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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?

t cee says:
21 January 2017

……………..They should have to tell you the exact speed before you sign up…………..
IM WITH VIRGIN PAYING £38.00 PER MONTH FOR 50MB…….I GET 0.5 MB and have been on the phone to them 3 times already today ,yesterday was 7 times.

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Agree. All providers should state a clear working speed range with a minimum and a maximum. For instance there are many BT customers on Infinity 2 when the copper pair will only support lower speeds (mine is at 38Mb) so the customer should be charged at Infinity 1 not Infinity 2. I also agree that there should be a stated minimum service level.
All the following should be included in the adverts.
1) Download Speed Range,
2) Upload Speed range,
3) Network Latency,
4) Contention ratio (shared connection to the back bone)
The last is as important as BT may use different design criteria to say ZEN. If you are sharing with other heavy users you may lose the Internet speed at 8pm on a Saturday or if you are a business this explains why you may be paying premium rates. All ISPs have different back bone arrangements.

However the customer needs to understand that the providers cannot defy the law of physics. So the distance from the exchange matters. If broadband speed is critical to you don’t by a business premises at an old farm or an old wood yard with 10 stretches of overhead drop wire.

The answer of course is Fiber To The Premises (that can properly be called Fiber). Fiber is more elegant and using passive splitters you don’t need those ugly powered street cabinets. However whilst the Government and now Ofcom keep interfering we will never get the long term UK investment we need. Fiber needs to pay back over a longer period (20 years +) if we wish to keep the cost of broadband down. You can’t blame BT or Virgin for not investing if Sky, Talk Talk and others invest nothing in the ground but cream off all the value add profits. Even new housing estates are not getting decent connectivity due to the current Ofcom rules.

Fortunately BT appear to have cracked the interim and will be rolling out G-Fast from July which will provide faster up/down speeds and Virgin will be responding with an update to their infrastructure. This will provide better speeds but these really are only a 10 year stop gap until we get proper Fiber.

If you currently can’t get reasonable speeds in your location whether urban or rural blame Ofcom.

Anything less than 2Mb on ADSL or 10Mb on Fiber/VM indicates a technical fault. VM faults are usually their guys leaving the cabinet doors open to the elements or that they bury their cables at trowel depth. BT faults are usually the RJ11 cable to the router or internal phone wiring. Or in my case electric garage doors spiking the power supply.

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The best broadband we get is 2m although my friend across the road gets 35m. Openreach won’t upgrade our street, it’s not worth it for them, after all there NOT A SERVICE PROVIDER they are just another money making company that doesn’t care about it’s customers once they are signed up to a contract. Our broadband drops out on a regular basis and we have had no broadband at all since the 19th January 17, tomorrow is 1st Feb and they have estimated two weeks to get us our broadband back. It’s really hard to complain and they keep all the complaints within the company so your not really getting anywhere. They need to be brought to book.

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Thanks for that information Duncan. We have spoken to a case manager who has informed us that our broadband has been shut off so BT has to set up new broadband and can’t just re-establish our existing broadband. Our contract with BT is nearly finished and the case manager is saying we will have to sign up to a new contract to get our broadband back (which he says will take 48 hours as he will rush it through) and if we don’t, it will take at least 2 weeks to go with someone else. So in effect holding us to ransom. When we asked for compensation for the weeks that we have had no service at all, he said they would give a ‘good will’ gesture (obviously don’t want to admit they are at fault), but will tell us the amount once we have agreed to sign the new contract. They are an awful company and I have had the worst service I’ve ever had from any company ever. I have contacted the ombudsman. I have logged all the details in a note book and I’ve drafted a letter to my local MP and am going to make it my mission to highlight just how badly we have been treated. My children are trying to do there GCSE’s, but can’t do their homework. I am going to complain everywhere I can find that will listen.

