Skip Navigation

New charge may see broadband users charged to even look for a fault
Wednesday 20 January 2010 17:57:22 by Andrew Ferguson

Broadband providers sometimes have something of a battle on their hands figuring out whether when a customer contacts them complaining of an intermittent problem with their ADSL or ADSL2+ service where the fault lies. Very often the voice side of the telephone line will be functioning fine, and traditionally this is when a Special Faults Investigation visit would be booked, which carries the understanding that if the fault is found to be with the customers equipment, e.g. ADSL modem or extension wiring then the visit will be charged. According to a draft Openreach document (PDF), this existing SFI visit looks set to be replaced by a service called SFI2 which will always carry a chargeable call out fee. The actual SFI2 product is expected to appear in February 2010.

In theory this SFI2 type visit should only be needed when the line is working according to the specification (defined in SIN 349 (PDF)) and Openreach's line test system says everything is OK. Alas this does not cover all types of faults, and particularly with intermittent faults which may not show up when Openreach does its testing. This means there is the possibility that a provider and hence the consumer may get charged for multiple visits, and as two types of booking are possible, i.e. one that looks at external network and one including a visit to the consumers home, the scope for people getting a big bill with little understanding of why are very evident.

One of the big problems here is that with the current rules there is no way for providers to verify the results of testing by Openreach engineers, i.e. no independent third party testing system exists, thus we may see local loop faults that Openreach are meant to fix only being fixed after multiple SFI2 visits.

We suspect that the forthcoming Universal Service Commitment is partly behind the reasons for this new SFI2 and the change in charging, as we expect there to be more complaints from consumers as they approach 2012 and their ADSL broadband is not connecting at 2Meg or faster reliably. As more information appears on SFI2 over the next few weeks we will endeavour to update people.


Posted by chrysalis over 7 years ago
Cash cow for BT then, are the silly 2 hour limits staying? so if you have a fault which require 10 hours work you pay for 5 call outs? nice.
Posted by TonyHoyle over 7 years ago
Probably the SFI callouts weren't pulling in enough cash (they charge for example when the actual fault isn't on the customers premises, although BT will try anyway.. and some providers even accept the charge without querying it).

So now we have a system where there's a charge no matter where the fault lies, and it's mandatory. Wonderful.
Posted by frompton over 7 years ago
Previous (and no doubt future) experience tells me that even if openreach do send out engineers to look for faults they are often not trained to the correct standards and will often just test the line.

If they want to start charging then maybe they can do the job properly first time, instead of needing to send several engineers before finally promoting it to the top-level fault-ignoring team.
Posted by Zarjaz over 7 years ago
Sounds like a backward step in some ways. As I understand it, the SP will select which part they want the engineer to investigate, in my experience, they will guess the wrong part. So they ask the engineer to check the internal, but the fault is on the pair ... but because it's not been paid for by the SP, the engineer won't be allowed to carry on and fix it. Who suffers ? The punters ..
Posted by RoosterUK over 7 years ago
Looks like it would be better to just abandon a line showing a fault and get a new line ..... it would be cheaper than chasing up a fault.

Just make sure you're on a monthly contract for the Broadband!
Posted by c_j_ over 7 years ago
If the DSLAM's aren't Openreach's, and Openreach can't access the DSLAMs, then it's meaningless for "Openreach's line test system <to say> everything is OK".

