back to article Plusnet vows to shove a sword in members area 'White Screen Of Death'

Plusnet customers suffering from the "White Screen of Death" need fret no more as the Brit broadband pusher has told The Register that its member orifice will be fine and dandy by the end of today. Affected customers have spent weeks complaining of problems with the company's members area, where users can view items such as …

  1. Nematode

    Yeah, right

    What makes I think that a problem that's been around for months will suddenly be fixed today? #WSOD

    1. cpage

      Well it isn't fixed yet

      The problem that I've had for many months (and many others too) is that if you try to download a bill it produces a file called "$STANDARD". Of the browsers I have installed on Micro$oft Edge copes with this. Others (Firefox, Chrome, Opera) leave it as a download and if you click to open it, Windows asks you what file type it is. This is sheer stupidity - every other billing system that provides me with a bill in PDF format gives it a filename with a ".pdf" extension, then my PDF viewer gets fired up or else the bill gets shown on screen. It is simply incredibly stupid programming to provide a PDF file without an extension or file type. I just tried it again a few minutes ago - still not fixed.

  2. Peter X
    FAIL

    Hateful website

    WARNING: The following is basically a full-on-rant. I make no apologies!

    I've always cut Plusnet some slack for being broadly (no pun) good when viewed from a price vs. performance perspective. But the new billing website is such utter c**p, it's staggering. I'd assumed that this was something BT was already using and had imposed on Plusnet, but going on this article, I guess not?

    For people who haven't had the pleasure, it's one of those sites where the page loads, but then there's no content because (presumably) there's some Javascript that then has to actually grab the data and put it on screen, but in the meantime, here's a spinny-thing that you can look at. Especially annoying is that it does this on the first login page... and after a bit of spinning, tells you the products you already knew you had. Why don't they cache this shit?

    Microsoft-like consistency is there... the "Add-ons" icon, represented by a bolt? You click on that, and listed are things you can add by pressing the "Add this bolt-on" button. I guess "Add add-ons" didn't work, but the lack of consistency... it just looks poor. I know this particular thing doesn't really matter, but, it's like the people building the site don't care about the product. No dogfooding at Plusnet?

    All the URLs look a bit crap. Again, it isn't super important, but given that it's a recent build, I would've expected something a bit more REST-like. Looks like some *HORRIBLE* (shudders) string concatenation crap going on in the back ground... URLs with two question marks in them, that kind of thing.

    Broadband usage; I was going to say that doesn't work, but it seems they've finally got it working. Just like it was months ago. But in an iFrame by the looks, and a bit bodged in because CSS popups cause scrollbars to momentarily appear in the iFrame. But hey, it's there!

    Oh yeah, and the Billing stuff. Go to bills... wait a bit for the page to properly load (as in all the JS stuff). Click the "View your bills" button, and then this weird popup window (not really a window, but a box) appears a bit above, but if you've scrolled down you can't see it. And it just contains a drop-down list to select a billing date from. Choose that, it refreshes... but I think only to tell you you'll need Adobe Reader to view your bill (not even true in most cases!), and then you click View bill and it opens a new window with the PDF. And if you try to save that PDF, the name will default to "$STANDARD.pdf" because it's got another really clunky looking URL that presumably links through to some other system in the bowels of Plusnet. And that's annoying... I want the invoice number or date or both.

    It's like a product where no one really designed it. Someone decided they needed to change something, probably for business reasons rather than anything customer focused, but rather than thinking about how to design a "good" system, they've looked at what they've got and bodged it to make it do something new... and it is truly awful. I'm not convinced anyone involved in the development of the current site has ever actually built a website before. It's that bad.

    (sigh... deep breath...)

    I know I'm being quite harsh in my criticism. I'm sure other ISPs have far worse websites, but I'm mostly just disappointed in Plusnet. They used to be better than this.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hateful website

      I've always cut Plusnet some slack for being broadly (no pun) good when viewed from a price vs. performance perspective. But the new billing website is such utter c**p, it's staggering. I'd assumed that this was something BT was already using and had imposed on Plusnet, but going on this article, I guess not?

      It would appear that virtually all back-end IT has been outsourced by BT to some Indian firm, so this is only to be expected :(

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hateful website

      "they've looked at what they've got and bodged it to make it do something new... "

      Looked at what they've previously had, failed to understand what it actually does and needs to do, and been sold something that doesn't do as much as it should and what it does try to do fails badly.

      "I'm not convinced anyone involved in the development of the current site has ever actually built a website before. It's that bad."

