Openreach Promises Partners It Will Improve Service Levels

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Openreach pledges to improve repair and installation records but warns any change in regulation will harm investment

Openreach has called for a “predictable” regulatory environment that will allow it to invest in the UK’s digital infrastructure and has promised its telco partners to improve service levels beyond Ofcom-set targets.

The future of BT’s open access division has been one of the main topics of debate surrounding Ofcom’s once-in-a-decade review of the UK communications market. BT maintains the current structure is working, but rivals believe Openreach should become an entirely independent company.

Competitors like Sky and TalkTalk believe BT has an unfair advantage in fibre and claim network investment and priorities are influenced by the model. Sky in particular has been scathing of Openreach’s record for repairing faults and installing new lines.

Openreach CEO Joe Garner says the current ownership has made the UK a digital leader and that any separation would jeopardise future investment.

UK a digital leader

BT Openreach CEO Joe Garner“It’s actually ten years to the day the undertakings were signed to create Openreach,” said Joe Garner, Openreach CEO. “We are no longer a telephone repair company, we are focused on building network infrastructure.

“[Openreach] has helped give UK some of the fastest, most affordable fibre connectivity in Europe. Building Britain’s connected future is our mission.

“We will help invest to support UK’s digital leadership. Ofcom has created the conditions that has resulted in one of the most competitive markets and this has allowed us to invest. If the UK is to remain a leading digital economy, it will need a regulatory environment that is predictable, balanced and fair.

“We have the track record and commitment to invest in Britain’s connected future.”

Service commitments

Openreach has published a ‘charter’ of six pledges, most of which outline BT’s plans for fibre coverage and speed improvements, but also contains commitments from Openreach to enhance the quality of service and guarantees it will treat third party providers as equals.

Sky’s submission to Ofcom’s review claimed 90 percent of all new line installations take longer than ten days and that Openreach changes the agreed installation date for Sky customers on average 36,000 times a month. Furthermore, it says Openreach misses more than 500 appointments and fails to complete 4,000 jobs each month, while fault rates increased 50 percent between 2009 and 2012.

In its defence, BT says it has met all sixty of Ofcom’s service level requirements, while Garner claims service has been one of his “biggest” priorities since replacing Liv Garfield as chief executive last year. He pointed out that Openreach had hired 3,000 new engineers and equipped all of its field workers with smartphones to make them more efficient.

Garner also said new software made it easier and more efficient to deploy engineers, while all of its partners now have access to ‘ViewMyEngineer’, which helps customers track an engineer on the day of an appointment, and the ability to offer six-hour repair times.

Working together

splayfoil road fibre cabinetOpenreach says it wants to work together with partners to boost levels even further to the point where it can install new lines on time for 95 percent of all customers. Garner added he’s even willing to entertain the idea of customers being able to access Openreach directly, even though it was a wholesaler, not a retailer.

“I understand the frustration,” he explained. “I am open minded but any change to this will need the support of communications providers and Ofcom. I will formally consult on this.”

But above all, Garner expressed a desire to become a “trusted partner” for the more than 500 companies that access its network and constitute 40 percent of Openreach’s business.

“It’s firmly in Openreach’s interest to operate an equal business at every level,” he said. “We need to work closely with communications providers to improve service.”

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