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Openreach Moves to Help UK SMEs During COVID-19 Crisis

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020 (10:21 am) - Score 2,635
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The on-going Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis appears to have prompted Openreach (BT) into taking further action to help broadband ISPs and their SME business customers, particularly those firms that have had to temporarily stop trading following the UK Government’s lockdown measures.

At this point most people will be aware that Openreach has already scaled-back their engineering options for both consumers and businesses (here), which for example has meant that – with a few exceptions – any new service provisions (e.g. FTTP installs) that require a home visit have effectively been delayed until June 2020 or later (provisional date due to the uncertainty over COVID-19 and the lockdown).

Since then it has become increasingly clear that many Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SME) across the UK, particularly those that have had to temporarily stop trading, are facing their own crisis in terms of future survival (i.e. there’s no money coming in but still plenty going out on bills etc.).

The Government have of course already introduced a range of measures to support SME businesses (e.g. the job retention / furlough scheme) and Openreach have now begun informing ISPs that they will also be making available further assistance across their portfolio for this hard-hit community. Information from yesterday’s related briefing has been leaked to ISPreview.co.uk and we’ll summarise some of the key points below.

NOTE: The measures apply solely to SMEs (defined as having fewer than 250 employees and a turnover of less than £45m). ISPs will be responsible for confirming that their end customers meet the eligibility criteria before applying for these special offers.

Simplified Summary of Key Points

Broadly speaking the changes reflect greater flexibility, such as the ability to waive certain charges by temporarily suspending services for SMEs and then re-providing them at a later date. The processes and approach for these tends to vary between different products and orders. We’ll leave the details of this up to each ISP to communicate as they adopt them.

Key Changes by Product Type

Voice and Broadband (WLR, MPF, SMPF, FTTC and FTTP)

ISPs can use a special offer on the usual cease and re-provide service. For any line ceased on a date after the Covid-19 lockdown on 23rd March 2020 and up to 30th June 2020 at 23:59, the line can be subsequently re-provided free of charge if the start order is placed no later than 30th September 2020 at 23:59.

Existing WLR multiline, ISDN2 and ISDN30 services

ISPs can use the Temporary Out of Service (TOS) order to stop these services, which will be offered for a period of up to 3 months free of charge available on stops of service requested up to 30th June 2020 at 23:59.

Existing Ethernet Access Direct (EAD) services

Openreach are allowing ISPs to temporarily cease EAD services with the option to reconnect within 3 months (of the temporary cease) at a significantly reduced charge of £150 +vat (for example, the normal connection charge for EAD 1000 Local Access is £1,848). A minimum of 7 working days will be required to reconnect a circuit from the point it is ceased.

Apparently ISPs have informed Openreach that they expect up to 20% of their SME business customer base could take-up the opportunity to temporarily cease and reconnect business voice and broadband services, which will enable those firms to save money during a protracted period of inactivity due to the lockdown. None of this is cheap for Openreach to do and the extra flexibility should be welcomed.

Katie Milligan, Openreach’s MD Customer Commercial and Proposition, told ISPr:

“We know that some businesses are facing real financial difficulties due to the Coronavirus, and we’ve been in a constant dialogue with our Communications Provider customers to work out ways we can support them – and their customers – through these challenges.

Last week we introduced a range of measures which complement the support schemes that have already been implemented by the Government, and should help our customers over the next few months.

We’ll continue to review these measures with our customers as the situation evolves.”

Openreach also reminded providers that it is their “intention to run a cancellation amnesty for a period of 3 months following lifting of the current lockdown by the Government [applicable to EAD orders placed up to 23 March], in the meantime CPs should make use of the ability to suspend orders in the unfortunate event a SME goes into administration” (i.e. the EAD cancellation charge special offer will apply where a qualifying SME has gone into administration).

The operator has also stopped the auto-cancellation of EAD, Optical Filter Connect, EBD and Dark Fibre X orders which have been suspended for more than 90 calendar days. “We recognise businesses may not be able to provide access to allow these orders to be installed and in some cases some SMEs may no longer require these services,” said Openreach (expected to last 90 calendar days from 14th April 2020).

Another recent change is the introduction of a deferred payment plan, although this was covered in another briefing that we haven’t seen.. yet.

Leave a Comment
4 Responses
  1. Avatar Ray says:

    Whilst this is particularly helpful to end users, it doesn’t really help partners or CP’s with incoming cashflow.

    Basing the “re-connection” charge on the install charge also seems a bit of a reach

    1. Avatar David says:

      This is a massive help to CP cashflow! The issue is outgoing not incoming.

      There are many SME who are closed, have no income and are unlikely to be unable to pay their bill. The CP is still liable for the Openreach cost even if the end customer stops paying.

      With agreement these circuits can now be proactively ceased reducing negative cashflow for the CP.

    2. Avatar Philip says:

      It’s not the job of Openreach to help CPs with inbound cashflow, this massively helps with any anxieties of being left on the hook for services provided to customers that go into administration or just simply cannot or will not pay their bills. I don’t see what more they could be expected to do – hopefully other Ethernet providers follow suit, and CPs pass this along to customers.

    3. Avatar 125us says:

      Cashflow is the sum of income less outgoings. ‘Incoming cashflow’ doesn’t exist – it’s properly called revenue. Reducing outgoings clearly helps cashflow. I’m unsure how Openreach can be expected to help with a CP’s revenue problems.

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