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BT Openreach Under Fire for Being Slow to Connect New Build UK Homes

Thursday, January 28th, 2016 (3:13 pm) - Score 7,166

It’s a familiar story, you buy a newly built house only to find that it could take months before BTOpenreach get around to connecting you to even a basic broadband or phone service and then when it does go live the service could be slow. Meanwhile the property developer blames BT and vice versa.

Sadly ISPreview.co.uk has had to cover a fair few stories like this over the years (e.g. here, here and here) and so in that sense the latest reports from Cable.co.uk (here and here) and the BBC do not come as much of a surprise. However the underlying problem may be on the right track towards a resolution.

The report notes that several large new-build estates (e.g. the Sandmartins development in Darlington, the Coopers Edge development in Brockworth and the Portland Wynd development in Northumberland) are struggling to either get connection or to receive a good broadband speed once the service has finally arrived.

The situation is particularly galling because by far and away the cheapest and quickest approach to deploying new telecoms services is to put infrastructure in the ground BEFORE any of the houses and streets are even built, but this requires both the telecoms operator and property developer to be cooperating. Easier said than done.

Chi Onwurah MP, UK Labour Party, said:

“The incremental cost of laying fibre when you’re putting gas or electricity ducts in the ground is insignificant in comparison to digging up streets, so it’s a huge opportunity … The obstacles that new homeowners or people moving into new homes are having I just find incomprehensible really.”

One problem is that some property developers do not see the situation as being their responsibility to solve, which is exactly what Barratt Homes told residents at one of their developments in Plymouth. “We do not have an obligation to provide any Broadband services and I must confirm that Barratt Homes will not consider any further investigations to upgrade the existing Broadband provision,” said the developer.

In fairness existing developments are not yet strictly required to include the provision of good broadband in their builds. On the flip side Ofcom’s current Universal Service Obligation (USO) only mandates that BT and KC (Hull) deliver, following the “reasonable request of any End-user“, a telephone service that includes the ability to offer “data rates that are sufficient to permit functional internet access“; technically that can include ancient dialup.

A Spokesperson for Openreach added:

“The rapid growth in the number of new homes being built around the country has resulted in some owners of new build properties having to wait longer than usual for their phone and broadband service.

Openreach would like to apologise to any affected customers and is working hard to fix this issue. We have also stated our ambition to provide infrastructure to all homes in new build developments before customers move in.”

The good news is that this problem isn’t universal and a number of developers, such as the Berkeley Group, have already made commitments to ensure that their builds will be prepared for “fibre optic broadband” infrastructure by 2016 (here). The Government are also encouraging local authorities to consider the need for superfast broadband when judging planning applications (here).

Likewise Europe has called for “All new buildings – and those undergoing major renovation – for which applications for building permission have been submitted after 31 December 2016 must be high-speed ready” (here). Not that home builders were happy about that, with some warning that it could “seriously damage” future construction (here).

On top of that the Government are also about to start consulting on their proposal to introduce a new legally-binding USO, which would require BT and possibly other telecoms operators to ensure that everybody can access a minimum broadband speed of 10Mbps (Megabits per second). But this won’t be introduced until 2020 and by then 10Mbps may not look as attractive.

One problem with the above improvements is that they don’t affect existing developments and indeed it can sometimes take years for a new build to go from the planning to construction phase, which means that many new builds will continue to be constructed without provision for good broadband and it could thus take a while for the measures to have a real impact.

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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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21 Responses
  1. chris conder says:

    how much does a bit of plastic drainpipe cost? all it needs is duct access and the job is done. They can then shove some phone line through if and one day when fibre actually gets deployed that can be shoved through the same pipe. simples.

    1. JoshBosh says:

      To large firms building huge projects the cost of the extra ducting is negligible, but in this day and age, where they can save £20 per property, and turn the profits over to shareholders, every penny counts.
      I’ve recently come from a new build block of apartments, only 28 properties, and the builders were so short sighted, that they didn’t lay £50 worth of ducting to let virgin get from the street to the property.