      My guess is that someone has sold BT Sheffield a "pair of "integrated" telco business and operational support systems, targeted to a different geographical market with different technology and tariff and service billing and accounting practices at both B2B and B2C levels, a setup not targeted at actual ISP end user setups, and under real end user load conditions and with all the necessary glue to make it even anything remotely capababble, it's all gone a bit Pete Tong.

      Funny how that never hapens with any other all singing all dancing enterprise integrations packages which can fix anything with a few weeks of customisation. (Well, actually, it happens with lots of them, but the board-level people are usually too focused on their own interests to have noticed that).

    3. msage

      Re: Hateful website

      Broadband usage; I was going to say that doesn't work, but it seems they've finally got it working. Just like it was months ago. But in an iFrame by the looks, and a bit bodged in because CSS popups cause scrollbars to momentarily appear in the iFrame. But hey, it's there!

      Good spot! Glad this is finally working again!

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hateful website (mini-rant)

      I was a happy clappy plusnet customer for years, but when they got bought by BT, this was the last BT straw/insult that made me leg it to Virgin (and I'm very happy, I hate to say, and I never have to visit my usage, or billing, or any other stats, which virgin probably don't provide anyway, because information is precioussss - for them, no doubt).

      ...

      this was supposed to be an anti-BT rant, and I was going to say that I'd sooner install Windows 10 or join facebook (and that's my veryclear andveryred lines thankyouverymuch) then get anywhere near ANY BT-related business, ever (sorry dabs.com). But then, a crunchy, yummy baguette found its way into my stomach, and I calmed down. So, on this note, **** YOU BT! **** YOU BACK TO FRONT, LEFT TO RIGHT AND BACKWARDS!!!

    5. silks

      Re: Hateful website

      Did they outsource it to TalkTalk?

  3. Andy Non

    So much for their advert then...

    "Plusnet will do you proud". I guess that's another one to cross off the list of possible ISPs if I change along with TalkTalk, BT etc.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So much for their advert then...

      "another one to cross off the list of possible ISPs if I change along with TalkTalk, BT etc."

      Just in case a reminder is needed: Plusnet *are* (part of) BT.

      https://www.zdnet.com/article/bt-buys-plusnet-for-crm-system/

      "BT buys PlusNet for CRM system

      Telco is paying £67m to win a popular CRM platform and 200,000 new customers

      Richard Thurston

      By Richard Thurston | November 16, 2006"

      See also e.g.

      https://www.thedrum.com/news/2018/05/16/what-bts-new-consumer-group-mindset-means-the-bt-ee-and-plusnet-brands

      "...

      the group's mobile, broadband and content strategies have shifted, as have its plans for smart homes, family plans, streaming partnerships and services - all of which has been in the works since BT snapped up EE for £12.5bn in 2015. Leading the news is the development of the BT Plus platform which will bring together the distinct bundles onto a single bill.

      ...

      EE are more tech savvy and want the latest iPhone

      Plusnet's role is to attract value customers, without the bells and whistles."

      ....

      Or maybe Plusnet is just without the bills, never mind the whistles.

      And maybe EE customers 'wanting the latest iPhone' are just fashion victims, not tech savvy.

      I have phone and broadband with Plusnet for legacy reasons, and similarly a 2nd mobile service with EE for legacy reasons (dating back to Orange Line 2 days). Would I recommend Plusnet or EE for new purchasers? Very very unlikely (but then the rest are mostly as bad).

      I haven't yet worked out why various relatively recent articles here on El Reg don't seem to see the connection between EE and BT (in particular in the case of the Emergency Services Network, which involves people's safety) see e.g.

      https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/06/28/emergency_services_network_loses_staff_review_delay/

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So much for their advert then...

      "I guess that's another one to cross off the list of possible ISPs"

      Honestly, I've never had a problem with them. The one time I did have an issue (OpenReach + spade = doh), not only had PlusNet's systems picked up the line issues and auto-reported it to OpenReach, but their support staff were very helpful and actually seemed well trained (in a technical sense). Can't say I've noticed any issues with the members' area, but then again, I don't look at it often.

  4. Aqua Marina Silver badge

    I'm suspecting* that Plusnet's new billing system is designed to displace the VAT payments owed to HMRC to a future date by making the VAT appear as Cash Accounting to the customer, but Accrual Accounting to HMRC. That way VAT is only due when Plusnet decides to raise an Invoice rather than when the customer receives a bill.