OK anything which encourages clueless ISPs to do some diagnosis before calling BT is to be encouraged, but BT broadband fault handling is already clueless: "on the whole faults are fixed by a random selection of a repair action rather than any logical diagnosis of the fault."
Posted by Zarjaz over 7 years ago
Missing the point there a tad Rooster.. If the pair has a fault on it (fails SIN349) It'll be fixed for free. If the SFI task finds the OR pair at fault, again free. The SP's kit in the exchange, SP pays. The issue with SFI2, is that SP's will gamble on it being the line... and if it's not, then the punter will have to cajole them into another visit.
Posted by RoosterUK over 7 years ago
I read the article as saying there will be NO free SFI, it will be replaced by an always chargeable SFI2.
Perhaps I've read it wrong ;)
Posted by smartelectrics over 7 years ago
Are customers being made aware that there are local telecoms engineers SFI trained who are able to prove internally for far less or even for free, if no fault is found. Customers need to be educated more about the demarcation point within there property!
Posted by ruskin0 over 7 years ago
There you go and the cherry has just been put on the cream lol.
Posted by 2doorsbob over 7 years ago
Like to see them charge me ..i live 4.5km from my exchange and according to openreach there are 2 runs of ali and 2 runs of copper running to my cab followed by a further 800 metres (ali again) most of it without ducting running to poles ..BT need to stop ripping the public off and get there finger out
Posted by 2doorsbob over 7 years ago
money spent on the local loop would not be money wasted fiting ducting would come in handy when blowing fibre down and will stop cables rotting until then (maybe drawing my pension by then) lol
Posted by otester over 7 years ago

Same situation in Southampton, OR can't be bothered to get rid of the aluminium, I'm only getting 2/3 the speed I should be (1.5km from exchange.

I'd hate to be 4km.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
quote"Cash cow for BT then, are the silly 2 hour limits staying? so if you have a fault which require 10 hours work you pay for 5 call outs? nice."

Very good point chrysalis, nothing more than another creative way for BT to milk cash. Needless to say any fault i have with my line which results in an engineer call out, the bloke wont be leaving until its fixed and if like usual they fob you off i wont be paying. No matter how many threatening letters they send.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 7 years ago
The current SFI will go if the documents I've read are correct, time scale unknown, but in the future SFI2 will take over.
Posted by shaunhw over 7 years ago
Given that the line is RENTED and not owned, the onus should be on BT to prove there ISN'T a fault with THEIR line. If it is the customers wiring or kit then fair enough. But they should not be able to charge for repeat calls, especially when the customer's wiring and equipment has been proven blameless.

Also there's no longer right them hiding behind the fact that lines should only be guaranteed for voice. If that's the case one might as well just go completely mobile.
Posted by New_Super_Mr_C over 7 years ago
Calm down dears!
This product gives EVERY job an appointment with a visit where the engineer will carry out a pair quality test to determine if it is a faulty loop - if so there is no time limit and the fault will be fixed free of charge. If there is no fault but adsl still isnt working then the same old rules apply regards to charging except the provider can request certain actions which they could not before. I.e. an engineer may just change you onto a copper eside but the ISP may decide to pay for a copper eside and a ssfp to be fitted.
(BT engineer)
Posted by grapevine1 over 7 years ago
Look what their Lordships said on 14th December
The Lords, who are currently debating the controversial Digital Economy Bill, want Britain's broadband providers and BT to get their act together, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale said it was unacceptable for customers to be bounced between BT and their broadband provider when it comes to dealing with problems with their internet connection.
Posted by grapevine1 over 7 years ago
"If a customer reports a fault to BT, or any other landline provider, the line provider has got to own that fault or faults until cleared," Lord Corbett said.
"If the customer reports a broadband fault to their ISP, and the ISP believes the fault to be due to the landline, the ISP has to take ownership of the fault until cleared."
Posted by grapevine1 over 7 years ago

Lord Corbett wants broadband customers to be provided with a written minimum-line speed after the initial line-training period has elapsed, so that broadband customers can demand their line is returned to the initial speed after any repairs are made.

Posted by grapevine1 over 7 years ago
The Earl Erroll claims many lines have deteriorated beyond the point where they can carry decent internet traffic. "BT, or any other line provider, has a duty to keep the lines up to standard," he said. "Their bosses are sitting on the fence, hoping for a cash injection. The lines have become unsuitable for internet use, even if they are usable for the telephone."
Posted by johnb2008 over 7 years ago
I had an intermittent fault a couple of years ago. First engineer couldn't find anything wrong with the line, but wasn't qualified to enter the exchange. Second engineer, a week later, found and fixed fault in BT's DSLAM (I was on a BTW product then - Nildram). I got billed, but told BT what to do with it and got a grudging refund. On the proposed new system would I have been charged for two callouts even for a BT fault?
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
quote"On the proposed new system would I have been charged for two callouts even for a BT fault?"

