Huge BT fine is the right medicine for the sector
Connectivity is verging on being as important as any other main utility, so any breakdowns or delays in getting online can be extremely serious and hugely costly.
That’s why we welcome the bold move by the industry regulator, Ofcom, to fine BT £42m for its delays and failings in installing high speed connections.
It follows another crucial recent decision to legally separate BT from its networks division, Openreach, which was the arm that was responsible for installations and related engineering.
Because Openreach controls and manages the vast majority of the UK’s telephone and data network (a legacy of its forerunner British Telecom being a monopoly service provider) other companies, such as EE, Vodafone, TalkTalk, Sky and many others have to place their installation orders with Openreach.
Too often there were problems with those orders which were unexplained by Openreach or ignored for weeks or months. Where compensation should have been paid, Openreach has tried to find ways to avoid it and even cut compensation payment rates.
There were widespread concerns that BT was getting preferential treatment from Openreach, when it’s mandate was to serve all customers.
We experienced these problems first hand, with one client in Doncaster forced to cancel an Openreach order for an ethernet circuit after 14 months of delays. The order was placed through a BT competitor.
In another instance a client in Telford had a similar order, again through a BT competitor, delayed without explanation, only to be told there was no capacity in the exchange, which would take six months to solve. This order was also cancelled.
To be fair to Openreach, we have had positive experiences. It’s not all bad. It does need to be a separate company though, with equal responsibility to all of its customers, not just the one that owns it!
A £42m fine is enormous and should serve as a reminder that we have regulatory authorities in this country for a reason.
Our high-speed connections are essential now, in both business and domestic settings and these changes are a welcome step forward if we are to avoid being left behind in the digital era.