Ofcom regulation is often an easy target for criticism and given the time it is taking for a new migration system to appear and the other long wait which is the broadband market definitions for telephone exchanges many people judge the slow response as showing favour to BT or its Openreach division.
The latest consultation from Ofcom is part of the Fixed Access Market review and is looking at the performance of Openreach and the future path for WLR, SMPF and MPF LLU charges. The issue of Openreach performance came to a head back in 2012 when new orders and fault repairs for some parts of the UK were almost as bad as the pre-nationalisation GPO days. This consultation which will be open for 8 weeks will seek views from the industry on proposed performance levels for Openreach to meet or face penalties.
For the average reader the target of 54% of provision appointment being within 12 days of the initial order in the first year does not seem an excessive expectation, this will rise in the second year to 67% and in the final year to 79%. The idea of the rising targets is that it gives Openreach time to deploy enough engineering resources to cope with the higher targets.
The consultation also looks at the basket of prices for WLR, MPF and SMPF line rental charges, and the proposals give a range of pricing, but the likely result is that full LLU may go up in price fractionally, while WLR+SMPF will be slightly cheaper. Of course WLR has decreased at the wholesale level in recent years, but no reductions have made it to the massed market apart from a handful of smaller providers who are charging near to or below the wholesale cost in an attempt to gain market share.
Openreach we are fairly sure will contend that to meet the new targets it should be allowed a larger revenue base to employ more engineering staff at the sharp end, i.e. those working outside in the freezing rain every winter. Looking at this from the outside it has not escaped our notice that the higher performance levels are only going to come into effect once the commercial roll-out has finished and the county level BDUK projects will have covered the bulk of their work in 2015. Which may mean that Openreach does not need a lot more staff, but those it does employ will be more available for the standard job of maintaining the copper and hybrid fibre network.
Hopefully the consultation will reach a swift positive conclusion because as Internet access becomes just as important to the consumer and business as mains power there is a need for people to have a better idea of how long is reasonable for a fault to be fixed. Also the chinese whisper system that can exist between the consumer, their retailer, wholesalers and finally Openreach does need to be addressed, so that the consumer can get a better idea of how a fault is progressing and as we suspect in some cases the delays are at the retail level where their own system can make it difficult to get a fault correctly reported.