New rules for faster telecoms repairs and installation

19 December 2013

Telephone and broadband customers stand to benefit from faster line repairs and installations, under new rules proposed by Ofcom today.

The measures would require Openreach, the company which installs and maintains connections to BT's network on behalf of competing telecoms providers, to meet new minimum performance standards.

Should it fail to meet the new targets over a 12-month period, Openreach would face sanctions from Ofcom - which could include fines.

The requirements would mean the large majority of consumers and businesses encountering a fault with their telephone or broadband service must see it repaired within two working days; while the large majority of those requiring a new line must receive an appointment within 12 working days.

Ofcom is concerned about the time it can take for Openreach to complete this work. The problem was most acute during 2012, when installations and repairs were to some extent hampered by extremely wet weather conditions.

Since the start of 2013, under an arrangement brought about by Ofcom, Openreach has committed to new contractual targets for services, leading to automatic payments to other telecoms companies where it misses those targets. Openreach's performance has since returned to pre-2012 levels, but Ofcom wants to ensure it remains at an acceptable standard for the benefit of consumers.

How the new rules would work

Ofcom is proposing that Openreach will in future be required to:

  • complete around 80%* of fault repairs within one to two working days of being notified, irrespective of factors such as severe weather conditions;
  • provide an appointment for around 80%* of new line installations within 12 working days of being notified, irrespective of factors such as severe weather conditions;
  • ensure it adheres to these new standards across the country, by meeting the requirements in each of ten geographic divisions of the UK 1; and
  • provide data on repairs and installations that are not completed within this timeframe. This information, which would be publically available, would allow Ofcom to monitor Openreach's performance closely and intervene further if required. Ofcom has also asked Openreach to make clear the timeframe in which it expects to complete these remaining jobs in future, in order to provide reassurance to consumers about how long this work is likely to take.

The new measures all relate to Openreach's most-used products, which are used by telephone companies to offer phone and broadband to consumers and businesses. 2 The targets are designed to ensure better service for telephone and broadband customers in future, while also avoiding any significant effect on prices.3

Ofcom is proposing the new requirements must be met in full from April 2016. Intermediate targets are also proposed to ensure progressive improvements in service before then.

Today's proposals are part of a consultation, relating to Ofcom's Fixed Access Market Reviews, which closes on 13 February 2014. Ofcom will announce its final decisions in spring 2014.

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS

* Both these targets will be adjusted slightly to deal with instances where external factors beyond Openreach's reasonable control (such as extreme weather) mean it is not possible to meet the service standard. The targets will allow that up to 3% of repairs and 1% of installations in a typical year might be delayed due to such factors.

  1. These are defined as BT's nine administrative 'General Manager' regions, plus Northern Ireland.
  2. Specifically, the new targets would apply to the two main Openreach services which allow competing providers to access BT's network: 'wholesale line rental', used by companies to provide their own-brand telephony service on BT’s network; and 'metallic path facility', where companies place equipment in BT's telephone exchange to provide their own voice and broadband services. The targets would not apply to other products - such as fibre broadband, where BT has generally met or exceeded its service level agreements. However, Ofcom may set targets for other services in future if performance were to become a concern.
  3. Any increase in charges resulting from the changes would be at wholesale level, and estimated by Ofcom to be in the order of a few pennies per month. Telecoms bills have fallen in real terms over the past ten years, and Ofcom wishes to ensure that services remain competitive and affordable for consumers.
  4. Today's announcement follows an initial consultation on the Fixed Access Market Reviews in July (see news release), in which Ofcom outlined the principle of setting new performance standards for Openreach.