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BBC Watchdog Scalds BT Openreach for New Home Install Delays

Friday, November 21st, 2014 (2:20 pm) - Score 32,124

Last night’s episode of the BBC’s popular consumer affairs TV show, Watchdog (Series 34 : Episode 6), took BTOpenreach to task again over the often lengthy periods of time that some people have to wait in order for their new phone and or broadband line to be installed.

Openreach, as most of our regular readers will know, effectively hold the responsibility for maintaining BT’s national UK fixed line phone and broadband network and this applies whether you pick BT, Sky Broadband, TalkTalk or any number of other ISPs. The exception to this rule is of course cable operator Virgin Media and a number of much smaller altnet ISPs like Gigaclear, CityFibre, Hyperoptic and B4RN etc. that run independent platforms.

But for most of us it’s an Openreach engineer that will probably turn up to connect your service or investigate faults. Unfortunately Openreach themselves generally don’t communicate directly with end-users (except in some circumstances) and as a result most people that suffer from problem are forced to go through their ISP instead (i.e. the company you have a contract for service with), which isn’t always as effective.

Naturally Watchdog, which also took Openreach to task over similar issues last year (here), has received plenty of complaints about Openreach and this time the focus was primarily on the lengthy periods that some people (particularly new home owners) have to wait in order for their service to be installed. In one example a Multi-Dwelling Unit (MDU) of some 34 flats in London’s Stepney Green was told they’d have to wait a staggering 7 months.

The full episode can be watched HERE and the bit about Openreach begins at around 22:12. Happily Openreach have also responded to the shows complaints with the following statement and they appear to now be putting the issues right for those featured, although anybody without access to a televised BBC Watchdog team for support may have to continue waiting.

BTOpenreach Statement to Watchdog

We have been in touch with the people featured in tonight’s Watchdog to apologise for taking too long to connect them.

We’re pleased to report that we have now connected Parkside Gardens.

We continue our work at Bootmakers Court, but overall this case has proven more difficult. That’s because our engineers have encountered repeated and unexpected blockages to the underground ducts which carry our cables.

Some of the ducts need replacing. Much of this work requires partial street closures. Council permits are needed for that and we have agreement to start road works on December 8th. We expect to connect people within a few days of this duct replacement work being complete.

We are trying to minimise the types of problem identified by Watchdog by – for example – recruiting more people. We have been recruiting 2,400 new engineers in the last six months alone.

We’re also carrying out a full investigation into the cases raised by Watchdog, and will use the lessons we learn to try to do better in future.

Openreach is facing a huge surge in demand for new housing connections – but we in no way see this as an excuse. We take responsibility for the delays you’ve highlighted and, as stated, want to learn the appropriate lessons.

In response to the issues raised in the programme, Openreach has set up a dedicated website where customers can contact us about connections to new sites, at www.openreach.co.uk/newhomes .

It’s worth pointing out that Ofcom recently began imposing new Quality of Service requirements upon Openreach, which is a big part of the reason why they’ve recently had to hire several thousand additional engineers. The new requirements, which also aim to get lead times for new services down, are designed to escalate over the next 3 years before reaching their full potential in April 2016.

One often repeated suggestion to help solve the problem, which appears in the show, is for ISPs to potentially take over some of Openreach’s engineering tasks (i.e. open it up for real competition). But achieving this would be a complicated regulatory and legal process, likely with many caveats, since you’re not dealing with a state owned company anymore and we must not forget that there’s no guarantee rivals would do a better job.

On the other hand.. you don’t know unless you try. It should also be remembered that Openreach already outsources some of their work to separate contractors, which don’t always do the best job.

Leave a Comment
64 Responses
  1. Avatar adslmax says:

    Why it always for Openreach to start work and fix it straight away if the BBC Watchdog get in touch with Openreach rather than their own ISP!

  2. Avatar david says:

    reason you cannot get intouch with openreach because they would have more complaints than anything else because basically they useless end of …..

    1. Avatar Brett says:

      This is Open reach’s number ring this number and they will be really angry that you have it.

      The more of us who ring it the better

      Been waiting 4 months and counting, extremely fed up of being lied too by BT

  3. Avatar GNewton says:

    Why would you want to use BT at all for newly built estates? They should go for fibre.

