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Ofcom UK Fine BT 42,500 GBP for Inaccurate Broadband USO Data

Friday, July 30th, 2021 (10:35 am) - Score 3,048
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Ofcom has today fined BT £42,500 after it ruled that the UK telecoms operator had broken their rules by providing “inaccurate information” in response to a statutory information request, which was seeking data about EE’s Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) broadband (4G) service for their 2019 Connected Nations report.

The data was intended to be used to help the regulator estimate the number of premises that would be potentially eligible to receive a 10Mbps+ broadband service under the new Universal Service Obligation (USO), which went live in March 2020. The related Connected Nations report was finally published in December 2019, but it appears as if the data may not have been entirely accurate.

The vast majority of the data, which was submitted by BT in October 2019, was correct. However, the operator is understood to have misinterpreted one of Ofcom’s questions, which asked for properties that could be served by their fixed wireless access network.

In short, the data BT submitted failed to discount properties which were near high network traffic locations (e.g. busy train stations), which should have been omitted (i.e. the data showed FWA as being available in more areas than was accurate). The original Connected Nations report thus showed there were approximately 155,000 premises that could not access 10Mbps broadband, when it should have been 189,000.

BT said they then “proactively” informed Ofcom as soon as they became aware of the mistake. As a result of receiving that new information, on 18th March 2020 Ofcom found itself having to publish an updated report containing “corrected estimates“.

The new data did not have any real impact on implementation of the Broadband USO itself (i.e. it did not affect consumers). Nevertheless, the regulator is quite strict on such things, and their rules do require operators to “provide complete and accurate information upon request.” As a result, BT has today been served with a fine of £42,500.

Ofcom’s Statement

Ofcom has issued its Confirmation Decision to BT that it had contravened requirements in a statutory information request for the provision of information for the purposes of Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2019 report. The information was also to be used to check eligibility for a broadband connection from a designated provider in fulfilment of the broadband USO.

A BT Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

“As soon as we were aware of the mistake we proactively told Ofcom and updated them with the correct data immediately. The error caused no significant impact and we have worked closely with Ofcom throughout.”

Ofcom’s fine of £42,500 incorporates a 15% reduction to reflect BT’s agreement to settle this investigation by “admitting full liability.” BT has pledged to ensure greater dialogue with Ofcom in the future, which they hope will help to avoid further such mistakes happening again.

We should add that the closest service that EE offers to a true FWA product is their 4G based Mobile Broadband package for home users, which can be installed alongside an external antenna. We don’t believe many people adopted the external antenna, and it wasn’t well advertised on their website.

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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
10 Responses
  1. Buggerlugz says:

    Somehow I think if OFCOM had a minimum fine of say £1million telco’s would be more careful what data they publish.

    1. Chris Sayers says:

      I agree that statement.

    2. GNewton says:

      £42,500 is just pocket money for BT.

    3. Vince says:

      You think £1m would make any odds?

      They turned over £21.3bn in 2019/20.

      They had over £1.8bn in profit before tax.

      A fine of £1m will barely be noticeable on the accounts.

    4. FibreFred says:

      They proactively informed Ofcom of the mistake.

      The error made no real difference.

      The fine reflects reality, not personal hatered.

    5. 125us says:

      And then telcos would employ more people just to answer queries from Ofcom and phone and broadband bills would rise to pay the wages of those people.

      In what world is £1m a reasonable fine for making an error?

    6. HDB3 says:

      If you were fined £20k for your error in using a grocer’s apostrophe you’d be more careful about your grammar.

  2. Buggerlugz says:

    Make it a billion then.

    1. HDB3 says:

      Why are you obsessed with punishing people?

      What material harm has been done here that requires punishment or restitution?

  3. ORbit says:

    Actually I don’t think there is any need to fine them. We all know the USO is in practical terms meaningless, so how could it be effected by BT making a data error?

    in summing up the USO:
    -you have the right to ‘request’ a +10Mb connection (good luck, you won’t get it)
    -you can pay 20k+ for the connection (gee thanks, let me check down my sofa cushions)
    -you should not pay more then others for your broadband provision (apart from that 20K upfront then?)
    -In which case have a 4G/5G modem (but that’s twice the price of fixed line broadband for less data provision, and doesn’t that break your own guidelines for latency, contention and pricing?)
    -Move house

    at this point OFCOM usually disappears into a cloud of its own spin.

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