The way it seems worded and the way BT treat people you probably would.
Posted by AndrueC over 7 years ago
@grapevine:The earl is wrong. BT /are/ maintaining their lines to the agreed standard. No telephone in the country was designed for internet use - unless you think 28k8 is adequate for that.

What the good earl should be doing is pushing for BT or someone else the encouragement needed to install lines that /are/ designed for internet use.
Posted by AndrueC over 7 years ago
We all know that BT's USO is woefully out of date but that's what they've been working to and for most lines they have significantly exceeded it. It isn't reasonable to suddenly expect their lines to meet some new unregulated standard.

Clearly we need something better than the copper local loop seems able to provide. That's where our attention should be focused. In that sense I think even Cyberdoyle's ranting is more useful than that earl's complaint.
Posted by rickw over 7 years ago
You can never trust BT anyway. Just up the road a friend had a telephone fault and called BT. When the engineer turned up he fixed the fault due to condensation but commented that most of the lines from that cabinet would have the same fault but had not been reported. Since this guy was going home nothing would be done.

I wonder if either people just don't use the landline or just maybe ADSL works so this is what people worry about. They use their 'free' mobile calls for telephone.
Posted by AndrueC over 7 years ago
"If a tree falls when there is no-one to hear it does it make a sound?"

"If a fault occurs and no-one reports it does it matter?"

Posted by grapevine1 over 7 years ago
Yes. It does matter, it matters very much because customers / subscribers are being given the run around and being pushed back and forth between the land line supplier and the broadband supplier. Ownership of faults is a must! Threats of charges of #125 etc to put off subscribers appears to be nothing short of an attempt at fraud! Especially in cases involving the disabled, elderly and the majority who have no knowledge where or what the fault is!
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
quote"If a fault occurs and no-one reports it does it matter?"
Obviously not to BT as they haven’t heard of preventative maintenance. A fault nobody notices one week can become a disaster the following week. Not to mention id say any fault matters when you are paying for it.
Posted by grapevine1 over 7 years ago
I quite agree CARPETBURN The Earl Erroll has spoken with an authoritive voice and substantial evidence. BT and its ongoeing monitoring of the network right down to individual lines is detailed. From the example quoted above by rickw, and elsewhere it is clear that the business model operated by OPENREACH board is as with some of that board in need of replacement, even to the point of putting OPENREACH into administration. The customers cannot act on OPENREACH neither can the Ombudsman, as stated at the BT AGM.
Posted by grapevine1 over 7 years ago
I take issue with the comments by ANDREWC, the line may be "working according to the specification (defined in SIN 349 (PDF)) and Openreach's line test system says everything is OK. Alas this does not cover all types of faults, and particularly with intermittent faults which may not show up when Openreach does its testing".
Posted by grapevine1 over 7 years ago
It is a serious situation that has been allowed to continue that a contracted line, hearing of the customer may it is claimed be damaged, communication may be difficult, and broadband maybe a trickle or non functioning all due to the line and BT can say to the customer pay! put up with it! the line passes test! The Government have stated its time to ensure a USC to broadband, its come of age. The customer requires protection.
Posted by AndrueC over 7 years ago
@grapevine:If/when the government ever passes the proposed USC then you can talk about broadband. Right here, right now it hasn't been passed and voice+28k is all that BT are required to provide on their existing local loop.

Even assuming the new USC ever gets passed there are exceptions in it which mean BT is under little obligation to act. Even without those exceptions - you cannot reasonably demand that a line installed twenty years ago to one standard suddenly be upgraded to a new one.
Posted by AndrueC over 7 years ago
I'm not arguing against upgrading the local loop. In fact I think BT should be aiming for FTTH not FTTC so I actually want something a lot better.

