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BT Wholesale Broadband Checker Adds “Downstream Handback Threshold”

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017 (4:41 pm) - Score 16,678

The official BT Wholesale Checker has recently added a new column for Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC / VDSL2) based broadband lines called “Downstream Handback Threshold (Mbps)” and after a few days of head scratching we now know what it means.

The change, which was spotted a few days ago, is accompanied by a frustratingly vague description that states: “In order to be eligible for handback, downstream speed should be less than Downstream Handback Threshold values.” So what exactly is “Handback“?

The term has been used by BTW in the past and it’s tended to reflect the forecast 10th percentile speed for a line (i.e. the slowest 10%). Below this speed the operator will normally consider the service not acceptable and allow an order to be reversed without charge.

bt wholesale broadband checker - downstream handback threshold

This is useful to know because Ofcom requires ISP’s (i.e. those that are members of its Speed Code) to attach a Minimum Guaranteed Access Line Speed (MGALS) to each line (you can request this from your provider), which reflects a similar definition of speed (see below). The MGALS speed is important because you can leave your contract (at any time) penalty free, provided your speed keeps going below the level it sets.

Ofcoms Explanation (MGALS)

If asked to explain further or asked to state the definition of “significantly below“, the ISP should provide information on the access line speed achieved by the bottom 10th percentile (or above) of the ISP’s similar customers (“the minimum guaranteed access line speed“) and explain that if the customer’s actual access line speed is below the minimum guaranteed access line speed, then it will follow the process set out in the 4th Principle.

Suffice to say that adding this information to the BTW checker is very useful. Mind you BT Wholesale’s checker doesn’t work for all lines (e.g. new fully unbundled [LLU] lines like those provided by TalkTalk and Sky Broadband) and it obviously won’t give a result for those on completely separate networks, such as Virgin Media’s cable platform etc.

Likewise if you have a significant problem with line speed, such as falling below the 10% level above, then simply changing to a different ISP on Openreach’s network may not solve the issue.

A BTWholesale Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

“This process falls under the scope of Ofcom’s voluntary broadband code of conduct and relates to the value known as the 10th percentile speed for a given line. If the performance of an individual line falls below this speed, the CP is responsible for investigating whether there is a fault which needs to be resolved or whether the line simply cannot support greater speeds using the current technology. The CP should first investigate whether internal network issues are causing the slow performance on the line.

Should they find that a fault relates to the external network they should raise this with their wholesale provider. If after further investigation and remedial action the line is not able to support speeds higher than the 10th percentile speed, the end customer is given the opportunity to leave their contract free of charge.”

A quick look inside the WBC FTTC Handbook Issue 20 (pages 27-28), which is only intended to be read by ISPs, also offers up some information on the “handback” rules.

Handback Rules:

This deals with performance issues relating to a service that has been in service for less than 1 year and cannot be adequately fixed by Openreach.

If the line has been in service for 90 days or less, the line can be ceased (if the line was a new provision), or reverted back to ADSL (if the line was migrated from ADSL), at no cost to the customer. If the line is older than 90 days but less than 1 year, the line can be ceased (if the line was a new provision), or reverted back to ADSL, (if the line was migrated from ADSL), the only charges that will be raised will be the line rental for the period that the line was active.

The service must have been investigated by Openreach for under-performance since its Service Activation date (i.e. the line will not synchronise at a speed above the 10th Percentile point of sale predicted rate, or the line rate has dropped by more than 25% over a 14 day continuous period).

We will send you 1 of the following codes:

9384 – “This line will not support the ordered downstream sync speed
Action required: This is a warning message advising that the service will be set with a reduced downstream bandwidth. If the reduced bandwidth is not acceptable, you can request to cease the service by submitting a cease order.

9501 – “This line cannot support the requested upstream sync speed
Action required: This is a warning message advising that the service will be set with a reduced upstream bandwidth. If the reduced bandwidth is not acceptable, you can request to cease the service by submitting a cease order.

9502 – “This line cannot support the requested upstream and downstream sync speeds
Action required: This is a warning message advising that the service will be set with reduced upstream and downstream bandwidths. If the reduced bandwidths are not acceptable, you can request to cease the service by submitting a cease order.

If you choose to cease the affected service after receiving one of the above codes, you may be entitled to a refund of the following charges (where applicable):
Connection charges
Cease charges
Rental charges
Early termination charges

To qualify for a refund of charges, you must raise a cease order against the WBC FTTC service to arrive with our supplier within 1 year of the service’s activation date.

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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.
Leave a Comment
16 Responses
  1. captain.cretin says:

    Is it OK for me to post a link in another forum? Had a few people asking ISP speed related issues recently, and this may well help some of them.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      You don’t need to ask permission to post links to our news articles on another website 🙂 .

    2. captain.cretin says:

      Hi Mark,

      I thought I would ask because I remember that article going viral and causing issues with the site last year.

      Not sure how many have followed the link, only a few comments left, mostly thanks for the info.

      BTW, thanks for the info!!!

  2. AndyC says:

    The only problem i forsee is that my attainable range is different almost every time i look (usually when theres a post like this where its changed in some way) so while you may be below the threshold one day the “attainable” might then drop the next day and you will suddenly be within the threshold and so they dont have to do a thing, or is this attainable going to be a fixed value?

    1. Lee says:

      The attainable will vary minute by minute as it’s based on the line conditions at the time you check. It’s mostly irrelevant for this as this relates to the actual connection rate.

