With the UK on lockdown, connecting people via phone and broadband services has never been more important. Our guest explains how Openreach is working to keep you connected.
This is a guest post by Catherine Colloms of Openreach. All views expressed are her own, and not necessarily shared by Which?.
With millions of us now with limited physical access to the outside world there’s a growing appreciation of the vital role that virtual connectivity plays in keeping us close to friends, family and life in general.
But there are many people who were already reliant on broadband connectivity and now need it more than ever.
Top of the list, alongside key public services, are vulnerable customers. And under this national emergency, we’re prioritising repairs and network maintenance that supports them.
Connecting vulnerable customers
We’ve built in new processes beyond what we would usually do to make sure vulnerable consumers are connected – and are working with the government and the NHS to make sure that those who are in most need of support are prioritised in future.
The government has categorised Openreach staff as key workers – because they need us to keep the UK connected.
Thankfully a large amount of the work we do – including fixing faults, adding capacity and building faster, more reliable full fibre networks – is outside, so you’ll still see Openreach engineers working to maintain service across the UK.
The government has also asked us to continue building our full fibre network, so the economy is ready to bounce back after the crisis.
This has meant we’ve had to make some very rapid changes to our processes, policies and working practices to avoid the threat of Covid-19, and I wanted to share with you some of the key things we’re doing to keep both customers and our own people safe.
We’ve had to completely scale back on customer home visits and our engineers will now only enter a home when there is a total loss of service which we cannot fix from outside, and there’s no alternative such as mobile access.
The good news is that we can fix many issues outside the home, which keeps both our engineers and the public safe.
We can also look at potential problems remotely with special software that can detect some issues on a customer line – without having to enter the premises.
For example, on fibre based broadband lines we can detect if there might be an issue with home wiring, or if there are issues with broadband modems which customers may be able to fix themselves.
We’re not doing new installations in the home – unless there is an absolute critical need for a vulnerable customer with no other service available.
It’s also worth pointing out that millions of customers may still be able to upgrade or order a new broadband service – even with the current restrictions – as many providers offer a self-installation package.
Upgrading to higher speeds, which may be useful if people are home working or have children at home, can also be done without an engineer visit.
Around 96% can now access superfast broadband (defined as offering speeds of 30Mbps and above), but around 14m homes and businesses, who have access, don’t take a service. So, it is worth people checking online or with their current provider to see what is available to them.
Where vulnerable customers might need help in setting up a new broadband line, or where our engineers might need some help in diagnosing what issues exist in the home, our engineers have been equipped with social media apps on their work phones – including FaceTime and WhatsApp, in order to talk directly with customers without having to enter the premises.
Steps for your protection
If customers are deemed vulnerable – and have a problem we can’t fix without entering the home, our engineers are able to do so, but will be maintaining social distancing – keeping two metres away from anyone – in accordance with the guidelines set by Public Health England.
That might mean asking customers to stay in another room while the engineer works on the home equipment.
We also have supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including full overalls, overshoes, gloves and masks to be used by engineers – where it is considered appropriate according to the Public Health guidelines, for example, if a customer declares they have been experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
Meanwhile we’ve joined forces with companies across the industry – including, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Vodafone, EE, Plusnet, and BT – to support Ofcom’s ‘Stay Connected’ campaign.
It's never been more important to #stayconnected and that's why we've come together as an industry to share our top tips to fix common issues. Check out our joint advert below, and if you need more help then also check out our broadband self help guide https://t.co/RMZOfSbN9m pic.twitter.com/no2OXxTjEP— Openreach (@WeAreOpenreach) March 28, 2020
You can find out more about what we’re doing from our website.
Remember that Openreach is a wholesaler. It was set up to work for communications providers – the companies that you buy your home or business phones or broadband from.
Contacting them is the fastest way to fix a whole range of problems. If they think the issue is with our network, they’ll contact us and arrange for us to fix it.
This was a guest post by Catherine Colloms of Openreach. All views expressed were her own, and not necessarily shared by Which?.
Has the lockdown changed how you feel about your internet service?
Is your connection good enough to handle video conferencing, streaming services, and other high bandwidth activities?
What tips do you have for others to get the best speed out of your internet connection?
Share your thoughts in the comments.