Ofcom Tells BT To Repair And Install Fixed Lines Faster Or Risk Fines

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Ofcom seeks to shortern the time telephone and broadband line repairs, as well as finish new installations

Ofcom has published proposals that would require BT Openreach to reduce the time it takes to repair faulty telephone and broadband lines and install new lines much quicker.

Under the new rules, BT must repair 80 percent of faults within two working days, regardless of factors such as severe weather conditions, and complete new installations within 12 working days. If it fails to meet these targets over a 12 month period, the company would be hit with sanctions, including possible fines. These targets must be met in full by April 2016.

Faster Repairs

fibre

Ofcom said it has been concerned about the time it can take for BT to complete repairs and new installations in the past, but admitted that the extreme wet weather that the UK experienced in 2012, had hampered BT’s service level agreements.

It should be noted that BT Openreach already follows Ofcom’s new contractual targets for services since the start of 2013, which requires it to provide automatic payments to other telecoms companies where it misses those targets.

“Openreach’s performance has since returned to pre-2012 levels, but Ofcom wants to ensure it remains at an acceptable standard for the benefit of consumers,” says the telecoms regulator.

“The new measures all relate to Openreach’s most-used products, which are used by telephone companies to offer phone and broadband to consumers and businesses. The targets are designed to ensure better service for telephone and broadband customers in future, while also avoiding any significant effect on prices.”

BT hits back

BT for its part has admitted in the past that the spate of extreme weather the UK experienced in the past couple of years had affected its repair times, but points out that it is currently meeting most, if not all of its repair and install targets.

“There is nothing terribly new here as service level agreements have existed for many years with Openreach compensating ISPs if it doesn’t deliver against targets. The fact is that it does meet those targets on a regular basis,” a BT spokesperson told TechWeekEurope.

“Openreach is focused on customer service but it has to be recognised that improvements come with a price tag. Openreach’s charges are already amongst the lowest in the world – allowing UK consumers and businesses to enjoy very low prices – so the challenge is balancing those low prices with an increased focus on service,” said BT. “Our concern is that the prices being proposed are insufficient to fund the higher level of service that Openreach wishes to deliver and its customers expect.

BT rival Sky meanwhile felt Ofcom had not gone far enough in pressing BT Openreach to meet customer expectations.

“The service delivered by Openreach is an issue that impacts thousands of consumers every day,” a Sky spokesperson told TechweekEurope. “While we welcome Ofcom’s action to impose minimum quality standards, we’re concerned that some of its proposals do not match up to customers’ expectations. As Ofcom’s own research shows, most people do not regard 12 working days as an acceptable standard for installing a new telephone line and it is well short of the goals we set in our own business. We believe that Openreach can and should be required to do better.”

Despite the concerns about repair times and installations, it is clear that BT is far more concerned about another aspect of the Ofcom consultation, which proposes new price caps for BT’s copper products including LLU (Local Loop Unbundling) that is purchased by other ISPs such as TalkTalk and Sky, and SMPF/WLR which BT Retail buys. SMPF stands for “Shared Metallic Path Facility”, and enables the offer of broadband services over the copper network. WLR stands for “Wholesale Line Rental”.

“BT is disappointed that Ofcom wants to extend the unfair regime whereby third parties benefit from cheaper wholesale prices than BT Retail,” said a BT spokesperson. “TalkTalk and Sky have benefited from artificially low prices for many years now and it is time they were forced to compete on a level playing field.”

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