    2. Ignition says:

      Ducts aren’t the problem.

  2. FibreFred says:

    Homes take quite a while to build surely its not hard to give sufficient notice as to when they’ll be ready to final wiring?

  3. TheManStan says:

    But this shows how the public is still not making BB an essential criteria in purchasing a new build property… if customers turned their noses up at shoddy infrastructure provision by property developers then they would change their business plans.

    1. mrpops2ko says:

      very good point but it’d require you putting the priority at the very top. Imagine the scenario of being a wouldbe home owner and you found a great property, very spacious, for the right price, in the right neighbourhood, close to the schools you want. Only downside is poor internet. Do you really pass on it?

      Personally I would pass on it. Saddos like me put internet as #1 but I can see how others dont.

    2. MikeW says:

      Yes, I’d pass on it. It was joint top on our priority list the last 2 times we moved.

      I’d walk away from a new-build that didn’t have fibre fitted. I’d probably walk away if it wasn’t fitted to the extent it could be turned on on moving day.

      I’ve experienced the switch in attitude on moving into a new-build. How fast and important things are prior to exchange and completion, vs how slow and unimportant they are post-completion.

      The saddo thing to do would be to wander around local new-build developments, solely to walk away when they tell you it won’t have fibre.

  4. Pete Woods says:

    For my new house, I placed an order with BT in January 2015, asking for the line to be installed on the 27th of March, when the house was due to be completed (so they had about 2.5 months notice). They only managed to get my line installed about 5 months after I moved in. The developer had already laid all the conduits, with little pull cords through them all. So it was pretty much the easiest install an Openreach engineer could have asked for. Sadly the developer were set against getting B4RN, or similar, involved so stuck waiting for BT.

    1. Pete Woods says:

      The frustrating part is that there’s no real alternative to Openreach, unless you’re lucky enough to be in a Virgin area. So it wouldn’t have mattered which retail ISP I had chosen, you’re still with Openreach.

    2. Ignition says:

      You’ll probably find there were issues with capacity on the copper trunks running from the exchange to the cabinets serving the properties.

      The developers aren’t going to let B4RN or anyone else get involved when the construction has been completed.

      Your frustration at the lack of infrastructure competition is shared by ~50% of the country. Blame Ofcom for that one.

    3. TheManStan says:

      Haven’t some developers gone for other ISPs (e.g. Velocity and GTC) to provide FTTP?
      There are plenty of providers who will step in if the developers can be bothered!

      If the developers did things right like the have done in Wembley with Velocity, Cumbria with GTC, Chapelton and Swindon with BT, plan FTTP in at the start it all works swimmingly.

      Seriously, how can the Home Builders Federation say such crap when good BB makes their properties MORE marketable…

    4. Ignition says:

      Easily. The HBF members want people paying as much as possible for properties that they deliver in their own sweet time, on the terms they dictate, ideally with as much taxpayer money propping up the purchases as possible. 30% of all Barratt’s new build sales were subsidised by Help to Buy, with an 11% price increase year on year thanks in part to it.

      Cheers George.

  5. gerarda says:

    If people refused to buy new houses without adequate broadband the developers would soon make sure they did provide the service.

  6. Steve Jones says:

    It’s about time this stuff was in the building regulations for significant developments and it wasn’t signed off until the estate is ready. There is plenty of time for developers to have this all contracted in time.

    1. wirelesspacman says:

      Agree Steve.

      Also I do wonder what on earth the buyers’ solicitors are doing (or rather not doing!) in all of this – they are meant to be the professionals in the process after all.

    2. GNewton says:

      I have to agree on this one, Steve. Too many buyers take a USO style for superfats broadband for granted, like with the old plain telephony services, without realising there isn’t any such USO for superfast broadband. Only a law change can help here!

