WiFi Ho Hum - get a refund for East Coast's onboard WiFi
On several occasions in the past, Bitterwallet has pissed and moaned about the reliability of free WiFi on East Coast mainline trains. The service was marketed as a key benefit over flying between the North of the UK and London, but far too often it failed to deliver.
As of the beginning of the month, East Coast is charging for WiFi on board their trains for standard class passengers; £4.95 for an hour, or £9.95 for access across a 24 hour period. There's 15 minutes of free WiFi available, and after that the charges must be paid. If you sell your children in order to buy a first class ticket, the service remains free.
What are these charges paying for? According to the East Coast website, they're paying for the upgraded system which was introduced at the same time the new charges were introduced; "...you will experience the benefits of a new and improved Wi-Fi system on board all East Coast trains... the latest HSPA and 3G technology... using multiple mobile data connections and broadband satellite we offer a continuous service along the entire East Coast route."
So how's that working out for you?
We tested the new service on Saturday, on board a lunchtime train from London to the North East. We paid for one hour of WiFi access, and during that time continually conducted download and upload tests on the connection through a variety of websites, including Broadband Speedchecker, Speedtest.net and PC Pitstop. Testing the three on a home broadband connection suggests some variance between the sets of results, but it's clear that all three roughly agree with one another.
From the 22 tests we performed, the average download speed across the hour was 565Kbps, and the average upload speed was 187Kbps. In November 2008, we conducted a similar test when the franchise was still operated by National Express - ostensibly the same service but with one major difference - the WiFi was free. In November 2008, the top download speed we observed was 600Kbps, and the fastest upload speed was 185Kbps. Looking at the individual performances from last weekend, only six of the 22 download tests surpassed 600Kbps.
We'll admit our methodology wasn't entirely scientific, but it's difficult to perceive much of a difference between the previously free service and WiFi 2.0 - for one fifteen minute period during the hour, we couldn't get a single page of any website to load and for the final twenty minutes it was frustratingly slow. This was despite the fact that the train was less than half full.
When WiFi was free, you could take it or leave it - it was a (very) mediocre perk of your ticket. Now passengers have to pay for it, East Coast have to be accountable when they fail to provide the service as promised. So what can you do about it?
There's a new WiFi User Guide available online and in carriages, but it makes no reference to any refund procedure. East Coast Customer Services can't help you either - they'll only deal with complaints about the new charges, not the quality of the service. The people to talk to about refunds are the WiFi support team, that can be called on on 08451 25 44 55 or emailed at [email protected]
The refund procedure goes like this: contact the team with the date, time and route of your train, your receipt details and an outline of the issues you experienced. Their team will investigate the claim and contact you in due course; the refund policy states that if you experienced a disruption to the service that lasted longer than five minutes, you are eligible to a full refund.
Sounds good, but there may still be room for ambiguity; for example, how slow does a connection speed have to be before it can be considered a disruption? At least there's a policy in place - if you have cause to use it over the coming weeks, get in touch and let us know how you got on.