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BT Retail held to task over fibre checker information
Wednesday 09 January 2013 09:58:26 by Andrew Ferguson

BT Retail who market the Infinity range of products which are based on BT Wholesale and Openreach services has been hauled up in front of the Advertising Standards Authority after 15 complaints were received about shifting dates in its own fibre availability checker.

"Based on searching by their landline telephone number on 20 September 2012, one complainant was presented with a table which indicated, under the column headed "When can you get it?", that they could get Total Broadband "Now," and that Infinity Broadband would be available on 30 September 2012. Further text stated "When we are able to provide a date for future fibre availability, it is indicative only and subject to change.

Having checked again on 25 September 2012, the complainant noted that the date Infinity Broadband would be available had been changed to 31 December 2012."

Basis of complaint to ASA

BT Retail pleaded that the information was out of its control and that last minute delays to cabinet deployments could see dates moving around. On our own fibre forums this is something that regularly arises as people see a date and tend to not see the words such as 'subject to change'. An additional frustration can be that one area of a town will be able to receive a FTTC service, but another not which can be complicated by confusing messaging in the local press where journalists are not fully briefed.

The complaints against BT Retail were upheld, with BT being told "to ensure that the availability checker only included dates if they corresponded to scheduled plans for Openreach to engineer the BT Infinity service to the corresponding area". Which seems very weak response, particularly as even with the best scheduled plans a cabinet can be delayed and its date pushed back. Another option is for all dates to be removed and no information be given in advance of a cabinet being enabled, until orders are being accepted, which given the clamour for any snippet of information on the roll-out is likely to lead to confusion.

It will be interesting to see what changes are to appear early in 2013, with some areas of the UK now moving forward with their BDUK project it is possible more detailed information will be available. The level of detail may vary from county to county, this is already evident with the wide variation in mapping information, an issue that the BDUK should address by showcasing the best efforts made by some authorities.

Update 1pm:

"This is a disappointing ruling. People clearly want to know when fibre might become available in their area and so BT has been publishing its best estimates on a regular basis. Those plans sometimes have to change however if local planning permission isn’t granted or we find that a third party can’t meet our deadlines. 15 complaints is a tiny number when you consider that BT is enabling tens of thousands of cabinets but we will work with the ASA to make changes where we can as it is clear that people remain keen to know when fibre might reach them."

Statement from BT Group spokesperson

The statement reflects the dichotomy of the situation, some people pushing for any date and some complaining if the date does slip. There will of course be millions wondering what the fuss is about, as they live in the final third of the UK, or while in the areas likely to be part of the commercial deployment no dates have actually been given. Hopefully if 2013 is drier roll-out dates will be easier to stick to.


Posted by Bob_s2 over 4 years ago
At last BT has been pulled up over putting out false and misleadsing information. If dates are given they have to be realistic

Perhaps Mr Saffron will n ow stop constantly putting out misleading innformation. He hass constantly tsaaken the BT line that these dates dont mean anything. Wel now you no Mr DSaffron you cannt biut out misleading dates

Mt Saffron is also putting out misleading iformation over Royal Mail Packages. He claims you get tracking you do not, Standard Royal Mail Package service does not give you tracking if is an optional extra.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 4 years ago

Three UK services support tracking, it is a choice the customer makes when posting an item as to which service to use, along with cost implications.

Posted by seb (Favicon staff member) over 4 years ago
I saw this happen to my cabinet recently
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 4 years ago
Which meant it was on the coming soon list, and thus 'forecast dates are estimates only and may change'. This is particularly the case then an end of quarter date like 31st Dec 2012 was shown.

In a perfect world the Coming Soon list would be split into sub lists with degrees of confidence on meeting the date, and regular updates to what situation is, e.g. planning, cab delivery, ducting, power, fibre blowing, commissioning.
Posted by Bob_s2 over 4 years ago
THe ASA and most people do not agree with you ofr BT. The ASA agreed the dates should be realitic dates that BT expected to meet. They were not expecting them to meet all with in the dates

Examples were given to the ASA of dates moving frequently, Strangely almost all towards the end of a quarter and all being moved out 3 months

ASA quite reasonably came to the conclusion that these were not real plan dates at all and were little more than fiction. If you take the DEcember quarter BT complete only about 50% of what they stated and the rest moved out 3 months

Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 4 years ago
Precisely my point, that dates that are end of quarter are well known to be 'placeholder' and yes as article suggests one option is to give no date at all.