  4. Avatar fastman2 says:

    Gnewton a large majority font to any one and then wonder why they get copper and sub 2meg broadband

  5. Avatar fastman2 says:

    Gnewton a large majority dont share their information with infrastructure providers and there is no mandated planning policy in the local authority that says fibre is required so you get copper and sub 2meg broadband – or you end end in a development where you the developer does a lock in deal with an operator so you get once choice of ISP and 1choice of energy provuder

    1. Avatar GNewton says:

      In our area, as part of what the district council requires, developers for newly to be built estates can only go ahead if they also ensure the provision of fibre broadband. You’d have thought that by now this is common practice anywhere in the UK.

    2. Avatar Ignitionnet says:

      Around here Barratt have been signing deals with Virgin Media.

      Obviously no choice of operator but they do get an HFC infrastructure built off the bat.

      Just wondering if BT have any thoughts on Telefonica in Spain planning on replacing 80% of their copper network with fibre while BT appear to expect us to be incredibly grateful for maximum 76Mb FTTC with some Premier League and Champions League games thrown in.

      Really rather pisses on the bonfire of not being able to replace copper due to EU regulations.

    3. Avatar Bob2002 says:

      >Just wondering if BT have any thoughts on Telefonica in Spain planning on replacing 80% of their copper network

      Are there any peculiar economic circumstances in Spain which make such a rollout commercially viable?

    4. Avatar No Clue says:

      “Are there any peculiar economic circumstances in Spain which make such a rollout commercially viable?”

      LOL there is no economic circumstances here in the UK, a country trillions in debt should be giving an organisation like Openreach billions in funding when clearly they fail to connect people using their own money for months, until how terrible they are as a company appears on the TV and then suddenly they can connect them quick smart….. But we have gave them money anyway.

    5. Avatar Bob2002 says:

      >LOL there is no economic circumstances

      Yes, nothing to do with the question I asked …

    6. Avatar No Clue says:

      Unless this story is about Spain or a lot of readers of this UK site are moving to Spain for the broadband then what Spain is doing has little to do with the UK.

  6. Avatar john eccles says:

    You would think BT would maintain there infrastructure,but sadly no, hence longer to deploy newish tech.

    1. Avatar Gadget says:

      The point about a new site is that, in general, there is no existing infrastructure to maintain

    2. Avatar No Clue says:

      “The point about a new site is that, in general, there is no existing infrastructure to maintain”

      Or in the case of the programme if you had bothered to watch it you would realise infrastructure was there and the new block of flats as stated in the news item had 34 flats without service. Clearly it was a case of not enough spare pairs to supply the whole block of flats and clearly the infrastructure had not been maintained in that area over the years otherwise it wouldnt need damaged ducts replacing before they could connect those 34 without service.

    3. Avatar FibreFred says:


      So you think engineers go around checking 1000’s and 1000’s of miles of ducts to ensure there are no blockages or look for collapses?

      Really? 🙂

    4. Avatar GNewton says:

      @john eccles: I know from various BT engineers that up to until a few years ago, before DSL became more widespread, there was indeed a preventive maintenance schedule for the ducts and network infrastructure. This helped e.g. against accidental flooding of underground ducts. These days BT is different. They basically wait till a duct is broken or flooded before sending out a repain team.

    5. Avatar FibreFred says:


      Totally B.S

      Preventative maintenance on 1000’s of miles of duct, I’m sure your sources are real….

    6. Avatar No Clue says:

      “So you think engineers go around checking 1000’s and 1000’s of miles of ducts to ensure there are no blockages or look for collapses?


      Yeah initially that sounds stupid, but here is the thing…. How do they know an area they can not connect like those on Watchdog needs duct work or has a collapsed duct without digging up the street anyway?

      Ill tell you how they know because things are not maintained or checked for decades and its only when they come to try to shove new cable through a duct they find out its blocked or collapsed.

      The likes of Virgin, the water companies and other organisations meanwhile have some kind of x-raying devices to find and check for issues. Ive see them use them. BT on the other hand have the same paper wraped wire in my road since the homes were built well over 40+ years ago and refuse to replace it but instead have an engineer out to various households in my street on average about every 2 weeks with issues.