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Thanks Duncan, but your assumption is wrong. We have not stopped the direct debit and are still paying BT. I am going to phone the case manager tonight after work as, so far only my wife has spoken to him. I am going to record the conversation on my mobile, which my wife did, but only partially. I do not want another 2 year contract with a corporate con man like BT and don’t think it’s fair to be pressured into it. If BT don’t fulfill the contract by continuing to provide me with broadband until the end of the contract term, surely they are in breach of contract and legally are at fault. Also while were at it the technical support in India told us that they can see that we have phoned them 19 times over this and were rude and also put the phone down on us and we were patient with them. What do you say about not revealing the ‘good will gesture’ until we agree to another contract. Does that sound like someone who values you or a lawyer?

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I think there has been some sort of mistake somewhere along the line. The guy my wife spoke to said that the wholesale company that facilitates the broadband to BT have us down as cut off, but BT don’t. You probably know more about that than I do. I didn’t think anyone else was involved apart from BT. I can assure you that there are no nefarious reasons why we should be cut off. As I say I will try and talk to the case manager tonight.

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Hi Duncan,
Thanks for those comments. I spoke to ‘Steve’ last night and to cut a long conversation short. He has offered us £5 a month broadband for a year, £20 goodwill gesture and whatever the rate is for the time with no broadband is pro rata, but he wouldn’t tell me what that rate is. He says he can get our broadband back on Tuesday 7th Feb making it 19 days without. My wife doesn’t think £20 is enough for the stress involved so she is going to try and re-negotiate that amount. There are two factors involved i this case one is the cessation of service and two the ongoing problem of the terribly low broadband speed. I have the name of Gavin Patterson from Open Reach, Our local MP as well as the obudsman, but as long as BT provide 0.5mb they are legally in the clear. Do you know of anywhere else I can register my complaints to. Please bare in mind that from my window I can see the house across the road that has 35mb and I can also see Newquay International Airport.

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Thanks for that Duncan. We are on basic copper. I know exactly where the cabinet is and it is more than a mile, but probably not much. The number of the cabinet is 82. The pole we are connected to is a different one to my neighbour who gets 35mb. I have long since registered an interest and left my email. Our master socket is fine one of the engineers that have been out to us upgraded the fuses on the pole, but had to get a cherry picker out as the pole was rotten and too dangerous to climb. I wonder if I report that to Openreach we have a chance of getting it upgraded whilst they are replacing the pole. What I don’t understand is: The cabinet is say a mile and a half away, so that reaches my neighbour, but not me, another 20 paces away. When you say our cabinet I’m assuming you mean the nearest fibre box. This is all very helpful as the more I understand about this the further I’m likely to get.

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Openreach’s website checker says ‘Your cabinet is enabled for Superfast fibre however your’re not able to order fibre just yet. This might be because the length of the line is too long to get Superfast speeds. We’re actively looking at other options. Exchange name: St Mawgan
Exchange status: Fibre enabled
Cabinet number: 82
Technology: –
Ironically the little arrow graphic indicator points to a SUPERFAST ACCEPTING ORDERS highlighted box.

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According to Google Earth the cabinet is 1.86miles 300m by road and 1.5miles 250m as the crow flies so between 200 and 500m so by your chart I should be getting 38Mbps which makes sense as my friend across the road gets 35Mbps. The question is what can I do to make this happen?

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The cabinet is in another little hamlet with just a spattering of house called Trevarian. I think it must serve Morgan Porth and Watergate Bay as St Mawgan village where I am has a much larger population. All are surrounded by fields so I can’t understand why they would put the cabinet there.

I’m looking at it now on google earth. My neighbour is on different pole to me. The pole I’m on caters for 9 houses including mine. This is the pole that’s rotten. The engineer told me he had replaced the fuse at the bottom that connects to the ground and the fuse at the top that connects to my wire.

My neighbours wire connects to a pole that is not just a single pole, but is one of those poles with 4 wires that run from pole to pole along the main street, so I guess that’s why he’s getting a better speed. His house is on the corner at a T junction into our road.

By the way thank for your time and help with this.

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I don’t know, how would I find out? I’m out of here at five and from then on have no internet until I get back in on Monday morning. I’ll have to try and find the exchange in St Mawgan, I didn’t know there was one.

