Lords push for Ofcom to deal with broadband faults

Members of the House of Lords are pushing for Ofcom to take charge of consumer broadband faults, as part of the Digital Economy Bill.

Lords push for Ofcom to deal with broadband faults

Lord Laird has tabled an amendment to the bill – which is currently being debated in the chamber – that will require Ofcom “to establish a scheme to deal with complaints, faults and requests regarding broadband”.

There are four service entities involved (in broadband faults), and there may be more. There are Chinese walls between these, and there is a lot of buck-passing

The amendment is designed to stop the culture of buck-passing that has developed between ISPs and wholesale provider BT, which sees both parties ducking responsibility for faults on broadband lines.

The amendment “places responsibility for every complaint or request with either the broadband service provider or the owner of the communication cable”. It also seeks to guard against so-called repairs that end up degrading the speed of the line, by requiring the “broadband service provider or an owner or owners of the communication cables to carry out necessary repairs or upgrades to the same or a better standard than that pertained prior to the complaint or request.”

Buck-passing brigade

Speaking about the amendment in the House of Lords last night, Lord Erroll claimed that the buck-passing leaves consumers stranded when attempting to report broadband faults.

“Let us say that you have got a fault on a line which has not been unbundled: in other words, it is still in BT’s ownership,” Lord Erroll said. “You are paying BT Retail for the line, and you are paying an ISP to provide you with broadband over that line. It gets a service from BT Wholesale, which runs what is called the backhaul from the exchange onto the main internet. [BT] Openreach is responsible for maintaining and fixing any faults on the line. There are four service entities involved, and there may be more. There are Chinese walls between these, and there is a lot of buck-passing.”

Erroll claims that BT’s enormous pensions deficit is having an impact on the quality of broadband connections. “The problem arises because [BT] Openreach is a separate company but is also a subsidiary of BT, and it is responsible for the repairs and maintenance of this part of the infrastructure,” he said.

“Unfortunately, it suffers from severe financial constraints, not all of which are operational. For instance, there is a huge pension deficit in BT, which means that it has had to cut back on maintenance to a bare minimum. The trouble is that the average non-technical customer has real problems in continuing to receive the service for which they originally contracted their ISP. The ISPs have problems delivering it because they are finding that the lines are degrading.”

Lack of support?

Whether the Ofcom amendment will gain the necessary support to make it into the final bill is questionable, with Parliamentary sources admitting that the Government isn’t keen on the proposals. Sources close to the Lords say they are willing to table further amendments at the third reading of the bill if the Government doesn’t address the issue.

Ofcom currently approves two broadband dispute resolution schemes: CISAS and OTELO. However, both of these bodies won’t even look into complaints until at least eight weeks after the initial complaint was made, unless they first receive a letter of “deadlock” with the broadband provider.

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