      Ill be kind though BT like many organisations will just avoid or try to shirk responsibility when it comes to difficult, expressive or in general PITA work. Kinda the British way nowadays.

    7. Avatar No Clue says:

      No that finds wires.

    8. Avatar TheFacts says:

      Wrong. http://www.cabledetection.co.uk/ezicat-i500

      How do you know VM have an x-ray device and BT don’t?

    9. Avatar No Clue says:

      Nope that still only finds wires, its the accessories they sell which are supposed to detect other things. I never said BT do NOT have equipment like that, if they do though perhaps you could explain why it has not been used in my road for neigh on 3 months and BT sending out pointless engineers to various residents in that time to just shift the problem around rather than find the knackered pairs.

  7. Avatar Andy says:

    “In one example a Multi-Dwelling Unit (MDU) of some 34 flats in London’s Stepney Green was told they’d have to wait a staggering 7 months.”

    Work started on our estate 7 years ago. Still no fibre.

    1. Avatar fastman2 says:


      so did the developer request fibre or Voice (or dis they assume that an operator would just pitch up with fibre like a magic wand), did they advise the postcode to the local authoority so is could be included in BDUK (assume you are in a BDUK area) if they did include you in the intervention are think you are good value for money (based on the other areas requiring broafbsnd — what devlopement are you in —

    2. Avatar No Clue says:

      LOL in his case he has been waiting over 7 years i would hazard a guess the development if his is a new build dates back further than that, what the developer asked for or did not 7 years ago is no excuse for BT or any other company not connecting people.

  8. Avatar Captain Cretin says:

    I agree, BT used to do a lot of preventative maintenance that they dont do now, like trimming back trees to stop them damaging cables.
    These days they wont even send notices to land owners who’s trees damage cables; just string up a new line that they know will be broken again within months/next strong wind.

    I havent seen BT trim a tree since about 1998-2000 (my old properties phone line went through a small coppice on common land).

    1. Avatar GNewton says:

      @Captain Cretin:

      You may have noticed that certain trolls here resort to name calling, like ‘bullshit’, when in disagreement.

      But yes, I agree with your obversation, BT stopped doing preventive maintenance in the early 2000s. That’s one of the reasons why the old copper-line based services have deteriorated in our town.

    2. Avatar No Clue says:

      Yeah its ironic really as they are the only ones that talk B.S

  9. Avatar DTMark says:

    Without competition this will not improve. It doesn’t need to. The regulator might come up with some targets, but in all seriousness, no tangible penalty is ever going to be levied.

    If it takes 7 months, you’ll just jolly well wait 7 months, since if there is no cable/alt net you can’t take your business elsewhere.

    The idea that “BT just go better” is laughable. Why should it do better? We’re only talking about 34 lines with a wholesale cost of what is it, a fiver a month without any other added services? About £1200 of potential opportunity loss.

    Regulation never has worked, and regulation never will work. Only competition works.

    1. Avatar DTMark says:

      “just go” = “must do”

      I knew I shouldn’t have eaten those radishes.

    2. Avatar FibreFred says:

      In some cases regulation and competition won’t make a difference. I’ve seen circuits delayed for nearly a year in London because other contractors have erected scaffolding covering Openreach manholes that simply cannot be moved due to the work already in progress.

      Totally outside of Openreach control

    3. Avatar DTMark says:

      What puzzles me..

      If the duct work is blocked, requiring some excavation..

      Which then uncovers more blockages…

      Leading to more delays..

      Why not lay new ducting and pop some fibre in? Here, it might very well have been quicker, cheaper, better.

    4. Avatar FibreFred says:

      A new duct where tho?

    5. Avatar DTMark says:

      From wherever is the nearest convenient dp, lay the fibre to the premises (e.g. FTTB, FTTP), job done.

      Then mark the existing ducting as condemned and unrecoverable.

      There comes a tipping point when the total cost of ownership of such an old network, without planning and investment, starts to exceed the cost to replace it.

      The comment about competition is valid. The above is what Hyperoptic can do, and indeed do. Stubbornly insisting that the existing ducting must be used might well have cost a lot more than the approach above.

      As regards competition: I wonder if BT would have adopted a more flexible approach had Hyperoptic got on site and provided for those users. Here we’re only talking about 34 premises, no great shakes, and as you note, London is a bit of a special case and we’re talking about one block.

