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UK ISP TalkTalk Lodge Complaint Over BT’s Fault Investigation Charges

Friday, Jun 3rd, 2016 (11:37 am) - Score 1,819

Ofcom has opened a new investigation after TalkTalk complained about the amount of money being charged by Openreach (BT) for their Special Fault Investigation (SFI) engineer service and Time Related Charges (TRC), which are often used to resolve customer phone or broadband problems.

It’s fair to say that disputes over BT’s SFI / TRC charges are not uncommon and ISPs sometimes complain that they can end up being asked to foot the bill for engineers to effectively find and repair faults that exist within Openreach’s own realm (network), which should ordinarily not be charged to the ISP. But smaller cases like that are usually settled privately.

Other mistakes can also be made, such as when AAISP were hit by an erroneous TRC bill of £25,200 just for repairing a single faulty FTTCfibre broadband” line (here), which ended up taking quite a bit of time to resolve. The usual approach is for a TRC to be agreed with the ISP in advance and not levelled after the fact.

However the new complaint centres on whether or not BT was complying with the regulator’s rules when they issued related SFI / TRC charges to TalkTalk between 1st April 2011 and 30th June 2014. TalkTalk believes that the charges “were not cost-orientated” and were therefore “inconsistent” with BT’s basis of charges obligations in relation to these services.

Ofcom Statement

TRCs are services involving engineering work which is not included within service level agreements with BT. SFIs are services requested by CPs for further investigation of potential broadband faults on MPF and SMPF lines where no fault has been found using the standard Openreach line test.

On 7 October 2010, Ofcom published its 2010 Review of the Wholesale Local Access Market. Ofcom found that BT had significant market power (“SMP”) in the UK market for WLA services and imposed a number of SMP obligations on BT. In relation to TRCs and SFIs, Ofcom imposed ‘basis of charges’ obligations on BT, requiring it to base charges for these services on forward looking costs.

In June 2014, Ofcom published its 2014 Fixed Access Market Reviews. Ofcom found that BT continued to have SMP in the provision of wholesale local access services and again imposed a number of SMP obligations on BT. In relation to TRCs and SFIs, Ofcom removed the basis of charges obligations and instead imposed charge controls on each service.

This dispute concerns allegations by TalkTalk that the amounts BT charged it for TRCs and SFIs, in the period between 1 April 2011 and 30 June 2014 (“the relevant period”), were not cost-orientated and were therefore inconsistent with BT’s basis of charges obligations in relation to these services.

Ofcom will now have to investigate whether the amount that BT charged for TRCs and SFIs was in keeping with their SMP obligations and, if not, then the telecoms giant could end up being forced to repay any incorrectly levelled amounts to TalkTalk.

We can see this case attracting interest from other ISPs too and Ofcom has called on any providers with a relevant concern to notify them by 16th June 2016, which must be accompanied by any evidence of the dispute.

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Mark-Jackson
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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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