My comments are pointing out the errors in what has been said and trying to stop people wasting time harrying BT to patch up their current local loop. It was never intended to do what we now want it to do. We'd do far better rebuilding it from scratch with something that is fit for the purpose.
Posted by Somerset over 7 years ago
Stage 1 could be to open up the VM network to all ISPs.
Posted by grapevine1 over 7 years ago
Totally agree with some of your last comments ANDREWC. Earl Erroll has spoken to the line condition and to the BT Chinese wall at Committee stage so puts in place the provision to put down Ammendments at Report stage in The Lords then for the MP's to continue. Lord Corbett want the "Buck passing of faults " to stop.
We have to wait. Maybe we need the issue of infrastructure Bonds to be an issue route, How can you give away cash to a LTD company without a return, You need to make sure BT can be held to the account of the Nation.
Posted by grapevine1 over 7 years ago
Could it be that the News release at the head of this comment trail detailing possible future proposals called "SFI2 type visits" Is a possible future proposal to be enacted to deal with only the Independent ISPs and will not apply to BTs' own SP customers?? If ISPs push for fault investigations by one or other of the BT group of Companies?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 7 years ago
If the fee were to apply to only customers of providers who are NOT with BT Retail then one could suggest the charge was set-up partially as a ruse to encourage people to go back to BT Retail. i.e. expensive faults experience with ISP A or phone provider B, so accept the monthly please come back deal.
Posted by cyberdoyle over 7 years ago
and Gordon says we have a 'superfast information highway' when all we are doing is milking a victorian phone network for its last ounce of revenue. We need fibre to the home. end of.
Government should pay. They will reap the ROI. It will cost a fraction of what is estimated, cos the ducts, poles and wayleaves already exist. It will cost a fraction of what when to the bankers. It needs doing. Otherwise we stay in a narrowband world and become a third world digital country.
Posted by draconis244 over 7 years ago
with BT under law they only have to ensure that the voice circuit is working as designed anything added to that voice circuit such as ADSL BT does not have any legal obligation to repair it... They will of course because they are offering a service on the copper/aluminium/wet string for which they are charging handsomely for....

The quickest and cheapest and often free way to get a BT engineer out is to complain about your voice circuit being quiet ... it's a subjective fault hard to prove and they HAVE to attend it :)

Posted by rjohnloader over 7 years ago
Whenever the ground gets very wet our service in this village goes slow with multiple recnnects - I got down to 49kb/s at 6am! We're using thevillage website to get multipe complaist to ISPs including BT to se if we can get pressure to look at the cable serving the village. Speed is never good - though after teh weather dried up a bit I'm at record 900kb/s
Posted by rmgalley over 7 years ago
About a year ago my sync speed dropped from 8128Kbps to < 2000Kbps. I live across the road from the telephone exchange. Cable length < 150m, no cabinet between the pole and the exchange and a 20m drop wire to the house.

Speech path OK so eventually I put an oscilloscope on the line at the BT interface and found 2 volts peak-peak of what looked like ADSL data coming in on the open circuit line. My conclusion – the fault was crosstalk from another circuit, but without any DC contact.
Posted by rmgalley over 7 years ago
It is a BT local end but rental paid to Talk-Talk so took a while convincing them it was a fault on the cable pair which was affecting the broadband.

BT didn’t even come to the house but, when the fault was explained in detail, ‘fixed’ it by changing the pair between the exchange and the pole across the road. The fault is still there and possibly affecting other ADSL users. The pair carrying the fault must be seriously unbalanced and no attempt was made to investigate whether it was on the cable pair or the other ADSL users setup.

I wonder how the less technical will be served by SFI2?
Posted by Essex over 7 years ago
More of the great 'British' name on a company screwing its customers.

No connection that BT has hundreds of millions of deficit on its pension fund, of course not.
Posted by kijoma over 7 years ago
hmm, sounds like we should charge for fault finding for our wireless customers!.. At present we generally do not.. we only charge if a fault is found to be outside our system (3rd party router / dog chewed cables etc..). But if we did charge then that would make it profitable to do a bad job in the first place.. that is madness! .. rmgalley - a scope on an open line has a very high impedance, stick a load resistor across the end (~ 100 ohms).. also you need a balun to isolate the single ended scope input :)
Posted by tommy45 over 7 years ago
As someone already has said it's just a cash cow, they are a joke, a seriously outdated infrastructure, and they are charging to fault find? what do we pay line rental for????
You must be logged in to post comments. Click here to login.