      But as time moves on, this will become more widespread, indeed it’s the major failing in strategy with VDSL as any kind of tech for the future, because the main problem was, and remains, ducting to premises.

    6. Avatar DTMark says:

      One more thought..

      Once the blocked duct work is discovered and entered into the Openreach database, this then triggers an internal investigation beginning with looking to see firstly if any services routed via said duct work have SLAs.

      If they do, the area is then reviewed more fully to see whether network relocations are required because customers’ services are placed in jeopardy, this is given high priority; you wouldn’t sell products with SLAs on that network segment when you know that an underground failure down the known knackered duct work will result in you failing the SLA and you certainly wouldn’t wait for something to fail before acting.

      This all fits in with the wider strategy and medium to longer term plan to swap out the copper and simplify the network down to just fibre, here just looking at one tiny piece of it.

      This *is* how it all works, isn’t it?


    7. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Forgive me but I think that is probably quite a simplistic view really, you are assuming there is adequate space for a new duct to be laid, even if there was how many times can you repeat such an exercise in one area? I can’t imagine ditching the old and create new works out in many cases

    8. Avatar TheFacts says:

      Why would a blocked duct affect existing services in all cases? Reality check needed.

    9. Avatar DTMark says:

      I can’t speak for that particular street. But I remember BT, sorry, New_Londoner, repeatedly justifying VDSL on the basis that almost everyone lives within the proverbial stones’ throw of their cabinet, just hundreds of metres.

      It doesn’t take 7 months to lay maybe one km of ducting from the nearest fibre aggregation node.

      If there isn’t even one of those in 2014 in our major city then that’s a rather sad indictment on those investment levels and fitness for purpose in this century.

    10. Avatar Gadget says:

      Well according to a quick google I found at http://www.bristol.gov.uk/page/transport-and-streets/road-closures-temporary-works

      “How long does it take?

      TTROs are made under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 as amended, and take a minimum of eight weeks to process.
      •A consultation process is undertaken with the police, emergency and other services.
      •The public must be notified by advertisement in the local press. A contractor applying for a TTRO is also required to notify the public in advance by local signing and by letter.”

      There’s almost 2 months minimum per dig to get authority!

    11. Avatar No Clue says:

      “Forgive me but I think that is probably quite a simplistic view really, you are assuming there is adequate space for a new duct to be laid……”

      Er no he is not BT say the duct is damaged therefore there must already be a duct there you can replace, you do not need a additional NEW one, just replace the current one and rip the crap old cables out while you are at it.

    12. Avatar No Clue says:

      “There’s almost 2 months minimum per dig to get authority!”

      Which clearly BT already had the authority to do because as soon as Watchdog get involved magically some of the work mentioned has started. Others had also been waiting over 7 months so nope that is not an excuse for the idiot organisation named Openreach either.

    13. Avatar Gadget says:

      actually no, Code Powers do not mean you do not have to apply for authority to close or restrict roads, you still have to have council permission to do that regardless.
      So its entirely possible that with the leadtimes for roadworks authority you could have been delayed in purely obtaining the necessary permissions for you to complete the work by the time the show went to air.

    14. Avatar FibreFred says:

      ” you do not need a additional NEW one, just replace the current one and rip the crap old cables out while you are at it.”

      A repair then

    15. Avatar No Clue says:

      Indeed something they have not deemed bother to do until the programme.

  10. Avatar Kits says:

    You are all missing the one important thing that causes the long delays on the new properties..

    BT will not pay for the Post Office post codes so properties and listed by colour gold they know the address, silver aware and bronze they need to send out someone to check the address to plan the cable layout.

    All new estates are bronze because of them not wanting to pay for the postcodes.

    It is as simple as that.

    1. Avatar Gadget says:

      Kits – just for clarification postcodes are available for free from the Ordnance Survey Open Data, but do not give the number of domestic, non-domestic and post office box counts per postcode (for that you must pay).
      The NAD keys (gold silver & bronze) are associated with individual premise data which used to be part of the Addresspoint dataset, which has been superceded by the OS AddressBase products which also include Royal Mail PAF file data.
      When you get to addresspoint matching (as opposed to postcode) there a lots more fields and variants of names, spelling, abbreviations to be taken care of.
      Here’s a link to a post from OS themselves confirming a substantial contract with Openreach to supply them data http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/about/news/2014/openreach-agreement-worth-23-million.html it was also covered in ISPreview as well, http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2014/04/bt-openreach-improves-mapping-new-gbp23m-ordnance-survey-deal.html
      So I would challenge your statement that BT don’t have the data.

