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The Mysterious Case of BT’s “Borrowed” Copper Broadband Lines

Saturday, March 29th, 2014 (1:25 am) - Score 6,200

The Business Development Manager for UK ISP Andrews and Arnold (AAISP), Alex Bloor, has lifted the lid on the occurrence of “borrowed” copper pairs, where an already active broadband or phone line is disrupted by a telecoms engineer (e.g. a BTOpenreach contractor like Kelly Communications) who incorrectly takes over the line for use elsewhere.

Openreach engineers will often need to find a spare copper pair (i.e. the wires that link the customer’s own master phone socket back to the exchange / street cabinet) when fixing or installing a new telephone and or broadband line.

The problem, according to Alex, is that some engineers don’t always appear to conduct a proper check and amazingly this can result in active customer lines being repurposed for other end-users.

Alex Bloor said:

Put simply – and it isn’t just me that thinks this – [Kelly Communications] have a dreadful reputation in the industry. In our support department, scarcely a week goes by without several cases of lines mysteriously going down, only to later discover that an OpenReach engineer or a contractor to BT (such as Kelly) has “borrowed” our customer’s copper pair.

This borrowing activity obviously kills our customer’s line – both for PSTN and ADSL/FTTC. It is then our problem to get a fault logged and an appointment booked. It is inconvenient and loss making for us to deal with. It is inconvenient for the customer.”

According to AAISPs boss, Adrian Kennard, when the system is working properly then the engineer will run through a process of checking the records to see which of the pairs in each cable / cabinet are free, allocating one, and using that pair (they are all numbered or colour coded).

Adrian Kennard, AAISP’s MD, added:

However, there is another way, and this seems to be done quite often – instead of checking the records, the engineer simply connects a test telephone to pairs looking for one that he can use. If he finds a pair that is not in use, then he acquires it for the install, and updates the records to say he has done it (actually, we are assuming this latter step is done!).

How does he find a pair – well for a start he’ll look for “no dial tone”. Unfortunately this means any line used for something other than normal telephone service can get nicked. We have seen this on SDSL lines that have no dial tone. To avoid this, when we install lines “just for broadband use” we do set them up to have a dial tone, and even allow free calls to be made. That helped a lot in avoiding pairs going missing.

However, it is often the case that all pairs have dial tone, but some of the lines may be “stopped lines”. I.e. lines that have had service stopped for now, and someone may want to order service later and reconnect. While stopped they are allowed to be used for a new installation.”

We’ve heard about issues like this happening in the past but had assumed that they were incredibly rare and indeed AAISP’s boss was keen to stress that they “don’t know how widespread” the issue really is, although they are trying to find out and “arrange meetings with Kelly and BT plc trading as Openreach to get to the bottom of it and get things changed.”

Indeed if it was a prevalent problem then we’d see it happening a lot more often through customer feedback, thus we’re inclined to keep viewing it as being very uncommon. But most of the time an ISP won’t know for certain if a problem has been caused by this specific issue or not, which means that related errors could easily go unnoticed (i.e. not be attributed to the correct cause). The issue, for the most part, also appears to be focused more on the conduct of Kelly’s contractors than Openreach’s own engineers.

A Spokesperson for Openreach told ISPreview.co.uk:

Openreach is fully focused on connecting new customers and helping restore service to those experiencing a fault. We do not condone impacting one customer’s service to restore another’s and we take such allegations very seriously.

We would encourage anybody with any evidence of this activity to report it to Openreach immediately and we will investigate.”

Adrian Kennard also claims that some engineers even “use a chargeable call to 123 (speaking clock) to test if the line is active or not – costing each customer 31p until they find a line they think is stopped and they can use“, which could be “a breach of section 125 of the comms act as they are clearly not intending to pay for that call“.

Leave a Comment
17 Responses
  1. Avatar BT Investor says:

    Interesting. It’s good that Openreach are taking these allegations very seriously. I have no doubt they will come down hard on any contractors who are engaging in this behaviour.

  2. Avatar Simon Lockhart says:

    I can’t put any numbers on how widespread it is, but when I spoke to some telecoms consultants prior to starting our LLU unbundling at work, they strongly recommended that we didn’t run any lines without dialtone, if at all possible – for this very reason.

    It’s either urban folklore (as I hear it from multiple sources), or it’s a real problem…

  3. Avatar flipdee says:

    Oh my god, next they will be ringing 999 to report themselves for being fatally stupid, everyone and their dog knows about 17070, how does a telecoms engineer not think to use this?
    The danger of using sub contractors, no wonder the copper network is in the state it’s in.

