Who knew that BT Openreach – the part of BT responsible for fault finding, repairs and infrastructural maintenance – had successfully applied to Ofcom to have areas like rural Argyll classed as offering conditions that are ‘beyond their control’?
This means bad weather; and an official classification of an area as being beyond BT’s control means that the company is not required to honour their contract to sustain a service.
Ofcom agreed to the BT Openreach request. The Scottish Government will have had to be party to this agreement in respect of rural areas in Scotland being classified in this way – and with the loss of service residents are consequently simply left to bear.
The continuing state of affairs in Glendaruel
The impact of agreeing to this classification is that:
- some residents of Glendaruel in Cowal have had no phone service since early August 2012
- residents at the northern end of the glen – 70% of the its population – had an eleven day phone service outage from 3rd September 2012
- some residents have had no phone service at all since 3rd September 2012
This loss of phone service also, of course, wipes out broadband services so these residents lose their entire communications capacity - and there is now no pressure on BT to get the service restored.
Glendaruel has not experienced any particularly awful weather over the period affected.
The real problem is that Glendaruel has a telephone line network that is over 40 years old, without reinvestment, and is very long – 13.8km.
One engineer complained to the resident who has had no service since 3rd September that ‘this place has cost BT £20,000′. That, of course, is buttons against what should have been spent on bringing the infrastructure up to capability.
- they need permission to dig
- they need planning permission
- they have a team out every day
However they are simply not getting the team out to walk the 13.8km to source and fix the fault – or faults.
The length of this line system leaves the diagnostic equipment at the exchange incapable of registering faults at that distance so faults at homes and businesses at the far end of the line require a team to walk the line as the only way to locate the faults. This is not being done.
A sympathetic engineer has explained the problem to one badly hit resident, with two businesses to run and no communications since early September. In this case the land line failure is aggravated by the mobile phone blackspots that are also a feature of Glendaruel.
The engineer’s explanation for what perpetually goes wrong in Glendaruel is that the line is so old and runs for so long (13.8km) from the exchange that at the junctions along the way the connectors fill up with water. Residents then get awful crackling on the line and cannot hear callers on the line.
They report a fault. The length of the line means that the exchange equipment cannot detect faults at the far end of the system. So they get told that there is no fault and that if they want to pursue the matter they must pay for an engineer to come out. They book an engineer who tests the inhouse equipment [usually fault-free] and then goes and empties the water out of the broken connector, replacing whatever may make it water tight.
This ‘patch-up’ approach has has been going in Glendaruel for well over a decade.
Moreover, one currently affected household reports from its on-line bill that they are not only still paying line rental fees to BT, but they are also, inexplicably, paying for calls they cannot make. The only way they can account for this is that engineer ‘test’ calls are somehow being charged to their line.
The associated costs
This continuing situation means that the resident with two business to run has had to buy a least four phones a year, to replace those destroyed by the shorting line.
They used to have a fax but decided they could not afford to replace it each time it also blew because even the normal phone line signal in Glendaruel was so poor the Fax often could not send.
The same household also lost a desk top computer.
These outage-associated equipment failures are all due to surges on the line, which BT say is not possible – although their engineers, who actually know, say otherwise.
Trying to get leverage on the situation
The household whose businesses as well as personal lives have been affected by this since early September first spent four frustrating weeks talking to BT call centres in India – whose operatives are simply reading from call sheets. This led to engineers booked, turning up but no restoration of service.
They now have contact details for a department in England, whose staff have told them that they cannot be counted as a ‘priority’ because their home area, Glendaruel, is officially ‘beyond our control’.
The big question
So when exactly did this ‘deal’ get made between BR and Ofcom, with the consent of the Scottish Government – and with what customer consultation?
Who is defending these victims of corporate and governmental irresponsibility?
In Glendaruel there is no immediate prospect, no ETA, of any resolution to their unable service.
What on earth was the Scottish Government thinking of in agreeing to this Ofcom classification.
And who is going to get the situation in Glendaruel sorted out? We are contacting BT Openreach to explore the current narrative.
Note: We would be interested to see comments from readers on relevant experiences of BT, particularly but not exclusively from those in rural areas of Argyll and in the wider Scotland.