    2. Avatar No Clue says:

      If things come down to a postcode then its amazing how water, gas, electric and even things like letters still managed to get delivered, perhaps BT could ask them for a map.

    3. Avatar Gadget says:

      So what is your point? – the links show that BT has that data already which is what I was discussing with Kits, so they don’t to ask Gas, Water, Electricity suppliers.

    4. Avatar No Clue says:

      I was not disagreeing with you, you just assumed i was.

  11. Avatar fastman2 says:

    the developer is also under no obligation to use openreach — a major devlopement oin south west has no Openreach network — so a single choice of provider it also has a single supplier agreement with an energy company as well

    1. Avatar No Clue says:

      The flats in question already had BT services, well all of them except for 34 in the block.

    2. Avatar Raindrops says:

      Maybe dumb-dumb thinks there is only 34 flats in that block.

  12. Avatar Stoat says:

    Openreach need to be fully separated from BT. Completely separate CEO, BOD, company and sharemarket listings. It is only at that point that things will change. For an example, see New Zealand before and after the lines company (Chorus) was foribly separated from the incumbent telco – Chorus is now selling duct access to anyone who comes along and there’s been an explosion in the market as a result.

    As long as the incumbent has control of the lines, things happen at the pace which suits the incumbent.

  13. Avatar Matt Purkis says:

    Bt state two working days to reply on their form but it’s been almost a week and no reply …. I wouldn’t expect any better considering it has been 4 months without a phone line and all my neighbours have one!!!!!!

  14. Avatar Cable-y challenged says:

    The problem is open reach and their policy of not providing infrastructure until the ISP requests it on behalf of you and I – poor simpletons who have to pay in the end. I ordered Sky services for my new home in February 2014…. was told it would be May before I could have connection, still no broadband in December and no proper phone line. Others in the development have connection ( more by luck than good management)because more cables than I’ve had hot dinners have been stuffed into a junction box, instead of proper planning of new infrastructure. No one gives a monkey’s, not the developer, not BT, not Sky, not Open Reach and not the govt. Ive written to the Minister for Technology in Wales, who gave me a very standard bland reply via an aide… but also Open Reach’s phone no. Open Reach secretary almost passed out- ‘we don’t have to speak to you – how did you get this number? you’re not our customer, go back to your ISP’.
    Put these words in order- Stone- Getting -Out of- Like – Blood.
    I have regular voice mails from various people in BT & Sky telling me how hard they are trying to get this sorted out, how its been escalated. And when they will next update me with the new delay date. The latest one bless ’em, told me
    ‘the new cable is in the depot waiting for the engineers to collect it’. If I didnt know better Id think it was a message for the British airmen in ‘Allo ‘Allo….. I am so cross that 1) there is no urgency, 2) this isnt even covered by OfCOM regulation 3) we have to just suck it up 4) Open Reach are beyond anyones’ reach 5) there is no forward planning for new developments.

  15. Avatar neil edmondson says:

    We moved house over twelve months ago and when we moved they had to sort the line. It took them over three months to sort and i wasted over 15 hours on the phone. Got nothing for it in the end. Sounds like people have had worse problems but they are nothing compared to the service they make out that they provide.

  16. Avatar kate says:

    I moved into my new build house in august 2014. I chose to go to with sky. The superfast cables were in place, sticking out of the wall, with property of BT openreach written on them. After a two month wait with no contact and no word of a lead time, I emailed Joe garner, the CEO, I had a pretty prompt reply from his secretary promising some progress. They passed me onto sky’s executive customer services. Every week the nice lady at sky rings to tell me there will be more delays. Yeah, the usual excuses, jointing, cabling etc. Whatever, the news is never good and openreach seem to have a strategy of excuses that sound plausible but are in fact, untrue.
    I am now being told that I have no hope of getting any kind of service until after April 2015! That’s nearly nine months with out a phone or broadband. If I’d known that I wouldn’t have bought the house, as I s intending to start a new business which I can’t do with out a phone line or internet access.
    What can I do?
    I wrote again to Joe garner, but he has changed his email ad. What a coward.
    The problem with BT openreach is that they have an inadequate number of engineers to tackle new build demands and certainly not enough to maintain or upgrade existing infrastructure. They have no customer interface and no competition, so they have no incentive to complete work within a reasonable time frame. They do not liase with developers at planning stages, which is just crazy and particularly short sighted, given the complications that can arise when laying new cable, joints and ducts etc.
    Its a total farce.