    1. Avatar telecomsguy says:

      17070 returns the CLI on stopped lines just the same as on active ones, so unless you have a list of records (which contractors do not) you still do not know if the line is stopped or not. An 0800 freephone number should be test dialled instead as stopped lines will not allow these, and if the line is active, no charge is made to the user.

  4. Avatar Jason says:

    We have this problem quite a bit. We use an LLU SDSL service with no dial-tone. So even competent installers who do a line-tone check assume the pair is not in use. We’ve found the word “borrowed” slightly misleading, as once borrowed it can be difficult to get the line back. They won’t disrupt the new install.

    Although I have no evidence to back this up, I also get the impression some broadband faults are “fixed” by swapping pairs around. I have routine broadband issues which take quite a while to get resolved, then turn back up a few months later.

    Oh well, the FTTC cabinet appeared this week.


  5. Avatar No clue says:

    Oh dear, the stupidness of Openreach strikes again.

    1. Avatar Johnny Seven says:

      Ok where do we start, new starters are getting 2 weeks training 2 weeks buddying then they are ‘trained’. There are also Nat Ops & TV who have even less training, We’ll come to Kelly’s / Quinn’s later. New guys get put under pressure straight away There are coaches going round with stats provided by managers about repeat faults. The testers supplied are good, but again we have the problem of engineers (new or experienced) failing to understand how to use them correctly. Again coached caught in the middle now running advanced tester training to help. Rant over now the contractors are doing installs and do not have to test line. Why, because they don’t have any testers to work with.

  6. Avatar Paul says:

    Doesn’t suprise me. Kelly’s engineers are paid by the job rather than the quality of the outcome, so the quicker a job can be bodged the quicker they’re on to the next paying job.

  7. Avatar Karl Austin says:

    Had this happen to my line at home. They just took the pair, even though it has active voice and DSL services on it! Took them over a week to sort out. In the end they had to re-do the line all the way back to the exchange at god knows what cost to them.

  8. Avatar Unknown101 says:

    Most of the time SDSL lines have voltage on them so a competent engineer would notice this, id say most of the time this is contractors working in the network – which openreach engineers despise although some of the “good” ones get employed by BT Openreach.

    Engineers have access to a database of working lines but contractors won’t have access to this system as it contains quite a lot of information their not allowed access too.

    Contractors meant to ring a control centre when they have no working pairs on a DP or PCP and then get an Openreach engineer to come prove that pair for them in the underground network.

    1. Avatar Telecomtom says:

      The database mentioned is CSS and only certain openreach engineers can gain access. When a job is issued the cable routing is also allocated, informing the engineer which lines are free/inactive. In theory this sounds straightforward, but in actual reality the records are a mess and Openreach dont know whats working and whats spare. This means its down to the engineer issued the job to test if a line is live before connecting onto it to provide service to the new end user. It doesnt help that the only contact the contractors have to the Openreach system is by calling the Records Centre in India!

  9. Avatar Ignitionnet says:

    Has happened twice to a guy nearby, most recently just a couple of weeks ago. Shortage of e-sides on the cabinet so that’s the bit that was taken. His FTTC was fine too, which is quite disconcerting. Did they not notice he was jumpered via the FTTC blocks?

    1. Avatar Telecomtom says:

      There’s no excuse for a working line being disconnected, but to answer your question wether its possible to tell if its jumpered to a FTTC Port, the answer is no, as the street cabinet is a mass of cables which they would have to trace an individual cable, through many hundreds to find where it was connected. Obviously this cable should be tested with a voltage meter before it was dissed off anyway.

  10. Avatar Jonny says:

    This has happened to me on a couple of occasions now. Sloppy work as usual.

  11. Avatar ChrisB says:

    A few years back we had an Easynet LLU service which had no dial-tone. I think “our” pair was stolen something like 3 times and we became very paranoid of BT engineers messing in the DP for our business units! We even stuck an A4 sign up in the DP room to remind BT engineers that lines can be in service without dial-tone.

  12. Avatar Scary Mary says:

    Having worked for the ***** mentioned I can confirm that the engineers are also told by management to pinch pairs if they are struggling . This post is way overdue . Kelly’s are a sham of a company and they send engineers out with 8/9/10 jobs a day after having just 1 weeks training and not having any telecoms background before . Ifs mo wonder the keep messing up as half the engineers don’t really have a clue and are just told to crack on also not given the correct tools to do the job properly

  13. Avatar Pete says:

    When Kellys are paid just £35 for a half day FTTC install, it is no surprise they are in a rush to complete it…

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