Plusnet criticised after serious outage
PLUSNET customers were left without internet and TV services from the early hours of Thursday this week following a serious service outage at the ISP.
It appears the issue was caused by a malfunction with Plusnet's Domain Name System (DNS), which left users across the country unable to access many websites - including Plusnet's own.
The first problems were reported on social media not long after midnight on Thursday morning; customers with Plusnet-operated John Lewis and Vodafone broadband were also affected.
The incident has lead to concerns and complaints about the ISP's previously award winning customer service.
Is it just me?
Because the problem began in the early hours, not many users realised anything was wrong until several hours later. But there were people awake when it began:
They couldn't raise the issue with Plusnet themselves though, as since July the once 24-hour customer support line has only operated between the hours of 7.30am and 10pm - and the @PlusnetHelp Twitter account is only officially staffed from 9am to 7.30pm.
There has been a service outage. We are in the process of investigating this now, and we will hopefully have an update for you shortly. ^MC- Plusnet Help (@plusnethelp) September 10, 2015
We're really sorry about the current problems, we're working as quickly as possible to resolve this and we will keep you updated.- Plusnet (@Plusnet) September 10, 2015
Even so, there wasn't much word from the ISP on what the issue was; Plusnet staff member and all round helpful type Matty Cassell couldn't add any clarity when he posted a brief update on the Plusnet customer forum:
on 10/09/2015, 09:00
We are in the process of investigating this now. I will provide an update on this thread, and our Twitter pages as soon as I receive more information.
Several canny customers had already worked out that it was DNS related, however, and took to social media, among them Quentin James:
Seems @Plusnet have major DNS issues. Switching to Google DNS worked for me, 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124- Quentin James (@QuentinJames) September 10, 2015
What is DNS?
DNS - or Domain Name Service - is the technology that takes a web address as typed in by a user and converts it to an IP address made up of numbers, which is the address of the server where the website lives.
Without DNS, devices trying to connect to the internet don't know where they're supposed to be looking - basically, they can't translate the URL into an IP address - so while they may technically be connected to the internet, they can't do very much.
Users did find some sites were still accessible - but embarrassingly for Plusnet, their own wasn't one of them.
The technically confident who had diagnosed that it was indeed a DNS malfunction, were among many suggesting that people try switching to Google's public DNS - available on 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52.
Google offer instructions on how to do this here, but advise that "only users who are proficient with configuring operating system settings" should attempt such changes.
There may be trouble ahead...
To give them credit, Plusnet's customer service hours are still longer than those of several other ISPs - but the Yorkshire operator hasn't been having the best time in terms of customer relations recently.
Some of those affected by this week's issues had been caught up in a similar, smaller, outage a couple of weeks ago.
And shortly after they announced the change to their customer service hours, they confirmed that new 38Mb fibre users could expect to get upload speeds of up to just 2Mb, rather than the up to 20Mb existing users can expect.
Rather than ripping the plaster off in one go, they then waited a few more weeks before announcing the price rises that have come into effect this month.
They've also removed all reference to their broadband being "truly" or "totally" unlimited, following concerns that their traffic management policy could be seen as limiting in itself.
The sound of silence
This time, though, the real cause for complaint has been about how Plusnet handled the outage. Among the frustrated replies on their forum was this, from Puffin:
Reply #70 on 10/09/2015, 23:45
... I'd have loved to have woken up and seen a [service status page + twitter + facebook + post on this forum] like this:
01:00 - Hai guyz, we haz routing issues - plz b patient, techies are workin on it
02:00 - Still working on it
03:00 - Some customers have reported improvement by using Google's DNS servers (8.8.8. and/or rebooting their router
04:00 - Apologies for the length of this outage. More information will be posted when we know more
07:00 - We have found the problem and are working to clear it up
09:00 - The problem is mostly fixed (hurray!). Sorry for the delay, but we're sure you understand how complicated WAN routing can be
Instead, we had this:
07:00 Hi guys, I just got into the office and apparently there are problems. I'm sure the techies are looking at it... [locks threads, moves things about, confuses people on the forum further]
08:00 Oh, yeah, we have a twitter account. Let's use it!
Some users were reporting that they were back online as early as 9.30am, but many had to wait until later in the day for their service to be restored.
Everything should have been working again for everyone by 3.30pm, and customers who were still having issues were advised to reboot their routers - assuming, of course, that they could get online to see that advice.
Plusnet have confirmed that they're investigating why there were no service status updates of the sort suggested above as soon as it was known there was a problem - but in the meantime it's another blow for the once "customer service superheroes".