New charge may see broadband users charged to even look for a fault
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.