Wednesday, 1 April 2015


Well, looks like we will actually be going to court over the latest spam.

21 pages, FFS, waffling on about my connection to Dedicated Programmes (from which I buy the email address in question). Whether or not I am an individual subscriber is a matter of fact - it is whether I have a contract with a CP as an individual for the service, simple as that. Even if I was director and shareholder of DP, it would not matter if I, as an individual, had a contract for the service. As it happens, Simon, who runs DP is just a friend and I have never worked for or been a shareholder of DP, but none of that matters. He thinks the invoice was sort of made up - well yes, long before he sent his spam, after previous spams, Simon and I agreed that DP would actually charge me, and properly invoice me, for the email address which he had previously provided free (or in exchange for some help from me). That made it a clear contract, ensuring there was no doubt as to the fact that I contract as an individual for the service and as such am an individual subscriber.

Anyway, I'll have to go through in detail. He has quoted loads from my blog, which is, of course, a breach of my copyright for which I can sue him (sadly I can't in this case).

What is in no doubt is that this is distressing, and it is distress for which I am claiming. I have just checked my blood pressure after looking at this letter from the guy and it is through the roof. I am already on medication for blood pressure. I may take the meter with me when I go to court, as I have to be a bit careful. It will take me a while to calm down now! I can be pretty sure I will lose sleep over this now.

What I have to remember is, that even if the judge throws out my case for some reason, I will have learned something useful and at most paid his costs for getting to court. Small claims has limited costs, and the fact he refused to consider an arbitration call may even get the costs removed anyway, we'll see.

Case on the 15th!

A&A support hours

We have extended our support hours, which are now 8am to 6pm, Mon-Fri, except (English) public holidays. No, not an April fool's joke, honest.

Previously we worked 9am to 5pm, and sales/accounts still do. However the support staff can usually address simple/urgent queries in those areas if necessary.

Occasionally we do have people ask why we only work office hours, and it is worth trying to explain this. Many ISPs do, indeed, have 24 hour telephone support, for example.

For most of our services, there are faults that come in two flavours. Either there is some "shit hitting fan" big issue, in which case we have staff, and myself, getting involved in fixing things whatever time it is, or some individual line fault for DSL. It is pretty rare to have individual faults for VoIP, SIMs, etc, but you can, of course, get line faults for DSL.

When it comes to individual DSL faults, there are a load of things people can do at home/office to eliminate equipment and test for themselves, and we offer various on-line tests via our control pages. This can help resolve things. But the issues that don't just go away, and would require support staff to do something, are almost always something that needs a BT engineer to go out.

With very few exceptions, BT engineers are not going to be going our any quicker if we book them next working day at 9am. So having support staff take calls in the middle of the night would not usually be any help. We also have no intention of farming support out to call centres following scripts.

However, we have decided to extend the hours a bit. The reasons being :-
  • BT engineers work 8am to 6pm normally, and so we can help address any issues that come up with an engineer visit, and talk to the engineer or our customer about it at the time. This has already been seen with some 8am visits by engineers who are confused by the notes and need us to explain.
  • Starting at 8am gives customers a chance to resolve issues that can be resolved by talking to support before the usual working day for most people. If it is a line fault, that is not much help, but if it is a matter of swap a router or reboot something, we can offer the necessary advice before you have an office full of people that cannot work.
  • Starting at 8am and finishing a 6pm allows a lot of people that work during the day to contact us from home where they have an issue with their home broadband. We know some customers appreciate that.
  • We have increased the number of support staff, allowing some staggered working hours so that we can offer this.
But please do bear in mind, we do have irc, with a simple web front end, which can offer various help and advice by staff and other customers at all sorts of times. It is informal support from staff outside normal hours, but is usually available. We are thinking of perhaps extending this to be more formal evening irc support at some point maybe, with a rota of some sort.

Obviously we're interested in feedback on how the new support hours work for customers.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Being fair to A&A customers

Some people may be concerned over some of my fights with BT and what it all means.
  • A&A offer, generally, an "Internet service" to our customers.
  • We buy a "Broadband service" linking us to our customers from BT plc t/a BT Wholesale
  • BT plc t/a BT Wholesale "buy"* a metallic path from BT plc t/a Openreach
At each stage there are gaps, and each entity is responsible for those gaps.

E.g. if the broadband link from us to you is fine, but the "Internet connection" is broken, it is up to us to fix that. There are some things beyond our control, sadly, but we are selling an Internet service and it is up to us to try and make that work.

