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BBC Watchdog Scalds BT Openreach for New Home Install Delays

Friday, November 21st, 2014 (2:20 pm) - Score 32,244

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.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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