Pricewatch: Streaming whatever show you want at home is a brilliant benefit nowadays, but for some people, losing the ability to save particular programmes for later is a source of much frustration

The 1970s were a dark and miserable time for most Irish children – at least when it came to the telly.

It was so grim that, sometimes, when this page is feeling particularly mean, it tells its Gen Z offspring horror stories of times past – back when we had a black and white box in the corner of the livingroom and not so much as one, single, remote control.

The absence of such a smart device meant we had to get off the couch, walk all the way over to the box and push a button before returning to the couch if we wanted to change channels or just turn the television off.

The horror.

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Mind you, up until 1978, there was no point in changing the channel at all, as most people – at least those of us who lived beyond the Pale – had to make do with RTÉ1 for our entertainment.

And as if that one channel wasn’t bad enough – and it was – the national broadcaster only sprang into life and started entertaining us at 4pm in the winter and 5pm in the summer, and shut down before midnight with a rousing version of Amhrán na bhFiann playing as the nation was sent to bed.

It is hard to convey just how excited all of us folk living outside of Dublin were when RTÉ launched its second channel with the memorable phrase “comenatcha”. That excitement was surpassed in the 1980s following the arrival of multichannel TV courtesy of Cablelink, an ancestor of Virgin Media, which is where we are heading with this story, as it happens – but we’re not there yet.

We didn’t know ourselves with the arrival of most of the British channels, MTV, Sky News, a handful of movie channels, Super, and some dodgy Italian stations that beamed programmes of admittedly dubious quality into our homes 24 hours a day.

As time passed more, more stations arrived and we were mostly happy with our lot. But then streaming came along and made us realise how bad things had been, even in the good times.

The streaming revolution was slow to get going, mind you.

In early 2008, Pricewatch mentioned Netflix for the very first time. It was the most passing of references in an article about the high cost of DVD rental – the cost of hiring the Bourne Ultimatum for a night came in at a fairly hefty €5.50 at the time.

But while the reference was inconsequential, it was only the fifth time Netflix had been mentioned on the pages of The Irish Times, so we were some way ahead of the posse.

Fast forward four years and we mentioned Netflix again. By then it had stopped being a DVD rental company and had become a video streaming service.

We still weren’t overly impressed and, displaying the prescience that has not made this page wealthy, we were dismissive of the whole business.

“While the company is promising subscribers ‘tens of thousands of hours of great film and television’ the initial content on the site appears limited, with few new releases available to Irish customers,” was our take.

In our defence, the content was patchy, and among the more notable films available on the day of launch were the Expendables and Paul Blart: Mall Cop, while television programmes included re-runs of Beverly Hills 90210 and older seasons of The Only Way is Essex and Top Gear.

We quoted Reed Hastings of Netflix in the piece. He said: “In the long term, internet TV – the idea that you can click and watch anything you want – is such a powerful concept that we are investing heavily.”

And invest heavily he did.

Soon Netflix was sharing the streaming universe with a host of others, including NowTV, Prime, Hulu, Apple, Disney+, the RTÉ Player, More Four and more, and now we can access a virtually limitless amount of content that would have been unimaginable 30 years ago.

Things have taken another jump in more recent times and broadband and content providers including Sky and Virgin now offer streaming TV instead of or as well as the more traditional modes of delivery.

The internet-based television revolution is great on many levels. It is mostly cable-free, you don’t need a dish, and once you have decent broadband you can get your TV service wherever you want in your house.

It also makes switching providers easier once you have broadband with a minimum speed of 25Mbps, as the companies find it harder to lock people into long contracts.

There is another downside, as two readers recently discovered.

“On March 27th last, I elected to contact Virgin Media to review the monthly amount we were paying to cover TV and broadband,” Bernadette’s mail begins. “I had noted we were ‘out of contract’ and thought it was an appropriate time to review our household budget expenditure on services.”

So far, so smart.

At no point during that discussion with the sales agent was it mentioned that by changing our package and accepting the new boxes that we would be unable to record any programmes from BBC and RTÉ

—  Bernadette, Virgin Media customer

“The sales agent offered us a ‘better’ contract, stating that our charge would be reduced for several months and the broadband speed would improve and Virgin would supply us with a new box. I asked if there was any way we could retain our recordings, which were on the existing box, to which the agent responded that these would be lost.”

