Ofcom to BT: speed up broadband repairs

BT Openreach

BT Openreach must work more quickly to get home broadband connections fixed or face fines, Ofcom said yesterday.

When there are technical problems with the BT wholesale network - the lines used by BT, Sky and TalkTalk customers, among others - it's up to engineers to fix them.

But Openreach have been notoriously slow to get lines fixed for years now: now, as in 2010, engineers frequently don't meet appointments or take a long time to fix faults, leaving homes without internet access for weeks.

This week, the communications regulator has announced new targets to speed up those repairs.

If Openreach don't reach them, Ofcom warn, they'll face sanctions which could include fines.

Ofcom: speed up repairs...

From 2016, Ofcom want to see eight in ten Openreach fault repairs fixed within two working days, from when they're first notified of a problem.

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New line installations, when Openreach put in a totally new phone line in homes where the equipment has been severely damaged or was never installed, must also speed up.

Ofcom want Openreach to carry those out within 12 working days of being notified that the work has to be done.

... even if it's raining

It's telling that Ofcom note that Openreach should meet these 80% targets " irrespective of factors such as severe weather conditions".

In 2012, Openreach blamed extremely wet weather for their poor performance.

Ofcom is speaking to broadband providers' frustration with that explanation when they note that Openreach won't be able to put more than 3% of late repairs and 1% of late installations down to bad weather.

No consumer power

This week's announcement should be good news for households that might suffer from technical problems with their broadband or phone line.

Numerous broadband connection issues, pretty much anything going wrong beyond the computer or router, can't be fixed by the broadband providers.

However, if providers are sick of having to rely on the Openreach, consumers have it even worse.

As we've noted here, customers often face a double wait: first, for the ISP to deal with their problem, asses it and pass over to Openreach; then, for Openreach to fix it.

Judging by today's announcement, Ofcom seem unwilling to give consumers more power in that relationship, they're still left with no one to complain to when their problem isn't being dealt with.

As BBC Watchdog pointed out in October, see video below, Openreach don't accept direct contact from customers.

Will targets work?

If the regulator doesn't seem particularly concerned with customers, though, it might be because it's already got its hands full mediating between Openreach and the providers.

Sky and, long-time BT antagonist, TalkTalk have agreements that Openreach must pay compensation when they fail to meet their "service level commitments" (i.e. they hit a certain number of late repairs and installations).

Openreach have failed to pay that compensation, the ISPs allege.

In response, Openreach say that neither provider actually had the right service level agreement signed off which would entitle them to compensation.

We'll see how the cases shake out in the New Year but, for consumers, the disputes show the difficulty of setting Openreach targets.

If a commercial contract with the ISPs can't do the trick, why would rules from the regulator be any different?

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