/ Technology

Update: can Ofcom’s reforms fix the Openreach network?

Fixing broadband

Ofcom has set out plans for the future of Openreach, the broadband infrastructure network division of BT. But are these reforms enough to make a difference?

In February 2016 Ofcom published the findings of its Strategic Review of Digital Communications. The regulator said Openreach needed to be reformed and make more of its own decisions on strategy and budget, as Ofcom found that while Openreach has an obligation to treat all its customers fairly it still has an incentive to act in the interest of BT.

So after six months of discussion what has Ofcom announced?

Ofcom’s plans for Openreach

Ofcom has announced in its plans that Openreach should:

      • Become a distinct company within BT with its own ‘Articles of Association’ and its Directors should make decisions in the interests of all Openreach’s customers
      • Have its own Board with a majority of non-executive directors, including the Chair, and should not be affiliated to BT Group in any way
      • Ensure Openreach’s Chief Executive should be appointed by, and accountable to, the Openreach Board not BT Group
      • Consult more widely with customers such as Sky and TalkTalk
      • Employ staff directly rather than have staff employed by the BT Group
      • Have a separate strategy and control over budget allocation
      • Independent branding

Last week the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee published a report which warned BT that unless the group reforms and addresses under-investment in the network then it should split from the Openreach network.

At the same time thousands of you were hit by outages across the BT network on Wednesday and Thursday last week with the company saying the issue affected 10 per cent of internet usage. BT Group apologised after fixing the fault on the network.

Ofcom has said that these plans for reform will help deliver ‘the best possible services for people and businesses across the UK’. But has the regulator gone far enough?

Taking action for better broadband

We know that many of you feel frustrated by your internet connection, which is why we want everybody to be able to access good quality broadband, be able to switch provider easily, and ensure automatic compensation is introduced if and when things go wrong with your broadband service.

It’s clear that Ofcom needs to move quickly on these plans and ensure Openreach is genuinely improving services for customers, many of whom have been let down for far too long.

Now is a perfect time for Ofcom to consider the greater role consumers can play in shaping Openreach’s future, as well as sharing their experiences and views on issues such as switching, compensation and a broadband Universal Service Obligation.

We’ll be pushing for many of these measures through the recently announced Digital Economy Bill which making its way through Parliament over the next year. But I want to hear from you.

Update: 30 November 2016

Ofcom has ordered BT to legally separate from Openreach. Back in July, Ofcom announced plans to make Openreach a ‘distinct company’ within the BT group. However, the regulator has found that while some progress has been made by BT, BT’s voluntary plan to address concerns it laid out earlier did not go far enough. The regulator will now start the process to force separation.

Under Ofcom’s plans, the separation would see Openreach manage its own branding and budget, with its own board, chairperson and non-executives that are separate to BT’s.

Update: 10 March 2017

BT has reached a deal with the telecoms regulator, Ofcom, to legally split from Openreach.

Openreach controls the fibre connections, ducting and pipework for the UK’s broadband infrastructure and sells access to other broadband providers.

The telecoms regulator has been preparing for a series of reforms to improve the Openreach service. Reforms have included a forced legal split of BT and Openreach.

Ofcom believes that the plans to make Openreach a distinct company will improve the service for Openreach customers. Openreach will have its own board and make its own strategy decisions, but the BT board will continue to set the annual budget as the 100% shareholder and owner of the company.

Our Managing Director of Home Services, Alex Neill, said:

‘Millions of people have suffered woeful levels of service from Openreach, so these reforms must lead to significant improvements for customers who have been let down for too long.

‘Telecoms are now an essential part of our daily lives, so it’s vital that consumers now really do see better phone and broadband services.’

Do you think this will improve broadband in the UK? Will this lead to better and faster broadband?

Comments
Mary Cotterill says:
2 December 2016

It would seem that Openreach is underfunded and therefore not able to do the job it should be doing. However by removing this from BT it appears that more executives, a new Board of Directors and governors will be using up quite a sizeable amount of this company’s funding which seems to defy the object. Should insist that BT makes itself more efficient and get rid of some of the “top boys” who are not working efficiently and get people in place who actually know what they are supposed to be doing!

Only this week I’ve had to suffer their incompetence and beyond poor service. I honestly can’t say if it was BT or Openreach who were ultimately responsible. I don’t really care. It’s nothing new. Bt could offer me free broadband for life and I will still go with Virgin as soon as they wire up my street, even if I pay more than what I pay now. Appreciating of course that Virgin are hardly perfect. I’ve just had a total belly full of BT and Openreach. They simply do not care about the customer.

