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

Friday, June 3rd, 2016 (11:37 am) - Score 1,587

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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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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12 Responses
  1. wirelesspacman says:

    “and Ofcom has called on any providers with a relevant concern to notify them by 16th June 2016”

    I do wonder what channels Ofcom uses to do this. We, for example, have not been asked.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Well at the very least they put the notices out in public, as per above. ISPs should really be keeping track of the regulator for the market where they operate.

    2. wirelesspacman says:

      Lol. For large ISPs you might have a point, but us smaller guys have better things to do with our (limited) resources than try to second guess if/when a regulator might put something relevant on their website. It would be so, so simple for Ofcom to maintain a list and just email out when they are after input like this.

    3. Mark Jackson says:

      They do have such a list, if you hunt around it’s on their website somewhere and will notify you of relevant updates.

  2. Alex Bloor says:

    I have written an article for PC Pro about this topic.

    It highlights some of the problems we (A&A) have. We know many other providers have very similar disputes to ours.

    I hope some of these separate strands of complaint and awareness-raising do coalesce and cause real change within BT. SFI is a “sick” product; one that should not really need to exist, or if it has to exist, should be merely an “optional extra”.

    We buy a working service. There should be no question of us being charged to fix a fault in that service where the fault is within BT’s domain.

    My article will be appearing PC Pro issue 262, which goes on sale in mid-June. It will be part of the Real World Computing segment of the magazine. Hopefully it should be of interest to some, and I have managed to convey the phenomenally frustrating nature of this whole situation.

    Alex Bloor
    Business Manager, Andrews & Arnold Ltd.

  3. Captain Cretin says:

    Thanks for the ad!!!

    No, really!! At least one extra sale for PcPro in June (I stopped buying it regularly a few years ago).

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      I think they made a terrible mistake by killing off the online version of PC Pro and turning it into Alpha.. Alphr.. Alpr whatever it became. The old one use to at least provide some more up-to-date news and even encouraged me to by the magazine on occasion. I will pick-up the next issue though 🙂 .

  4. Rupert Jones says:

    Not just costs that are the problem, abysmal service as well. Had 80M fastpath sync for more than 3 years, drops to 64M overnight – ISP says not a fault, needs to drop by 25% for BTOR to look at it. Of course it was a fault – the recent fiasco with ECI cabinet firmware.

    Anything to do with their idiotically stupid and broken DLM is not considered a fault either. 9 days of interleave and reduced sync speed is not a cure for someone moving their modem a few times while decorating for example.

    I would have changed ISP weeks ago if it would do any good but the problem is BTOR and their abysmal service, the kind of service only a monopoly can afford to provide.

  5. Gary Hough says:

    Like A&A and others I have similar concerns over these charges.

    I’m also becoming more than a little tired of seeing our own staff struggling to try and explain to customers the risk of incurring charges for engineering visits in the unlikely event the fault lies in their domain hence why we ask them to test from master socket so we can prove fault is with BT.

    Many customers of ISP’s are elderly or struggle through disability to test from the master socket and the fear of high charges puts them off and as a result they have not only a bad customer experience but end up in some cases with a poorly performing service or worse case none being ping ponged between the CP/BT.

    It’s about time we sorted this out as an industry so well done Talk Talk for raising awareness to this issue.

    1. Chris P says:

      How about you send one of your in house engineers out to take a look and then deal directly with OR/BT?
      If you’re providing a national service, you must surely have a number of engineers spread out across the nation for this (i bet this is the impression your customers have anyway)?

      Maybe if ISP’s made it very clear they where reselling BT/OR service to their customers, and what the potential charges for engineer visits where, then maybe customers would be happier to accept the potential charges or

    2. Mark Jackson says:

      Chris, Most ISPs aren’t allowed enough access to the infrastructure on BT/OR’s side for such engineers to have much of a meaningful impact upon related faults. Now if that were to change and the service costs were adjusted accordingly so that the ISP got more money back in return for using their own engineers instead of ORs then it might be a different matter, but I don’t think that would happen outside of a full separation of Openreach from BT.

  6. Evan Crissall says:

    Adrian Kennard CEO of Andrews & Arnold has been an long-standing critic of BT Group and its mindless policies and practices. That’s perhaps why they hit him with a spurious £25,000 bill for a couple hours’ work. Just to piss him off, and to tie him up for hours in a pointless fight to get it all put straight. Yes, that’s just the sort of stupid thing that the £50 billion BT Group does to irritate its critics.

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