Inside AAISP the ISP taking on Virgin Media and BT with straight-talking charm
There’s a certain ISP that likes to portray itself as the “straight-talking” broadband provider from Yorkshire, but when it comes to telling it as it is, Bracknell-based AAISP makes its rival look like a mealy-mouthed politician.
“We have a policy of no bulls**t and will not fob you off with a convenient but unhelpful answer,” reads its startlingly frank website. “In return, we do expect our customers to be honest with us, and to pay their bills on time.” The company’s homepage carries a banner urging customers to “say no to the #snooperscharter”. Even the automated email that bounced back from the company’s press inbox carries an amusingly blunt warning: “Please note, as per our web pages (where this email address is published) any marketing emails sent to this address will be invoiced for a spell-checking service at £50+VAT.”
AAISP is not your typical broadband provider, and its managing director Adrian Kennard is not your typical corporate mouthpiece either. During the course of our conversation he brands the Prime Minister “crazy”, reveals why he refuses to use the term “fibre broadband” to describe “copper-based” fibre-to-the-cabinet, and cuts off in the middle of the conversation to give his builders a rollicking. This is a man, and indeed a company, that doesn’t give fools the time of day.
Is AAISP the techie’s choice?
AAISP’s website could barely be more different from the glossy, corporate facades of the “big six” broadband providers. There’s no B-list celebrity video ads, no “free” broadband offers. You might even say the website looks a little dated. But AAISP isn’t out to attract the casual punter who wants the cheapest possible broadband. Instead, it’s targeting the technically minded consumer and small business that doesn’t want their connection throttled, filtered or monitored, who’s perfectly happy installing their own router, and who wants a block of IPv6 addresses thrown in. It’s targeting the kind of customer who, dare we say it, might read Alphr.
“We try and do things right in everything we’re doing, whether it’s technical, ethical or whatever,” said Kennard. “The technical side of that means our customers are able to make proper use of the internet. They can have things such as reverse DNS on their IP addresses, they can have things such as blocks of IPv6 addresses. If someone just wants a cheap internet connection to check their email and go to Facebook, we’re probably not the most obvious choice. We’re not really trying to entice people on price. It’s more about the quality and technical capabilities of what we’re doing.”
Kennard says the technically competent customers will notice the difference if they ever have to make a call to the company’s support team. “All of our technical support staff are well trained and know what they’re talking about,” said Kennard. “They’re not following some script, they’re not just employed to answer the phone. We try not to treat people like idiots and insist upon going through every silly step on a script. A lot of our customers know exactly what they’re doing. If they phone up and say ‘I’ve tried it with two different routers and it’s still not working’, we don’t start by saying ‘have you got a Start button in Windows?’”
“We have vigorously detailed monitoring of broadband lines – we monitor every line, every second.”
Kennard admits finding suitably trained staff to man the company’s support lines is something of a challenge, but the company has spent the past 15 years developing tools to help its team diagnose problems on customers’ connections. “We have vigorously detailed monitoring of broadband lines – we monitor every line, every second,” said Kennard.
“That gives us some really good advantages when we’re identifying faults on lines. It also lets us correlate if a problem is at the exchange, or a metro node, or some part of BT or TalkTalk backhaul, and actually report those problems even before the customer has reported the problem to us, and get the carriers to fix their networks.”
Kennard says the support staff are recruited from other ISPs or trained from scratch, and part of that training involves working with network providers such as BT to send staff into the telephone exchanges where the physical connections reside. “Every six months or year, we’ll get new staff on an exchange tour so they can actually see what happens in an exchange – where the wires go, what jumpering is, what the test head is, what a DSLAM is, how it all goes together – so they understand this when they’re talking with a customer and with BT.”