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TalkTalk Free Broadband "a disturbing nightmare" says CEO

TalkTalk CEO Charles Dunstone admits that his 'free broadband' service has spiralled out of control to become a customer service nightmare

The best things in life are free -- unless you're among the one in five people that have signed up to TalkTalk's 'free broadband' service and suffered difficulty with the installation, the phone exchange, the phone line, the customer service or any number of other inconveniences.

It's not Crave that's making these accusations, nor is the Advertising Standards Agency, which banned TalkTalk from claiming its service was actually 'free'; nor is it a claim from the myriad Web sites set up to expose TalkTalk's frailties. These are facts straight from the horse's mouth -- that horse being TalkTalk CEO Charles Dunstone.

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday's This is Money section, he admitted the venture was "an idea that went out of control", referring to the 1.8m phone customers and 525,000 broadband customers who signed up in six months. His reason for doing it: "I thought, 'We've got all these people coming into the shops, what else can we sell them?'"

We can't begrudge him trying to fill his wallet, but TalkTalk bit off more than it could chew -- its customer waiting list became immense, and many of those who were accepted faced a customer service nightmare. Back in July, Dunstone likened the broadband business to "a little baby who's waking up every two hours and is disturbing the family and making our lives a nightmare."

This, coming from the CEO of the company, isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for signing up. Nor does it bode well for the handful of other 'free broadband' ISPs in the UK. Nary a week goes by when Crave doesn't hear a complaint about Internet providers -- particularly a free one (just check out the tirade of comments on this earlier piece on TalkTalk). Charles Dunstone has gone on record saying he is hiring hundreds of new customer service reps, but the TalkTalk drama doesn't seem to have an end in sight.

We wouldn't advise you to avoid TalkTalk or any of its compatriots, but we wouldn't encourage you to sign up either. Maybe there really is something in the old adage "you get what you pay for". -RR