Splitting Outreach from BT will change nothing. Poor service deliveries is a commercial cultural issue and the same charlatans will still be running the same shows – put in as little as one can to gain the maximum out one can to reward a highly privileged and exclusive elite. Unless and until the charges for broadband are directly related to the ACTUAL speeds delivered as opposed to the mendacious promises advertised and to which we are coerced to sign up, we shall never receive true value for the fees we pay for those generally well below par services.

When one visits a filling station to buy fuel for one’s car one does not expect to receive 40 litres if one is paying for 50 litres, yet the telecoms industry can short change us with impunity and, apparently, quite legally. Nothing concentrates the commercial mind more acutely that that of a potential hard hit on the bottom lines of their accounts which, in turn, purportedly reflects upon executives’ SUPPOSED performance related remuneration packages.

Give the sophistication of electronics and IT sciences these days it surely cannot be beyond the realms of inventiveness to charge one for exactly the broadband delivery speed at any instant, or, indeed and as a compromise, to average the median speed over, say, each month. Gas and electricity and water provider are successfully metering our exact usages and telecoms companies should have that level of accuracy of billing enforced upon them for broadband speed. That and only that can deliver fair reasonable and equitable broadband services and only then will telecoms services providers start to get their act together and seriously invest in an adequate infrastructure to not only meet the consumers’ expectation, but also to fulfill contractual obligations which one should unequivocally expect to experience.

Ross says:
2 December 2016

Until the basic infrastructure of our telecoms network comes back to Government control we will never see a competitive system for all. Another private company will just be out for profits and not for its users and in this case it will have a monopoly and could charge the telecoms companies what ever it liked which would then be pushed to us, the bill payers.

I don’t trust BT to do anything that is not in their own interest. They will find a way around any “deal” to twist it to their own advantage. A number of recent experiences lead me to conclude that there is no longer any effective “accountability” for anything that can harm the interests of citizens, so why should commercial or public “services” bother to “behave”?

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Colm says:
3 December 2016

As with many other comments I don’t believe that the enforced split will improve things for consumers. Only SKY/ Virgin etc might benefit.
In any case the complexity of the BT pension scheme will mean that separation as OFCOM sees it will not be possible,

I was trying to get my line sorted for two years, It took seven visits in total lots of threats of being charged if it was found to be in the house wiring etc. On one of the visits he fixed a couple of faults it still was not right but he said that was an Openreach problem we would have to phone it in separately.
I can see this being the norm, passing the buck will happen and will we end up getting charged by one because they blame the other.
Finally I got an older engineer who did not have to just fix one problem but went looking and found about five more all outside in the manholes, before I got a decent signal which could stay on when it rained.

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Gordon B says:
3 December 2016

I doubt the split will make a difference. BT’s policies and pricing have held this country back since before the says of ISDN.

Mike H says:
3 December 2016

BT has many shortcomings, particularly a failure to readily speak to its customers, but many customers total miss-understand the complexity of providing fast Broadband in rural areas. I regret to say WHICH and the media generally don’t help. There is a article in the September issue of the INGENIA Magazine which is very informative and explains these complexities, without supporting BT or any other company. It is well worth a read.
One final point, non of the major competition companies seem prepared to spend money providing a fast broadband network in these remote rural areas.

The acid test of any internet supplier comes when you have a problem.

In my case BT abjectly failed over 6 months to correct my all too often intermittent dropouts, saying the line test was fine and it must be my equipment. On a subsequent visit when the connection failed entirely, the guy climbed the pole (never done before), found a badly crudded connection and fixed it in 5 minutes. No further problems after that.

So, their line checks (when the line was working) were the end of thier remit until the next day/week and so on as far as they are concerned, but a little thought outside the box would have saved so much time and frustration for all. That connection upo the pole was obviously making and breaking, hence the random dropouts. It is well that I didn’t fall for their “if it’s my fault – I pay a ransom” scam, even though I was 90% certain it was their daisy chain rubbish!

My line speed was fine for the first couple of months, then it halved BT and remained so for some months despite promises to fix it . Months later I discovered the local exchange had swapped my connection to another bar (I’ve forgotten the tech term), which was speed throttled. How did I discover this? I was talking to a BT man in the pub and he offered to check for me. So the bleeding obvious would never have been sorted in that case either and the false bull that BT gave me over the phone, after interminably wasting my time was (I conclude) nothing more than lies!

I now use Zen internet. Not the cheapest, but absolutely first class service at the end of the phone directly to English techies, who don’t think I’m blonde 😉 UK based, no waiting for return calls, no wading thro endless auto menus before service. Excellent!

