Ofcom lights a fire under BT to speed up line installation and repairs

Industry watchdog shows BT tough love and threatens fines for poor service, as it attempts to stamp out any potential pitfalls when all customers want is a working internet connection…

If your broadband and phone provider's TalkTalk or Sky, or one of many other providers using BT's Openreach network, then you've probably had the pleasure of arranging an engineer's visit, which can be a frustrating experience.

Ofcom's hoping it can change this, though. The communications regulator's hatching a plan to make the process of getting your phone line installed, or repaired if there's a fault, a faster and smoother one with fewer complications.

How's it going to do that? Well, it's lighting a fire under BT's bott-bott. Under Ofcom's new rules, which'll just need the thumbs-up from the European Commission before they can be applied, BT Openreach will have to:

  • Complete around 80% of fault repairs within two working days of being notified.
  • Provide an appointment for around 80% of new line installations within 12 working days of being notified.
  • Report publicly on its performance, allowing Ofcom to monitor and intervene further if required.
  • Make clear the timeframe in which it's currently completing any remaining jobs, to provide reassurance to customers about how long the work's likely to take.

Should Openreach fail to meet expectations, it'd then face a slap on the wrist from Ofcom and most likely have to pay a large fine.

Dominic Baliszewski, one of our telecoms experts, said: "Ofcom's proposed new rules will be met with relief by every household that's ever been left for days - even weeks - without a working broadband connection."

"Openreach controls a significant portion of the UK's broadband infrastructure but has no direct customer relationship, which means some people are effectively stuck in digital limbo if they encounter a service problem their provider's unable to fix.

"Specific targets should lead to more households feeling confident enough to switch and get a better deal. We regularly hear from people who want to switch, but who are afraid to risk being without a connection for any length of time, let alone two days."

Openreach is BT's network division, which allows other providers who pay a wholesale fee to install their own equipment in BT's telephone exchanges and offer phone and broadband services.

It's great for providers, because they don't have to build their own network, and it's great for you and me, because it means there's more competition between providers and a lot more choice when it comes to switching to a better deal.

The only real downside is that BT maintains control of the line, so it's Openreach - not Sky, or whoever's your provider - that'll send an engineer to your house.

On the other hand, a massive advantage is that because the providers share one big network, it's possible to switch between them very easily with little or no downtime.

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