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Morning Duncan,
There is a box in St Mawgan village and the wire that runs up the hill in the village towards me via the poles is a thick black wire that looks like it might be a cluster of smaller wires within a surround about 2 maybe 3 inches in diameter. This wire goes past my neighbours house. So he gets this feed. We however are on an individual pole that isn’t connected to this feed. The distance between these two poles is about as far as the average distance between two poles, but one is around a corner in our close. Is it ever possible to re-direct the feed? My house is so close to this feed, we are literally across the road from what I think is the feed.

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When you enter my close there is a little T junction you turn left to get to my house and you have to turn right to get to the pole. The pole that we are connected to is on the other side of the road and up the road beyond the T junction. If you look out of my front window the poly cable pole is behind a row of terrace houses, but there is a gap at the end where I think a wire could come from. How would I go about getting someone to actually do this?

I think it might even be nearer to go to the poly cable pole.

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Thanks Duncan,
It all comes back to trying to talk to someone. I’ll have a look for the nearest black box to my house and go from there.

Thanks for your advice, if there is anything else you can think of to help me expedite this please let me know.

I totally agree with you Brian, I signed up to BT in December 2015, and there hasn’t been a single day where the connections has been functional, after numerous complaints and zero response, I called again in may this year only to be told I had to upgrade to the latest hub which guaranteed me speeds of up to 72mb, (at a cost of £150) which I reluctantly done so as to allow my children to study and submit homework, not to mention I work from home. Coincidentally every time it rains I lose connection sometimes for days at a time, BT told me it depended on the type of rain (WTF??) Then I was informed last week by “Ollie” at BT that it was my TV Ariel causing the problems, I found this particularly funny as I have not owned a TV for 14 yes, BTW Ollie also offered to recommend an Ariel specialist to resolve my problem (free of charge of course) I could almost feel his utter embarrassment when I informed him of my 14 yes with no TV, his next response was extreme reticence when I explained I had made a complaint to the ombudsman service who were investigating, I was abruptly informed that my case was no longer up for discussion!! BT are not fit for purpose!!

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Our service is an average of less than 3.5 Mb/s which is less than 1/2 the national average for ADSL line. I’m being ripped off because a Plusnet customer having a service which is above the national average will be charged the same as me.

The problem is we can’t really do anything about it!

Just checked my broadband speed it is 1.7. I live in quiet a large town so why can I get a faster speed.

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Though I live in the middle of a large town, I don’t have a fibre optic cable laid in my road. I therefore get broadband via copper overhead telephone cable and this is slow i.e. upload 6.2 Mbts/s and download is 0,8 Mbts/s Talk talk, my provider, have told me that I will eventually be provided with a fibre optic cable. How many more years will I have to wait for this and which company will provide the fibre optic cable?

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I Live in an area that doesn’t at the moment have Fibre broadband but strangely there are new houses being built just over my fence that have fibre ? it is available in the area but BT haven’t switched it on for everyone in South Queensferry i have been told this will happen in around another 4 months

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jennifer says:
16 February 2017

I live in a quiet area we dont have cable internet yet people around us have and they pay less than me per month. Ive recentley left BT because they were charging me £45 pm for internet that at best was only 7mbs when Id been promised a imimum of 11mbs…they never keep there promises and offer the best deals to new customers only….ive been with BT many years but what do they give me for my loyalty…absolutely nothing

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I live in a busy town. have switched from Plusnet to Sky. i pay £27 a month. my download speed is 2.27Mbps today and upload is 0.58mbps. i get told, distance from the exchange is the problem and despite saying i can’t afford it, they keep trying to sell me fibre. they say my speed registers as over 4 there end. a lot of the time lately it constantly drops out and stays off for hours. its really getting me down.