Problem being that when the date was set the absolute best plan may have shown the cabinet was possible.

The ASA ruling was against BT Retail and NOT Openreach. BT Retail did not emphasis enough the risk of dates moving.

There is a fine line between promoting interest and turning people off to the point people never check and take-up suffers.
Posted by Bob_s2 over 4 years ago
The ruling was against BT Telecomuniciations plc and did not uphold any of BT, claims and came down firmly on the side of the complainants. THe action was primarily against the BT OPenreach Business Unit as they controll the rollout. BT retil has no influence on it and can only report the BT Openreach data,

BT will now have to give realistic plan dates and will no longer be able to mass push out dates, Any dates given will have to be proper plan dates, This of course does not mean some may not move. It will stop BT mass pushing out exchanges at the end of each quarter by 3 months.
Posted by AndrueC over 4 years ago
@Bob: > THe ASA and most people do not agree with you or BT

Since when was the ASA held up as a paragon of virtue? They are the same people that say there's nothing wrong with 'unlimited'. Half their judgements have been up the creek.

As for what BT will /have/ to do - nothing. The ASA has no legal powers (thank God for small mercies). It can scream and scream 'till it makes itself sick but BT can ignore it.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 4 years ago

The ruling was about BT Retail now using the advert again. Nothing was said to stop Openreach releasing dates, simply that the retail arms need to be circumspect in how they promote this dates, or as article suggests stop giving out any dates until a cabinet is ready for order.

Scheduled plans can fail, even with the best will in world.
Posted by Bob_s2 over 4 years ago
You are confused again THe ruling was against BT TElecomunications PLC the parent company and mainly concerned information published on their Web sites
Posted by ian72 over 4 years ago
Mine was one of the exchanges/cabs showing as 31/12/12 and got pushed back to showing 31/3/13. But, it actually went live on 7/1/13 - so not a big dealy and not at all bad for such a large project. Now just waiting for my MAC :-(
Posted by Bob_s2 over 4 years ago
THe article posted is incorrect unless refering to another BT ruling. It was not againt BT Retail nor was it about an advert

I was one of the complainants and have a copy of the Ruling so the above article which Mr Saffron has revised is wrong if refering to this complaint

Also as the ASA have confirmed BT cannot put up random dates and then put a blanket discaimer in place sayinmg the dates may change. THe dates have to be real plan dates. It does not mean they cannot change but the ASA would expect the majority to be completed within a few weeks of the published date

Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 4 years ago
The word advert in one comment of mine was perhaps a simplification, but infinity pages are within ASA remit.

Without seeting the ruling you were sent it is impossible to know if your wording disagrees with

The constant references to Infinity indicate that BT Retail was the main focus, if it was a generic Openreach ruling it would use a different product name and equally apply to Sky, TalkTalk, Plusnet et al.
Posted by chrysalis over 4 years ago
this judgement does have the "wow" factor, I can see both sides of the argument have valid points, but considering how soft the ASA normally are this is a very surprising ruling.
Posted by mdar5 over 4 years ago
I suspect BT will now simply remove all dates and refuse to provide any estimates at all for any cabinet or exchange.
Well that is what I would do......
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 4 years ago
@mdar5 That would be the simplest and safest solution to avoid further trouble, but imagine the complaints when dates vanish and people assume this means the roll-out has stopped.

Posted by NetGuy over 4 years ago
re "dates vanish and people assume this means the roll-out has stopped"

BT Retail could link to the Openreach site 'Where and When' page, but even that needs a bigger note about the dates being movable.

For 6 to 9 months last year it said Sept 2012 for my exchange (LVBOO) and then slipped to December and now says March.

Openreach reply by e-mail told me MAY 2013 and explained the dates on 'where and when' just ROLL OVER every quarter.

N Wales (where I was before) went live in early December. Timewaste moving.
Posted by arfster over 4 years ago
About time. The problem seems to be the rollout dates are not genuine estimates - something that has been put on the backburner for some vague point in the future is permanently showing as "at the end of the next quarter".

Mine and most of the city (another 6 exchanges) have been like this for two years now, repeatedly bumped forward 3 months even though internally BT have no intent of having it ready at such time. They were at this stage 3 months before applying for planning permissions for the entire area (which they finally applied for a year ago).
Posted by NickCWatts over 4 years ago
I was one of the 15 complainants.
So I can clarify some points here.
I have discussed this in great detail with the ASA, so can tell you that the adjudication was against BT Communications PLC - it affects Openreach as well.