  17. Avatar peter says:

    Openteach, totally useless, and liers
    All my neighbours have broadband, but my wires are not connected, 2 months
    If openreach controlled the 999 call centres, the morgues would be full!!!!
    They are UN reliable and don’t give reasons, the modern day UN touchables

  18. Avatar Kathryn says:

    I moved into my first property August last year (2014) and booked my phone line before I moved in for an original installation date of the 12 September. I have encountered delay after delay with no phone line (just a lot of excuses) in sight. I have managed to get the situation escalated and had a case worker appointed to my case in January, however this has not made any improvement to the delay and have received a further delay today via an automatic email that I am unable to respond to, of 1st April. Something needs to be done to hold open reach accountable.

  19. Avatar Deborah says:

    BT Openreach are useless, and its crazy that they have as much of a monopoly that they do. Beginning of March we applied for internet/phone in a new development that has the infrastructure in place. (people who already moved in, have service). I work from home, and without internet cannot work. My house has everything ready, but no line. Countless phone calls over the last to no avail – no-one owns your problem, no-one cares – after all their employment is fine, no matter how dismal the quality. We’ve been sent emails that everything is working, only to phone and be told that the wrong department sent those…. we’ve been sent account details for a service we dont have, and we’ve been told that these are incorrect – by the same company that sent them. If Openreach wasn’t a monopoly it wouldnt exist. Market forces would have made it improve or move over for someone better. Incredibly frustrating.

  20. Avatar Rodriguez says:

    I’m not a technical person. All I know is that I’ve been waiting 4 months now to be connected. We moved to our new home in January and the developer had everything ready in November. Our supplier told us that everything should be there for when we move in.

    My family live in Spain and can’t communicate with them without paying through the roof in mobile charges. Our new home is in a semi-rural area, which means that we get NOTHING to get connected (no 3G or Dongle). What we have to do (almost on a daily basis) is drive 5 miles to the nearest establishment to do basic things (i.e. checking emails, etc), not to mention that we have to consume every time.

    All we get from Openreach is further delays and pathetic excuses, even their own engineers have treated this as “ridiculous and out of order”.

    We are still waiting to be connected but our patience has run out. We want to be compensated for the huge inconveniences they have put us through this past 4 months. Right now, it feels that I work to pay to be communicated (we’ve spent so much money)and my spare time is spent trying to find internet cafes or 3G hotspots rather than enjoying our new home… it’s ridiculous.

    I expect someone from Openreach to have the decency to at least contact me after this post.

    Thank you.

    On top of tha

  21. Avatar Tracy Pearson says:

    We moved into our new property in April and were promised installation of out telephone line on 8th May, this didn’t happen and we were then told it would en 15th. The lines are all raspy from the builders point of view just for BT to come and connect. Today we got a phone call foo say connection from BT is not going to be until 4Th June. Why does this have to tLe so long?.. I run my own web based company part time and without the internet this is proving almost impossible. I am trying to work by using my phone internet but this is costing me a small fortune. I have missed bookings because of this and am not happy. I don’t understand why they take so long to sort out a simple problem, surely it can’t take long to connect up and satisfy a whole street of people.

  22. Avatar Ben Cox says:

    We moved into a new build property at the end of March and are still waiting to be connected by BT Openreach so our provider Sky can get us set up. Every time BT Openreach get in touch via Sky the date keeps getting put back further. We originally were going to be connected in early Apil and now it is looking like mid June. It is impossible to get to speak with anyone and like many other people on this feed are loosing income over these issues. Other homes around us have been connected and we cant seem to see what the issue is and why it is taking so long to resolve.

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