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Ed Vaizey Slams BT Service Quality and Seeks End to Separate Line Rental

Thursday, March 10th, 2016 (8:36 am) - Score 1,137

The UK Government’s Digital Economy Minister, Ed Vaizey MP, has taken a break from praising the progress of BTOpenreach’s “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) roll-out in order to criticise them for their “absolutely woeful” customer service. At the same time he also called for ISPs to stop advertising line rental with a separate price and called for clearer broadband speeds.

It’s fair to say that Ed Vaizey’s role as one of the people responsible for overseeing the Government’s national Broadband Delivery UK project can be an awkward one with a difficult balancing act at its centre, particularly when most of those state aid contracts have been gobbled up by BT (Openreach).

On the one hand this position requires Ed to praise the progress being made with great frequency, while on the other his role as an elected politician requires him to be critical of services or institutions that might be failing members of the public. Some would say that his balance has not always been level, preferring to praise far more than criticise the incumbent telco.

Needless to say that there’s no shortage of other MPs for whom Openreach’s service quality has become somewhat of a persistent bugbear, as demonstrated by January 2016’s not entirely well put together Broadbad Report (supported by 121 cross-party ministers). More recently Ofcom has also called for further service improvements (here).

Never the less Ed Vaizey appeared to take a day off from praising Openreach on Wednesday and instead sided with other ministers who were criticising the operator for a number of issues, such as slow repairs and failing to provide enough capacity for new phone and or FTTC/P connections in some areas (e.g. street cabinets do sometimes fill up and this often takes a long time to resolve before new orders can be made, which may in some cases also result in misleading network availability claims).

Ed Vaizey MP said:

“I’m completely at the end of my tether, I agree with all the complaints made by all my colleagues in this debate, and I’m going to make sure there is action. I hope that if we debate this subject again in a year’s time we will have seen some action. Members may see a different Minister if I do not succeed, but we will do our best to make some progress.

I should say, though, that I have no truck with Openreach and its customer service levels.”

Mind you Vaizey did still find time to praise the BDUK and BT broadband roll-out, again: “There has been only one failure in the superfast broadband roll-out programme that I have supervised and that was in south Yorkshire, where we inherited a useless Labour contract and had to write off £50 million of taxpayers’ money. Everything else has been an unadulterated success,” said Vaizey.

Vaizey then called on BT to take a closer look at the recent outcome from Ofcom’s Strategic Review and advised that Openreach “come to the table with credible answers to it.” In the end it seems as if the Government line is now falling in firmly behind the regulator.

On the flip side BT Group’s CEO, Gavin Patterson, has already acknowledge that it has some deficiency in service quality and promised to improve matters (despite appear to meet Ofcom’s existing targets). At the same time he’s fighting for Ofcom to remove “the destabilising threat of structural separation” from their proposals and they’ve also raised concerns about the regulator’s call for a new / more independent governance structure at Openreach.

Both Ofcom and the Government would prefer BT to reach a voluntary agreement, which is preferable for all involved, but the regulator has warned that if a deal cannot be reached then they will impose change and that could still include everything up to even a full split (although we still view the latter outcome as being highly unlikely to happen).

Elsewhere Ed Vaizey also waded into the already over-politicised investigation of how ISPs price their services (details here and here) and he gave support to the single pricing proposal, which would require providers to stop advertising the cost of line rental separately from broadband (this would make broadband and phone bundle pricing clearer). He also had a pop at how ISPs advertise their broadband speeds.

Ed Vaizey MP said:

“We need much clearer information from providers. I, for one, would love them to get rid of this landline rental charge that they put on our bills. They put on their adverts a nice, big, juicy low price for broadband, and then an asterisk and a line saying, “By the way, you’ll have to pay £25 a month for landline rental.” All providers, whether it is Virgin, BT, Sky or whatever, should get rid of landline rental and just charge people for what they are buying: broadband, TV and a telephone service.

I hope that the Advertising Standards Authority will crack down on how providers advertise their speeds. At the moment, if only 10% of customers are receiving the advertised speed, in the eyes of the ASA that is supposed to be okay. I totally accept that the ASA does a good job—it is a great example of self-regulation—but it really needs to go further on that. In my humble opinion, at least 75% of people should be getting the speeds that the broadband providers are advertising.”

The problem with the line rental idea is how it incorrectly assumes that broadband and line rental services are always taken together with the same ISP. In reality hundreds of ISPs, both big and small alike, also sell line rental / phone and broadband services as separate products that can be mixed and matched between different providers (this is also how most ISPs buy it from their suppliers).