Those saying they have no problem with BT – good for you! But for those who do, and there are many, splitting OpenReach in this way is a move in the right direction, but it’s too little, much too late.
There should be a nationwide, publicly-owned organisation to install, run, and maintain the physical network – the ducting, cables, fibres, cabinets, exchanges, and they would rent out the facilities to anyone wanting to use them, at the same price. That way the performance of the network itself can be monitored and problems fixed independant of the ISPs, so choosing an ISP would be on the basis of *their* performance and prices, not the current fudge of each part of BT blaming another – the network would be the supplier to the ISPs and the latter would get on to the former when problems occur.
This nonsense of SFI fees should have been stomped-on by OfCom when it first started – it’s unbelievable that BT should be allowed to charge for fixing their faults.
As for those saying Sky etc. are after control of OpenReach, I agree this should not be allowed to happen, but there are a lot of small ISPs that will benefit from having an accountable supplier who isn’t trying to maximise their parent company’s profits, as now. I am with Andrews & Arnold, and their performance in getting cable faults fixed is legendary, but they still have to deal with a branch of BT because they “own” the cables. The latter is what needs to be fixed!
Separate OpenReach from BT completely, and if possible make it a public utility.

The acid test of any internet supplier comes when you have a problem.

In my case BT abjectly failed over 6 months to correct my all too often intermittent dropouts, saying the line test was fine and it must be my equipment. On a subsequent visit when the connection failed entirely, the guy climbed the pole (never done before), found a badly crudded connection and fixed it in 5 minutes. No further problems after that.

So, their line checks (when the line was working) were the end of thier remit until the next day/week and so on as far as they are concerned, but a little thought outside the box would have saved so much time and frustration for all. That connection upo the pole was obviously making and breaking, hence the random dropouts. It is well that I didn’t fall for their “if it’s my fault – I pay a ransom” scam, even though I was 90% certain it was their daisy chain rubbish!

My line speed was fine for the first couple of months, then it halved BT and remained so for some months despite promises to fix it . Months later I discovered the local exchange had swapped my connection to another bar (I’ve forgotten the tech term), which was speed throttled. How did I discover this? I was talking to a BT man in the pub and he offered to check for me. So the bleeding obvious would never have been sorted in that case either and the false bull that BT gave me over the phone, after interminably wasting my time was (I conclude) nothing more than lies!

I now use Zen internet. Not the cheapest, but absolutely first class service at the end of the phone directly to English techies, who don’t think I’m blonde 😉 UK based, no waiting for return calls, no wading thro endless auto menus before service. Excellent!

We use John Lewis BB (Plusnet provide it) and one reason we stay is because of the excellent service. Quick responses when we have a problem, whether through the website or by phone, and they are never in a rush when things need sorting out. A recent problem was put down to a dodgy router (about 4 years old) and a new one arrived foc in 2 days. Connecting to the internet was not as straightforward as the booklet said, but a phone conversation soon sorted it out.

I took the opportunity to improve our deal a little and to instigate a change to fibre (mr scrooge had resisted this since it arrived in the area a year ago as he didn’t see it as “necessary” but to hell with the expense, life is too short). They told me I should expect 30-40 mbps so we’ll see what happens on Tuesday when the transformation is due to take place.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

This comment was removed at the request of the user

David says:
3 December 2016

My concern is that by splitting BT Landline Service away from Broadband and with the increasing us of Mobil’s and Tablets as the main communications system BT landline Service is doomed to close and become uneconomical. For all those who rely on Landlines. The profits from BT Broadband will ensure that Landline service will be maintained for the older generation.

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We have a rail system where the “rolling stock” is run by several companies, while the infrastructure is provided and maintained by Network Rail, effectively a nationalised body.
What we have presently with BT / Openreach is equivalent to Virgin Trains or (God forbid) Southern Rail having control of the tracks, with the others, like Cross Country having to kow tow for the right to use the tracks.
I do not, however, expect things to improve following a split. That is not how we do things in this country. Things are done half-heartedly, bean counters ensure materials are cheap, and often inferior quality, and timescales and budgets are flexible to the point of fluidity.
Fibre should extend from the exchange to the home, not the nearest box.
Fibre means fibre, to paraphrase our esteemed PM.

All ofcom has done by this decision is make it easier for the foreign owners of Sky & Virgin Media to buy up more of Britains Telecom industry. If this goes ahead then ofcom must protect Openreach from being taken over by a foreign owner. I now expect BT will have to merge with a major foreign competitor to compete effectively against the Murdochs & Malones of this world.

Uncertain what the end result will be

Uncertain what the end result will be.

Ofcom have for years held a sword over BT & Openreach so where is the incentive for BT to invest the extra £Millions in the infrastructure only for it to be split. The vultures will now start circling.

if you want better broadband service you need 3 things.
1) reversed charges on calls where you are kept waiting.
2) adverts only allow advertising of their average provided speed. no more of that “up to” rubbish.
3) legally enforced right to only pay the % of the bill matching your service.
for example, im paying £25 a month for 16mb/s speed, yet i only get 4.5mb/s. therefore, i should only have to pay £6.

no amount of hack&slash of providers will fix poor service the way these will