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HI,Duncan Lucas needs a huge thank you for his informative help..this guy really knows his subject…I have great sympathy for anyone trying to get any sense from bt…we are getting drop offs and download speeds rarely above 1.2 .The asian help centre is no help at all and I am convinced that bt have engineered a confusing and deliberately vague service so that people become frustrated at the lack of understanding from the operator and put the phone down.Website and chat lines equally diffuse and complex…all cheaper than actually admitting their shortcomings. We are so desperate that we atre considering fitting our own wireless reciever up a tree and backheeling bt altogether.We are also in cornwall a few miles fron mawgan porth but a different exchange.Best of luck everyone, alan

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Are we attacking the wrong problem here? BT Openreach own the copper lines and the have laid some fibre. In the past BT were constrained by the regulator on how much fibre they could lay in a month. Yes they have had some time in the last decade to cat ch up and lay more fibre. The cable companies have been laying fibre since the mid 1980s so they had a 20 year start. BT own some of the switching gear in the exchanges and so do other Broadband suppliers. The other Broadband suppliers can put their own faster switching gear in the exchanges and provide a faster Broadband. So why is this an Openreach problem? Openreach do not own the switching gear, and your ISP could invest and provide a faster service rather than buying time off BT and then blaming BT for the service that they chose to buy from BT and sell on to customers. Blame your ISP.

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If you have a copper wire connection to the local exchange, >20Mbps is only possible if you live reasonably close to that exchange. For most people 20Mbps is not possible regardless of which ISP they choose. An Open Reach engineer tested my line. The best my line would do was 12Mbps.
If your broadband speed reduces at peak times, then you can blame your ISP. They may have over sold there service, to the point they do not have capacity for all their customers, at times of peak demand.

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The government has offered the money for rolling out higher speed broadband to 95% of the UK. BT has accepted it and is making a reasonable job of getting it done. Virgin Media and other telecom service providers are not, as Duncan rightly points out, interested in doing this because there will not be enough sales per mile of cable to justify their commercial backers’ investment.

Friends of ours who recently moved to a house in Norwich on a street that is fully fibre-cabled by Virgin Media [or a predecessor cable company], as well as having the traditional BT facilities with poles and overhead copper lines from the cabinet to each property, get bombarded weekly by Virgin Media urging them to take up their broadband and other services. The previous owners had been with Virgin Media but our friends have remained with BT and had BT install broadband as soon as they moved in. Every customer drop-out from the Virgin Media cable infrastructure is seen as a dent in their profit potential [because upselling customers to more expensive bundles is the real game]. And this is why, as Duncan mentioned above, Virgin Media are challenging BT on the uprating of copper cable to take higher speeds because, obviously, that will impact on their sales opportunities in places – like Norwich and other urban areas – that have a parallel Virgin Media cable service; they could even lose existing customers to BT if their offer is more attractive.

Why doesnt the regulator ban the phrase “up to xMb”. No One is getting the ridiculous speeds advertised by BT et all. If companies could only show adverts quoting average broadband speeds then they would be much closer to what people actually get. They would still be high because it only takes one ridiculous speed to boost the average speed. The average wage is a good example of this.

.My BT contract provides for 17mb speed (the max in this area. Central London) The average speed I receive is 7mb, and at times as low as 1mb.
In any other branch of retail this would be unlawful. Banking has finally been brought to book. How long are we going to have to wait for this fraud to be prosecuted ??.

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Post Office Broadband speed I get is often just about 9 mbs . Not good enough as they advertise up to 17mbs.
There marketing promotion is very misleading and you can easily get caught with very extortionate call charges. I got caught for a £4 local evening call. Shocking service when you could telephone Australia for that kind of money.

Barry says:
4 March 2017

bt broadband paying for infinity 2 should get up to 52mb getting as low as 3mb.

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I stuck with Virgin, because they offer 200MBS, and that is what I get, more or less – speeds vary from 185 to 215 MBS – fast enough….. and far far faster that sky or BT…..

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Just checked my speed with Virgin (13.40pm) 219mbs
Just doesn’t seem that fast though.

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With download speed (if you can call it speed) at 0.6MB and an upload of 1MB I cannot send pictures and documents most of the time and I can’t get my amazon stick to work most of the time either. I wonder what I am paying for. There is no point in up grading because where I live it is all old copper cable. I would be paying more money for the same abysmal service. I need help but cannot get in contact with my provider BT. There are very few other providers in my area so I am suffering.

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Melanie says:
6 March 2017

We are with BT, first our BBCiplayer kept slowing down and now we have lost broadband completely, it’s been 1 week & 1 day & still no update on being fixed…we are using a dongle/mobile & so will be looking for compensation…appalling service if you can call it that! Now researching other suppliers…

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