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BT Openreach Retreats from Direct UK Customer Contact Proposal

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015 (5:05 pm) - Score 1,863

BTOpenreach, which maintains and manages access to BT’s national UK phone and broadband network, has reportedly scrubbed a proposal from its new Charter that would have allowed consumers to contact them directly. Apparently a number of ISPs complained, but BT probably won’t be too upset.

The Openreach Charter, which was officially unveiled during September 2015 (here), saw Openreach’s CEO Joe Garner make several primary commitments including one soft proposal to “Improve communications“.

Joe Garner, Openreach CEO, said:

[We will improve communications] by providing more information about the availability of fibre broadband and by engaging with our communications provider customers to find ways of allowing their customers to contact Openreach directly.”

Many consumers have long sought the ability to contact Openreach directly (the usual path is to go through your ISP), not least because many ISPs appear to employ linear script-reading drones as technical support staff and these aren’t always able to correctly handle or communicate some of the more technical / tedious problems that can arise on such a complex telecoms network.

Equally it would have been useful for those who might simply wish to move past the sometimes tedious buck-passing between ISPs and Openreach over who is responsible for a particular fault / problem.

However a report on This is Money alleges that some providers, particularly the big boys like Vodafone, TalkTalk and Sky Broadband (these providers also want to see Openreach being completely split from BT’s control), were not keen on the idea and didn’t wish to relinquish control over complaints handling. A number of smaller ISPs also had serious concerns.

In fairness we can understand ISPs being nervous about allowing customers to communicate directly with the “functionally separate” Openreach, which some still view as being too closely controlled by arch-rival BT. Furthermore it might indeed make tracking complaints more challenging, although realistically there’s no reason why common sense couldn’t find a solution.

Naturally we wanted to know if there was any truth to this and Openreach has obliged us with the following statement.

An Openreach Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

Openreach is committed to improving service and we’ve made significant progress over the last year. We’re constantly exploring ways to build on that so, as outlined in the Openreach Charter, we’ve asked industry for their views on whether consumers and businesses should have more direct contact with Openreach.

We’re pleased to say that more than 50 of our service provider customers took part in the consultation, and we’re now working through the feedback.

Openreach already answers direct enquiries from consumers and businesses around fibre availability, greenfield sites, network damage and wayleaves, and on balance the feedback suggests we should continue to offer those services, but there isn’t a need to broaden our contact into other areas.

There have been many constructive suggestions however and there are areas where we think we can work with service providers to make improvements. We’re now working closely with the Office of the Telecoms Adjudicator to develop a plan based on all the feedback, and we’ll be discussing this with industry in the new year.”

Openreach probably won’t be shedding too many tears over the situation, not least since it means they won’t have to hire lots of additional support staff. Plus there’s also no guarantee that Openreach would have been any better than ISPs at the job.

The proposal itself was of course never a solid commitment and Garner even expressed himself to be “open minded” about it. On the other hand we would have liked to see greater flexibility to contact Openreach directly, albeit perhaps with some restrictions, but for now it looks as if the idea has been set aside in favour of improving the existing ISP-based communication channels.

Leave a Comment
5 Responses
  1. Avatar dragoneast says:

    Back to the bunkers, chaps.

  2. Avatar Steve Jones says:

    I’m wondering if it would be possible for OR to offer direct customer access as an option for service providers through a wholesale service. Then the SPs can decide themselves whether to offer it to their own customers. It would, of course, be at a cost to the SPs (albeit they may be able to recover some of that through their own reduced costs). It would also, of course, need a lot of systems work, not only in OR (as I suspect they won’t have a customer facing system with the functionality or ability to handle the volumes) and at the SP end which will need visibility of these issues. I also don’t see OR taking initial problems or orders, just the ongoing interaction for fulfilment.

    Of course, even this is likely to require Ofcom approval, even though it would conform with equivalence requirements as it will be seen as straying out of OR’s heavily regulated functions.

    Like it or not, the functional separation of service provision does, unavoidably, but a large number of delays, costs and complications into the process with much duplication, issues lost in translation and so on.

    1. Avatar dragoneast says:

      I’m struggling to see the consumer benefit. The cynic in me says it looks like “we’ve already made things complex and difficult, so let’s make it more complex and difficult”.

      I suppose that giving us another opportunity to vent our spleen is a benefit in itself. As an old-fashioned creature, I’m just not so sure. I go with St. Francis, change by all means the things you can and ought to, but learn to live with those you can’t. And try and know the difference.

    2. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      It means a more direct line of contact with those actually doing the work, diagnosing and fixing the problems rather that going backwards and forwards to a call centre. Every time a layer is added, things get lost in translation and it takes time. In principle, direct support ought to considerably reduces those issues.

    3. Avatar dragoneast says:

      Of course I get the “principle”, but the issue is one of practicalities, not principle. I’ve had a long-standing fault some years ago where a local OR engineer rang me, and having revealed his number, he was happy to ring me and vice versa as things progressed (or not). It helped both of us considerably.

      But you want to set up a system for that, covering every exchange and engineering team in the country? Good luck with that one.

      I think the problem is when you try to have a system for everything. Everything has to fit into a procedure and that’s it. You get the lowest common denominator. What we need is the flexibility for common sense. But as every forum, including this one, demonstrates every day there isn’t much of it around, at least amongst the customers. When we behave like children, we are going to get treated like them.

      And the naivety of thinking that miscommunication only occurs between OR and ISPs and not, or even more so, at levels within OR (or within any other organisation you care to mention) beggars belief IMO.

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