We spotted via Adrian Kennard's blog yesterday an interesting approach to the problem of Special Faults Investigation charges that are levied by Openreach. It would appear that XLN Telecom is tired of the moans from customers over what many feel are unreasonable charges from Openreach when responding to a report of a fault on a broadband or telephone line service.
Openreach exists to offer an equal service to all operators that buy its products, and this means regulated pricing and this has lead to an increasingly wider ranging price list, and it has to be observed that while some charges have decreased over time, fault charges appear to be a more regular occurrence and cost more than they used to.
In theory if the fault is deemed to be in the Openreach network the fault and its repair is covered by the standard line rental (irrespective of whether its a Wholesale Line Rental or LLU service), but an increasingly common thing is for faults to be billed as down to customer wiring (extensions wiring) or customers hardware (filters/telephone/broadband modem) and a charge raised. These charges are not small and figures of £180 are leading to some people not pursuing faults as people accept a slight intermittent fault rather than risk a charge of this size.
The XLN Telecom policy of adding a Business Assurance charge to the bills of its customers seem draconian, but as its only £1.95 per month, and their line rental is generally lower than BT Retail charge for a business line customers are not likely to revolt. Letters have gone out to XLN customers explaining the situation, so hopefully all the news coverage will not be a shock.
This raises an interesting debate, as to how should Openreach operate and the whole moral debate of what are reasonable profit levels for large companies. The current billing situation seems to be to operate within the rules, but when there is the opportunity to charge more and as a commercial entity this is what almost any large business would do in the face of increasing pressure to reduce prices in certain parts of their business. There will be some clear cases where a fault was clearly down to something beyond the Openreach network and in the mists of time engineers might have resolved this in return for tea and Hob Nobs but with the resource management and level of accounting now involved it is difficult for engineers to step outside the box.
The length of time it can take to get faults fixed or new services installed suggest that Openreach is under resourced, but then more staff increases costs and either means increased prices for things like rental and the fibre based services or ancilliary charges take the brunt.
We all want our telephone and broadband as cheap as possible, but in the regulated rush to a highly competitive retail market has the constant push for lower retail prices backed us into the current corner where everything is cheap until something goes wrong. Some will suggest a 'nationalised' operator, but those who remember the days of the GPO and waiting lists may be less sure that is a good route.