As such it would not be possible to force such a policy upon the whole market without creating more confusion or potentially removing consumer choice by forcing ISPs to stop offering separate phone and broadband products. If any new rules are introduced then they should only be strictly applied to bundles and consumers must still be allowed the ability to see the underlying line rental charge if they so wish.

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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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16 Responses
  1. Oggy says:

    It isn’t like a politician to completely misunderstand or misrepresent something….

    1. Patrick says:

      Which ISPs charge £25 line rental? They all seem to be in the £16-£18 bracket.
      Which is why line rental is so uncompetitive.

  2. Colin says:

    The line rental will be bundled in the price of the Broadband if they are forced to sell naked Broadband without the need for line rental. As an FTTP customer of BT’s I am still forced to pay the monthly line rental fee despite my £50 per month fibre cost.

  3. GNewton says:

    “in order to criticise them for their “absolutely woeful” customer service.”

    Very true, BT is one of the worst rated companies in the UK, as is evident from review sites like ISPReview, Thinkbroadband, Trustpilot, and others. This is in part due its inheritance from the monopolistic GPO times, with its lazy “Can’t do” culture.

    “most of those state aid contracts have been gobbled up by BT (Openreach).”

    This is one of the reason why the BDUK has been a farce: Giving taxpayer’s money away to mostly one company who has no need for it. Joint public/private investment projects with ROI for all parties involved would have been a better approach than the gap-funding model. And the BDUK process should have never been geared toward a single supplier.

    1. Oggy says:

      Have you got that saved and you just paste it on every discussion to do with BT?

    2. MikeW says:

      Of course he’s got it saved. Its the online equivalent to listening to awful muzac in an shop elevator. Turn up at ISPr, and you know what soundtrack to expect…

      His second part is especially irrelevant to the story. It is a shame, because the MP who started yesterday’s Westminster debate stated specifically that it wasn’t about broadband, and all about service.

    3. GNewton says:

      It always amazes me to see how emotional some posters here can be when it comes to anything BT. So next time somebody gets offended to the mention of BT, positive or negative, just take a deep breath and relax.

      In the meantime, let’s hope Ofcom will follow through with its intention to introduce stricter targets for BT to improve its customer service.

    4. Oggy says:

      It isn’t that anybody is getting emotional Newts, it is that you constantly post the same thing time after time after time and that does two things.

      Firstly, it reduces the impact of what you are saying as folk eventually just glaze over as they read what you have posted.

      Secondly, it reduces the enjoyment of people who come and visit this site.

      I hope you have the intelligence to understand that.

    5. FibreFred says:

      Well said 🙂

    6. GNewton says:

      @Oggy: I think you will find far more posts by users like FibreFred who keeps calling names on other posters, and has no manners.

      I don’t care about BT nor Virgin either way, we don’t even use them, but it is appropriate to post relevant feedback about an article’s subject, and if you have a different view, fine. If you don’t like my post, then fine, too.

    7. MikeW says:

      The problem, @GNewton, is that you don’t post relevant feedback on the article’s subject. You paste irrelevant information, repetitively, ad infinitum.

      I’ve taught my kids not to whine quite so incessantly. It’s a skill worth learning. But for some, it appears there is no hope.

      @Oggy is right on the two impacts this has on visitors. It has a third one too: when you do have a new point to make, it gets ignored because all of those glazed-over visitors have stopped paying attention to you.

      “The boy who cried wolf” seems an apposite fable.
      Perhaps a truth told to the point of tedium might as well be a lie, for all the effect it has.

    8. Oggy says:

      You don’t care about BT Newts? Your posts tell a somewhat different story, either that or you are just a troll?

  4. Skar says:

    Maybe the ISP should include 2 prices, with and without line rental. So you don’t have to hunt around for the line rental price.

  5. Darren says:

    The vast majority of FTTC deals require you to take line rental from the broadband supplier. In those instances line rental should be included in line rental prices without a doubt. In other cases they should include the price with their own line rental charges and without, so people can at least get a rough figure for total cost of accessing broadband. Rather than the current ‘free’ adverts that set out to be misleading.

  6. alan says:

    MY son went into the EE shop last week to see if he could upgrade his mobile. With no ADSL in his flat, he had racked up am enormous amount of mobile data usage.
    The sales assistant offered him FREE broadband with EE as this would give him better service than on his mobile and with unlimited data
    My son who know nothing about ADSL, decided to go ahead. Nearly to the end of the signing up procedure they casually dropped the bombshell that he would require Line Rental to set up the service of Circa £16/17
    Whoops, that wasn`t mentioned earlier until it came to “just sign here, matey”
    Thankfully he declined their offer and walked out

    1. GNewton says:

      Your experience shows how important it is for an advert to show the total price first which has to include everything, including line rental. That would put an end to these misleading so-called “free” broadband adverts.

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