Bernadette agreed to the new package and was told she would receive two new boxes that would replace her existing boxes, and they would be delivered by courier. “At no point during that discussion with the sales agent was it mentioned that by changing our package and accepting the new boxes that we would be unable to record any programmes from BBC and RTÉ. This is an intrinsic part of our TV viewing and fundamentally changes the ‘product’ which we purchased,” she says.

“Having received the new boxes, we then proceeded to install these, removing our old boxes. As we were getting a technical message, I contacted the technical support team who assisted me with the changeover. Again, there was no mention of the change in functionality.”

After a few days of being unable to record what she describes as her “normal programmes of interest”, she contacted technical support “to be advised that this was the position with a new box. I then contacted Virgin customer service to be advised that this was indeed correct and that the sales agent was remiss in not bringing this to my attention. I was further advised that there was ‘no going back’ to my original package or box. Despite the 14 day cooling-off period, I was advised that I could not revert to my original package with Virgin Media, This situation could not be reversed.”

Bernadette is, she says, “most unhappy with the current position. Had I been advised by the sales agent on March 27th that this was an irreversible decision and that I would ultimately lose the functionality of my existing box, my decision would have been to remain on the original contract until such time that this recording facility was no longer available to all Virgin Media customers. My neighbours and family members all have the functionality that I blindly forfeited under the poor advice of the Virgin Media sales agent. The ‘cooling off’ period of 14 days was extended to April 20th to enable a resolution of this matter. However, Virgin Media continues to state that the situation is irreversible despite the fact that Virgin Media caused the problem.”

Bernadette accepts that the licensing arrangement with RTÉ and BBC “are legitimate reasons for the lack of functionality, but surely if it is still available to existing Virgin Media customers, my package can and should remain unchanged until it is changed for everyone, especially if Virgin is at fault in their communications?”

We heard from another reader called Pat who, in late March, sought a price reduction from Virgin Media’s customer retention department.

He says he was sold a new contract offering full fibre that was supposed to be 99.9 per cent reliable, with the even better news that the package was going to cost slightly less than his existing deal.

The fibre connection was installed on April 8th, and “immediately after the van left our drive the system stopped working. I called the ‘helpline’ and was promised reconnection within 24 to 48 hours.”

Pat says he was “shocked” by this time frame, but figured there was not much that could be done so he waited. And waited. And waited. A full 11 days passed before a technician “finally arrived and showed the connection had not been done properly, the optical cable literally fell out of the termination point“.

I have begged VM to restore my old service which I relied upon, but they inform me repeatedly it is ‘Impossible’!

—  Pat, Virgin Media customer

“During that period I made countless phone calls with 30- to 40-mins waits, to be ignored, patronised, misunderstood and told untruths. Case numbers given were a farce, as in the evening, when the office closed, they sent SMS messages announcing the case was resolved. So next day I had to start all over again, as my ‘case had been resolved’ – this happened several times.”

But, Pat says, “worse was to come”.

He says the person who sold him the new contract omitted to inform him “that the new service was streaming only, which means I cannot record programmes on TV – an essential to me due my lifestyle. I am 80 yrs old. This I found out by reading The Irish Times review of the new Virgin TV box during my outage.

“I have begged VM to restore my old service which I relied upon, but they inform me repeatedly it is ‘Impossible’! Furthermore, the contract includes a ‘house phone’ which we have been using on VM network for years; the phone is still not working after 17 days and I continue to ring the helpline, with the same lack of outcome. I understand the rectification requires a computer entry. Can Pricewatch help to get my phone working?”

We got in touch with Virgin Media to see what could be done. Not much appears to be the answer, at least in the short term, although there is the prospect that things might improve for our readers at some point in the future.

In a statement, Virgin Media said that “customers can record live TV shows, depending on the channel and agreements in place. As a broadcaster too, we are making all our Virgin Media Television content available for recording. However, some other broadcasters (such as RTÉ and the BBC) are not following the same approach and restricting recording permissions/accessibility for customers. We are continuing to pursue this with RTÉ and the BBC on their behalf.”

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