Quite simply this should put an end to Infinity rollout dates being rolled back again and again. As advertised dates must now relate to Openreach scheduled work.

For myself it's been 15 months, read all the details about this on my blog here:
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 4 years ago
If the adjudication also covers Openreach and their own Where & When website, then the ASA needs to learn that Infinity is the Retail product name, and that Openreach supply their data information to providers like Sky and TalkTalk too.

ASA could have worded the adjudication much clearer if you are correct Nick.
Posted by bosie over 4 years ago
This sounds familiar but I didn't bite even though I wanted to. My exchange was listed as March 2012, then June 2012, then September 2012 until finally December 2013. I could have been stuck with BT Total and it's not a monthly contract term to have gone somewhere else.
Posted by themanstan over 4 years ago
Isn't Openreach's information merely an engineering database of planned roll-outs? The ability of ISPs to then supply products are limited by Openreach's data. But Openreach does not sell products to the public, so their roll out information has no requirement to meet the rules imposed by the ASA.
Posted by themanstan over 4 years ago
Maybe Openreach should run the dates like a Dutch auction, for the last expected date in roll-out and only revise it once it's live. Then no one will know in advance...
Posted by pcoventry76 over 4 years ago
Virgin would be hung then. They are always putting dates back!
Posted by stoatwblr over 4 years ago
The ruling was against BT Retail. Nick, I'm a bit surprised they said it was against openreach in private as they denied that when I phoned them up.

What's surprising me is that the media has completely ignored the ruling (apart from here, theregister and theinquirer).

My first promised install date (I was even given an appointment!) was back in March 2011. I had complained to the ASA and Ofcom about BTOR's misleading statements but no feedback, so I was surpsied to see this adjudication (I'm with TalkTalk, not BT retail)
Posted by stoatwblr over 4 years ago

Hopefully, now the ASA has said something, Ofcom and the OFT will stop dragging their heels. The local BTOR guys say that even a March 2013 date is ficticious here - despite the cabs finally having been installed in October, they're not wired up.

Posted by stoatwblr over 4 years ago

In my opinion the only reason for providing "real soon now" dates is to discourage customers switching to virgin/satellite/radio providers, where such exist, as well as dissuading radio providers from rolling out (Those of us in Surrey have seen BT's anticompetitive practices in action a few /talktalk/4052272-how-do-i-get-contimes when competitors have announced rollouts, only for BT to frantically go into action to gazump 'em)
Posted by anoldie over 4 years ago
'Quite simply this should put an end to Infinity rollout dates being rolled back again and again.'

Not a chance - all you have done is given BT a very good reason not to publish ANY dates.

It is unfortunate that some people have seen their dates go back. However is it fair that because of a relatively small number of vociferous complaints, there is a good chance that this information could be removed from everyone.
Posted by stoatwblr over 4 years ago
" Not a chance - all you have done is given BT a very good reason not to publish ANY dates. "

This would be a LOT better than the current situation.

Aongst other things, house sales are now heavily contingent upon having decent broadband (Realtors say that more than 50% of buyers take it into account and it's now rated as more important than offstreet parking)

False advertising of availability "Real Soon Now" has a bunch of knock-on effects.
Posted by stoatwblr over 4 years ago
"There will of course be millions wondering what the fuss is about, as they live in the final third of the UK... "

It appears the way to get BT to move in those areas is to setup a shell company, sign people up to take broadband when it's available and announce rollout plans.

As soon as BT get wind of this they will announce an area is viable after all and start rolling out plant. This has happened in several Surrey villages already and put at least one startup rural broadband company out of business.

Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 4 years ago
@stoatwblr If Openreach in the few areas where demand activity has led roll-out don't see demand via sales then they'll soon give up following that pattern.
Posted by seg_deadmeat over 4 years ago
Having seen that my exchange has been upgraded for ages and that they have put the cabinet in at the end of the road (and the BT engineer saying it was for fibre), any date on the website would be better than the current situation of no availability or information on when it will be.
Posted by warweezil over 4 years ago
The same thing still happens with WBC. SWPM has just dropped from Marc to June. So many here still paying more than WBC areas for Upto 8 megs with lower allowances over old kit.

Posted by wellhiddenmark over 4 years ago
A date is meaningless anyway. MRBLA (my exchange) was pushed back several times only to be told when it finally launched that my <5 year old, 250+ Apartment building, in the city centre, within 500m of the exchange was 'uneconomical' to service. I reckon it would take less than a working week to get it up and running.
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