    3. Steve Jones says:

      I should add that in the case of supplying power, developers often have to put their hands in their pockets to finance major upgrades to power distribution (and roads, and other infrastructure) as part of the project. It is surely not beyond the government and planning authorities to get this sorted out. There are multiple potential suppliers of telecoms to new builds.

  7. Matt says:

    I and other residents in my building are having issues with this!

    Residents started moving in early December 2015 to a converted office block in the centre of Crawley, West Sussex…. this blind already had lines installed to it when it was an office block, there was even a distribution point that the lines could be connected too… the developer had installed lines in the apartments and run the cabling all the way to the distribution point however Openreach could’t seem to get anyone connected until last week when a neighbour finally got a phone line (but no broadband) and I myself had to fight with BT after no confirmed dates where being given for activation…

    I places my order before moving in, mid December, had a date for install on the 11th…. however not confirmed, I challenged BT about this but keep getting generic answers and being told the building had no lines and that roads would need digging up… and more rubbish excuses…Yadda…Yadda…Yadda… so I complained to BT about the lack of information and the fact that know body would talk to Openreach or even forward my photo evidence and incoming lines and and a distribution point that had a reference printed on it and a note saying it was connected to a certain cabinet just outside…

    A week before my scheduled date for install a Openreach engineer turned up and started connecting lines to the DP and testing the lines between the DP and External network and also decided to trace some lines inside the apartment and fit master sockets so they could be remotely activated, I spoke to him and he confirmed they where late and supposed to do this work a month earlier, he then worked on everything for a couple of days and confirmed to me that the job had been signed off on Wednesday, meaning it would be in the system by Friday…. meaning my line was fit to go! This isn’t happen!

    It was only when my complaint got picked up and I had lost my head when I took the day off work on the 11th and nobody turned up to be told it was cancelled by Openreach and no notification was passed back to them or me… that a lady from BT started badgering Openreach, I then received notification that my phone line would now being installed and activated 11 days later than first agreed…. however it didn’t mention Broadband?

    After a bit more ranting at BT to rant at Openreach and expedite the order I finally got a more direct response from BT, this was 2 days before the line was scheduled, the broadband had now been rescheduled for 4-5 days later after the phone…. arg!

    Now that myself, BT and Openreach where communicating ‘a bit more clearly’ with each other, things started to happen, phone was being installed, whilst the engineer was on-site BT was on the phone to me and in contact with Openreach concurrently, this was due to the engineer on-site saying he can do the broadband order early as it takes only 15 minutes to complete work but he would need the job sending to his iPhone… he requested his office to phone him (3 times) and BT was also telling Openreach to push buttons but after 4 and half hours still Openreach sent nothing to the engineer and didn’t even contact the engineer…

    The engineer said the van could be nicked from him and nobody would know until it hadn’t turned up when expected….

    The lady from BT at this point was losing her head with Openreach and by the evening of Phone line install day was talking to a manger who was saying he could expedite the order by 24 hours for a fee of around £150…. this was refused and in the end BT made it so that the broadband would be connected the next morning at no cost to them or myself…. this happened!

    However I did have to them dismantle, Openreach Installed master socket as the removable faceplates where preventing the broadband from connecting…. however now I’m connected many of my neighbours are having the same issues….

    All the fingers are being pointed at Openreach for not providing updates or even knowing whats going on at the building despite the many hours of engineer visits.

    There communication sucks and they don’t seem to be struggling to get people connected and keep them connected due to shortages of staff…

  8. David says:

    “The Government are also encouraging local authorities to consider the need for superfast broadband when judging planning applications.” Those pretty words are at the root of the problem – “encouraging”, and “consider”. For God’s sake, what’s the matter with our legislators? It’s not an Ofcom problem; it lies with Whitehall, where DCMS is more concerned with “culture” than it is with the harsh realities of the digital world. Here’s a message for the 121 MPs who signed Grant Shapps’s open letter – JFDI, and stop pussy-footing around.

    1. MikeW says:

      Now there’s an idea. This time the 121 MP’s could actually do something useful.

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