    With Cash Accounting, HMRC is owed VAT when you receive payment from a customer.

    With Accrual Accounting, HMRC is owed VAT when an invoice is presented to the customer. When customers have credit accounts, you have to pay HMRC the VAT up front on the sale, then wait for the customer to pay according to the terms of your credit agreement, i.e. 30 days, 60 days etc. If the Customer doesn't pay, then you have to make a claim for the VAT back from HMRC.

    I suspect that the bills being presented to customers are not recorded internally or accounted for as invoices, but requests for payment. So no VAT is due until Plusnet decide when is a good time to raise an invoice.

    I have no idea if my suspicions are correct, but I received an email from Plusnet to tell me that the new bills I could download on the portal were no longer VAT invoices (they were previously). The new bills have "This is not a VAT invoice" plastered all over them. This is the only explanation I can come up with as to why it matters. VAT payments can be deferred.

    * All of this is pure speculation and no one should infer that Plusnet are doing anything illegal.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "That way VAT is only due when Plusnet decides to raise an Invoice rather than when the customer receives a bill."

      Plusnet e-mails me my bill every month prior to taking the Direct Debit..?

      1. Aqua Marina Silver badge

        "Plusnet e-mails me my bill every month prior to taking the Direct Debit..?"

        They don't email any bills, they email reminders for to look out for your bill on the portal, re-read it!

    2. Gonzo wizard
      Unhappy

      "no one should infer that Plusnet are doing anything illegal"

      You're no fun.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    doing the right thing for our customers and our people

    https://www.netcracker.com/insights/press-releases/plusnet-selects-netcracker-for-next-generation-billing-transformation/

    which contains the following

    “Netcracker was the clear choice as our strategic billing transformation partner given the outstanding rating capabilities of its next-generation Revenue Management solution and deep-rooted commitment to its customers,” said David Leather, Director Transformation and Billing at Plusnet. “Netcracker’s delivery record and cutting-edge solution will allow us to improve business agility and leverage enhanced customer billing functionality to provide the best possible customer experience which is a critical part of our strategy.”

    As part of the transformation, Netcracker will deliver its Revenue Management solution and migrate customers from an existing system to the new platform. Netcracker will also provide Plusnet with a number of professional services, including configuration, integration, migration and testing services to optimize Plusnet’s billing operations.

    [continues]

    See also https://uk.linkedin.com/in/david-leather-37210221 where he shows as "Director, Service Transformation, BT/EE" (account required for the full details, but Linked in Finland revealed this gem:

    "Totally driven by doing the right thing for our customers and our people, I am responsible for transforming BT and EE’s service experiences") [source: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/david-leather-37210221

    Well clearly.

    He's a Twitterer too.

    So much for "social" netwroking.

    You'll work out what to do next.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: doing the right thing for our customers and our people

      Repeat after me please:

      ...outstanding rating capabilities of its next-generation Revenue Management solution and deep-rooted commitment to its customers...

  6. C. P. Cosgrove

    Why ?

    I am always amused that regardless of the numbers affected - whether it be a hundred or two, several thousand or several million - it is always "A small number of our customers have been affected."

    Even when the forums, twitter, facebook etc. are full of complaining customers. Funny how much noise 'a few customers' can create !

    Chris Cosgrove

  7. Rudolph Hucker the Third

    /*

    SQL script used to count the number of complaints.

    Guaranteed to always be a small number.

    */

    declare @Today date = getdate(), @CountComplaints int;

    select @CountComplaints = count(distinct P.CustomerID)

    from SupportForum.dbo.Post P

    where P.PostDate > @Today

    and P.PostTitle like '%billing system%';

    if @CountComplaints = 0

    print 'We are not aware of any issues with the Billing System';

  8. Greencat

    Just wait until you try to leave...

    I left in August and their automated system picked it up and said that's all fine. I spoke to a customer service rep and he promised I would be refunded the 20 odd days I wouldn't be using their connection. Come the end of the following month I get notification of them taking a payment for the next month. I explain I've left and they agree, and promise the refund (thankfully on the missus' advice I'd cancelled the DD). Same happens the following month, and I speak to a rep who still promises the refund and finally manages to stop them trying to bill me.

    They still haven't refunded me the 20 odd days and now my account has been disabled.

    1. Ian Emery Silver badge

      Re: Just wait until you try to leave...

      They probably have issues understanding you on the phone; try speaking Yorkshire, with an Indian accent.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just tried it today (4th Feb) - getting a white page using Safari under MacOS Mohave.

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