Frustration over endless waits for Openreach to instal phone lines is made worse by being unable to complain directly
Letters about the unreliability and inscrutability of Openreach, the division of BT which, in theory, provides access to the national phone network, has unleashed a torrent of woe from readers stranded, often for months, without phones. The complaints have a common thread: Openreach is unanswerable to the customers it lets down because grievances must be channelled through their own service provider, some of whom seem equally unable to communicate with the company they rely on to install new lines.
MN of London
has been waiting since November for his Sky telephone and broadband to be installed: “Appointments have been made, and each time the engineer failed to show. In desperation, I cancelled my contract with Sky and placed a new order with BT in February. I’m still waiting and was recently asked by an amused BT operative what life is like without a phone line.”
Primus customer VC of Althorne, Essex,
lost her line in January and is still awaiting reconnection. “We feel powerless before these faceless organisations,” she says. Londoner LN-C has also been waiting since January for a new line. Engineers have either turned up with the wrong parts or qualifications, arrived unannounced and were unable to gain access or did not come at all. “We have wasted more than 40 hours waiting for BT to show up, or telephoning them to complain. BT’s delays are also costing me thousands of pounds in lost productive working hours as we are unable to conduct our business effectively without the internet,” she writes. “One of the telephone lines awaiting installation is for our Dualcom alarm system, which is necessary to comply with our insurance requirements.”
SC of Colwyn Bay, Conwy
ordered a new line through Sky in January and was told she would have to wait seven weeks. Snow meant the engineer was a no-show and she was told the next available appointment was in May: “We have been told that you can’t contact Openreach, you have to go through our provider – Sky – but then all Sky will say is ‘sorry’ this is the first available appointment.”
SC of London
complained to his provider Zen of a slow broadband connection in December. “Zen has been fighting hard to get Openreach to resolve the issue… Openreach has no telephone number or email address for end user complaints and insists we must go through our ISPs. It seems absurd that Openreach has been set up as a monopoly supplier of the communications infrastructure without there being any way for the end user to complain to them directly about their services, or for there to be an external body to which we can seek redress.”
Telecoms regulator Ofcom tells me it doesn’t publish complaints about Openreach as the number is so small. Of course it is. Because of Ofcom rules, Openreach gets to skulk behind the service providers who have to deal with customer complaints on its behalf. However, even Ofcom has realised that Openreach’s performance has “deteriorated” since the summer and it is reviewing the wholesale access market – ie Openreach’s monopoly on installations agreed with Ofcom in 2006 – to enable service providers to access BT’s national network. It is planning to introduce new rules such as payouts for customers who suffer delays.
Meanwhile, Openreach blames last year’s wet weather for a backlog of delays, including SC of Conwy’s five-month wait (her appointment was brought forward a month thanks to press office muscle) and says it has appointed 1,000 new engineers and carried out 1.7m visits in the last quarter. It blames MN’s saga on the fact that both Sky and BT coincidentally committed an “administrative error” when processing the order. His line has now been installed.
VC is the victim of a faulty telephone pole, which requires input from the electricity company and the council to remedy. The council also had to be invoked in LN-C’s case because it had concreted over relevant manhole covers and she now has a working line. SC of London apparently suffered delays because of the technical complexity of the problem which necessitated several visits.
Although customers’ contracts are with their own service provider rather than Openreach, it’s worth complaining to Ofcom if Openreach irks you. While unable to intervene on an individual basis, it will add it to the growing tally. For mediation when you reach deadlock, turn to the telecommunications ombudsman,