    2. Lee says:

      Or do you mean the ranges shown on the Wholesale checker? If so I agree, they do seem to vary and what would stop them varying to suit Wholesale… unless of course the handback threshold changes in accordance.

    3. AndyC says:

      Yes on the checker itself.

  3. Phil says:

    The other head scratching bit is Clean and Impacted figures. Who decides if my line is clean or impacted, as that dictates the hand back threshold. Currently I sync in the range for a Clean line, but if I had problems on the line and my sync speed drops, then the ISP/BT Openreach would just say “Due to copper line conditions your line is now impacted, and figures in range B for impacted lines are in force”, and my hand back threshold then changes to become the lowest of the two.

    Logically, it must be that all lines that have speed issues are by definition “impacted”, therefore the only hand back threshold that will ever be used is the lowest of the two, making the nice high reassuring threshold shown under Range A Clean, completely worthless.

    1. joe pineapples says:

      Good point, and one I was wondering myself.

    2. Curious says:

      The term impacted related to actual physical issues, such as bridge taps, or home wiring problems.

      Yes, a line is “impacted” when the speed reduces, but where Openreach are concerned an impacted line is affected physical line/wiring conditions.

      “For VDSL or G.fast Ranges A and B, the term “Clean” relates to a line which is free from any wiring issues (e.g. Bridge Taps) and/or Copper line conditions, and the term “Impacted” relates to a line which may have wiring issues (e.g. Bridge Taps) and/or Copper line conditions.”

    3. Phil says:

      For @Curious

      The problem is “copper line conditions”, we just don’t know how that is defined, it’s a very broad term. So lets assume I’m free from anything that could conceivably be considered a copper line condition and free of all bridge taps. Therefore my line is Clean. Sometime later my line degrades due to a faulty joint, water ingress, or cross-talk or a bridge tap has been added for some reason, which are all by definition conditions of the line resulting in slower speeds. When a fault is raised, then BT Openreach will just grade the line as impacted and the slower speed range and thresholds come into play.

      For me currently on 80/20 sync and non-impacted, my threshold is 62.9Mbps, reasonably high, but if any sort of fault is going to make my line become defined as Impacted, then the threshold is 35Mbps, a big drop down.

      It just seems that any faults with the line immediately mean it’s defined as impacted, therefore it’s always the lower threshold for handback that will ever be used.

    4. Phil says:

      Further to the above, if ISPs start using the threshold to advertise a minimum speed of service guarantee because if it’s not above that the service can be graded back to what it was before, then we as customers need complete clarity as to how our line is rated in terms of Clean or Impacted, and a line defined as Clean should never be regraded to Impacted, as it’s just moving goal posts. As it stands with the term “Copper line conditions”, it should be accurately and honestly defined, as it stands it’s just a big get out clause for BT Openreach.

      I would go as far to say that no line should be impacted, and “copper line conditions” should be corrected and fixed, if not those affected customers are paying the same price for something operating below par.

    5. MikeW says:

      Its important to remember that the B range only came into existence when self-install became an option.

      If you go to an ISP that offers engineer installations, then the engineer ensures the line is clean (testing, and fixing it if necessary), and the ISP offers support for the A range because BT will work to that range.

      If you go to an ISP that offers self-install, then BT have no assurance whether the line is clean or impacted, so are only willing to commit to the lower B range. The ISP passes on the B-range estimate figure.

      The way you get the installation done filters into the estimate that the ISP gives you during sign-up, and becomes a permanent part of your service. That doesn’t get downgraded if your line subsequently develops a fault. Or upgraded if your line appears to be good. What will matter to you, post-installation, isn’t the definition of a copper condition. It is just the speed estimate offered to you at the point of sale.

      In the end, it means you can’t get away with penny-pinching on a self-install and then expect to call an engineer out FoC to give you the same performance as if you’d paid for the engineer install in the first place.

      You can see it a bit like paying for an extended warranty period in Curry’s.

      Or you can see it as BT charging you to fix their lines 😉

      Next time you order, make sure your estimate comes from the A-range.

  4. Mardler says:

    Whilst on an exchange only line to a fibre enabled exchange (thus we’re ADSL2+ and are never, ever, getting superfast) 0.8km away I thought I’d run this again.

    Same old result, not the graphic you show. Oddly, there’s a new paragraph on handback.

    Might be worth editing your article to make it a tad clearer that ADSL users will only see the old graphic and to ignore the handback note.

    (For those intrigued by my opening statement, BT/OR tell us that if we are connected to a new, fibre, cabinet whilst we should see c.35mbps d/l speeds or more the next village will only achieve c.12mbps thus as they will suffer by comparison it must not be done. Pointing out that the next village will get speeds c.8 times better than now falls on deaf ears. Mad? You bet I am!)

    1. Lee says:

      Considered a community funded partnership? They can do FTTP for that, not just FTTC, depending on costs.

  5. (.)(.) ies says:

    I wish I had stayed on ADSL lol
    On ADSL I got 7.5mbps (sync) all the time, upgraded to ADSL2+ and saw a pathetic 2.5mbps increase to 10mps (sync)
    I’ve just signed up to fibre and have been guaranteed 20mbps, which ties in with the hand-back threshold, and an estimated 25-40mps.
    I guarantee when it goes ‘live’ I will be lucky to anything over the hand-back threshold of 20.
    still, only cost me £1 a week more to upgrade to fibre and I can hit the dizzy heights of a 2mbps upload lol

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