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Getting Online – how hard can it be?

I have a hate/hate relationship with BT Openworld.  Let’s be clear; I have no choice but to use them, as they have access points at all the places I visit and might need a connection.  All the old coffee shop access points in my area have been converted to BT Openworld, taking them at a stroke from free to expensive.  From the café’s viewpoint, an access point should surely only be a cheap box dropped onto their existing network, only a minor expense, but BT must be doing some hard sell about how difficult it is to maintain and secure, and selling them a separate line with some magical remote configuration options at a price, which requires a special redirect to a log in web page – showing how complexity just escalates if you ignore the obvious solution.

So take an iPod.  Imagine that you’re in a café somewhere, which happens to have a BT Openworld access point, and you have a burning need to connect – but you don’t have a BT subscription.  Pre-3.0, you’d open Safari to any page, you’d be told to pick an access point, and you’d be redirected to the BT login page.  From there you would have been able to navigate to anywhere BT would allow you, which would have included all their subscription plan pages.

But with 3.0, when you select the access point, you are taken to a special log on page within Settings.  For some reason your ability to navigate from there is restricted; possibly intentionally, or possibly by some sort of time out.  Whichever it is, you won’t have enough time to sign up for a subscription (unlimited time at BT Openworld access points is £12.50 per month, minimum contract 18 months, and you have to give multiple addresses as a credit reference – despite having given them your credit card details as well, which I consider to be needlessly intrusive).

The solution to this problem is to sign up beforehand – which is stupid.  Next problem is that I couldn’t get through their payment pages using Safari, on iPod or Mac OS X (Firefox on Mac OS X worked, in the end).  When you succeed, you get two separate emails sent to your mail address, as well as a page showing the user name and password, which you really need to write down, on paper.

So why write it on paper?  Surely you could copy and paste the strings directly from email, assuming that you had a connection while taking out the subscription?  Well, if you have this special log in screen, if you switch out of it, say to mail, to copy it down, you lose the connection and have to restart – and with two fields to copy, that’s not going to fly.

You could copy them both into a Note, on the same line, and remember how long the password/user name is, then copy and paste it into the two fields.  Password fields are obscured, so you have to remember the length.  If you gave up on that (I did) and are retyping from a scrap of paper, you’d better remember that the user name field is going to be auto-capitalised, and the log in page doesn’t show you an error message when it fails (Safari, JavaScript validation buttons, take your pick).

It is all too hard.  Part of the problem is Apple’s, who haven’t thought through the login process very well for the proportion of their users with iPod touch rather than iPhone, and making a retrograde change to the process; but it’s mostly BT’s fault for making it actively hard for people to buy their product.

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