Yesterday, with For Argyll’s broadband down from early morning [and not restored until mid morning today], our efforts to get reconnected led to an important discovery that is in the public interest to know.
BT chooses not to ‘see’ an area-wide fault until 40% of its subscribers in the area have reported a fault.
They instruct their call centres in India not to ‘escalate’ a fault to the attention of BT Wholesale unless 40% of subscribers with the same telephone area code report a fault.
This means that they avoid any reason to make even a simple electronic check to the local exchange to establish if there is a local, as opposed to a single property, fault.
Our experience yesterday
Our provider is BT and we reported the fault as soon as we found it, just after 8.00am yesterday – after having gone through the self-diagnostics programme with no positive result.
We spent an hour on the phone to the BT call centre in India, fruitlessly going through the usual series of questions and checks. A third of this time was taken up by the [well meaning] operative’s lack of understanding of the nature of built-in telephone extension sockets – one of which connects our newsroom wifi system. She kept asking us to ‘pull out the extension’, clearly thinking it was a mobile extension cable from the main socket.
With a ‘nil’ result from this exchange, we discovered, first hand, that ten other properties in the same village were without broadband, each reporting friends and neighbours with the same problem. Those we discovered at first hand included the local Sub Post Office and the Primary Health Care Centre.
Since the BT helpline which gives notice of known areas suffering broadband faults was yesterday mentioning only two – one in the south of England and one in Newcastle-upon-Tyne – we phoned them back to let them know of this one – again via the call centre in India.
The [different] operative simply refused to accept that there was a local problem since whatever she could see on her system was showing no outage for the telephone area code concerned.
We pointed out that we were living in the outage, which certainly existed and repeated the fact that the Health Centre had no broadband and was unable to access its systems, that the Post office was also out – both key local services – and on a Friday; and that it looked as if the entire village had no broadband service. [The local primary school alone was unaffected - because it is on the local authorities' taxpayer-funded superfast broadband system, Pathfinder North.]
The operative still refused to accept that there was a local outage.
The revelation and the issue
When we pressed the matter, she informed us that there was no outage because the way BT instructs its call centres is that unless 40% of subscribers on an area code report a fault, no local fault is deemed to exist.
We clarified that, until and if this level of fault reporting is made, the matter is not ‘escalated’ to BT Wholesale and therefore no technical checks [which are easy and remote - to the relevant exchange] are made to establish if a fault is indeed at local rather than property level.
In any small village like this one, business and service interests will report such faults – but most householders assume that the existence of fault simply needs to be reported. Knowing that the Surgery and the Post Office will have reported theirs, the likelihood is that few others will have made individual fault reports.
On top of this is the fact that, in any community, a hefty proportion of broadband users will not even be BT customers but will have the service provided by another supplier.
Such suppliers – like the popular TalkTalk, for instance – do not report an individual fault to BT at once. They wait until they have several faults reported from the same area – and if they don’t, the individual suffered goes on the long finger.
The issue here is that BT charge the other service providers using their network for each fault they are asked to check. So rather than pay for one fault check, the profit driven suppliers wait to see if they get more fault report from the same area code, meaning that one fault check [and fee] may solve the lot of them.
So, even if everyone in this little village had reported their loss of broadband supply yesterday morning, a healthy proportion of them, reported to non-BT providers, would not have reached BT to add to the known volume.
It is beyond reason – and certainly beyond any service ethos – that in the 21st century a broadband outage is defined by the number of fault reports and not by a simple and quick electronic check to the exchange.
We were offered a booking for an engineer to come and check out our line and property.
We pointed out that with a known volume of other properties in the immediate area also without broadband, booking an engineer to respond to a local fault would have a higher operational priority than a booking for a single property – which would be days away.
We were again told that each of these other sufferers might well have an individual fault at their properties – and were assured again that there was no outage in our area.
What to do
The key message for this is: if you lose broadband supply:
- report it at once;
- if you know others locally who have also lost supply, make sure they report their fault as well;
- if you are an essential service or a business – report your fault and be insistent.
If you don’t bother, neither you nor your area will get the fault fixed in an acceptable time.
It is usually a simple matter of a failed card in the local exchange, carrying a number of local accounts. All that needs to be done is for an engineer to go in and reset the card – which we understand amounts to pushing it back into place – like resetting a domestic trip switch.
But, since BT only choose to ‘see’ the existence of a local fault by the number of fault reports, this simple restoration of service will not be done without the logging of every single fault – and repeated calls to check on progress.
So how did we get on in the end?
By wearying persistence and several calls, we eventually got the [third] operative to persuade the supervisor at the Call Centre in India to agree to ‘escalate’ the matter to BT.
Mid morning today, the service was silently restored to us and to the village. But it took us over three hours in total yesterday – in pursuit of the obvious with a ‘service’ in official denial. And we lost a day and a half’s working time and public presence.
Not nearly good enough.
For us, when our BT contract for our newsroom is up, we’ll be moving on. We’ve heard of an ADSL supplier called Zen – reliably reputed to get you back up fast in the event of any fault; and of a satellite service our own techroom uses – Avonline Broadband. We’ll choose between them for the publishing wing when the time comes.