When the problem is with something we buy, like BT plc t/a BT Wholesale's broadband link and backhaul, they are responsible for fixing that, and we are responsible for making sure they do that.

When BT plc t/a Openreach are failing to provide a working metallic path, then they are responsible for fixing that, and BT plc t/a BT Wholesale are responsible for chasing BT plc t/a Openreach, and we are responsible for chasing BT plc t/a BT Wholesale.

At each stage there is added value. BT plc t/a BT Wholesale do not just buy a metallic path, they also have modems and BRASs and backhaul links and all sorts to make it all work. They expect the metallic path to provide working broadband which is more than BT plc t/a Openreach sell them, so BT plc t/a BT Wholesale have to find a way of making that work, just as they have to make a BRAS work.

Similarly, we add value, and if our routers are not working, or our LNS's are not working or our transit providers are not providing the service we contract them to provide, we have the job of getting that working and chasing people that need to do that.

It is all layers, with each layer agreeing to provide a specific layer of service.

All we are doing is making sure each responsibility fits in the right place and has the right party paying - we would never expect our customer to pay for repairing a metallic path or a broadband service or an Internet service.

We might expect someone to pay if sent on a wild goose chase and incurring costs when it was in fact their own modem or PC or wifi that was actually at fault, which is why we work with end users to check these things first. But if everything checked an eliminated, there is no risk of costs, and the same should apply at each layer in this. That is all we ask.

At the moment, one of these "layers", the BT plc t/a BT Wholesale and the Talk Talk part are trying to absolve some responsibility for the "broadband" aspect of what they sell, and pass on BT plc t/a Openreach charges even when they are for fixing broadband issues and so not our responsibility. That is all that needs fixing here.

So, just like Virgin(!) we will not charge for fixing a fault in what we provide.

We just need our suppliers to not charge us for a fault in what they provide to us.

* I say "buy" as the idea of one legal entity buying from itself is strange, at best.

What comes after SFI2?

This is what we have asked BT plc t/a BT Wholesale (and similar to Talk Talk). Will be interesting to see what they say. Other ISPs may like to ask them the same question.

I have been going over this SFI2 issue somewhat and I think I see the flaw in the process. I hope this helps you, and I would be interested in your comments.

When we report a broadband issue, having eliminated end user wiring and equipment and checked dial tone, BT do various tests, including checking the metallic path is OK to SIN349 from the exchange end. I understand you have some pretty comprehensive testing systems for this.

If the metallic path is not OK, we can arrange an engineer and there is generally no issue with charges. This is not a problem.

However, if you do not find any issue with the metallic path, the next step is that you offer us an SFI2 visit. You do not let us take any other action at that point in the fault process.

This is the step that is broken!

An SFI2 visit is simply to test/ensure a line meets SIN349 - something the exchange tests have already done pretty reliably. It is totally pointless, and severely uneconomical, for us to repeat the tests already done for this from the exchange.

So, from now on, we'll be happy to accept BT's diagnostics and agree that the metallic path meets SIN349. What we need to know is what happens next? An SFI2 is clearly pointless as we both agree the SIN349 test would pass, so what is the next step in resolving a broadband fault within the SLG when it is not caused by a failure of the metallic path to meet SIN349?

And, specifically, how do we get your fault reporting past the insistence on booking a pointless SFI2 visit at that point?

We have a policy now of never disagreeing your SIN349 exchange test and so not booking any SFI2 engineers. So I need to know the next process step please, as a matter of urgency. After all, BT have put a time limit on fixing faults (the SLG) and we want to ensure we do our part to ensuring we follow the process to get the broadband service fixed.

So, what comes after/instead of an SFI2 visit when a line meets SIN349 please?

I look forward to your prompt reply.

Monday, 30 March 2015

I have a cunning plan

As usual, when BT make a change, we have to adapt.

At one point SFI was charged for "work done on end user equipment beyond the NTE", so we made sure no work was done.

Then they decided "a visual inspection of end user equipment" counted as work, making visits chargeable. That was some genius weaseling on their part! So we had end users actually hide their routers. They still had the cheek to charge!

SFI was an "optional extra service" which we refused to order, so they changed it to be "part of the fault repair process" hence us arguing that we should therefore only pay if we actually breached some term such as checking the equipment before reporting.

Now we have the latest that SFI2 is a product or service they offer and which checks the line to SIN349, and fixes (free) to that if it was not to SIN349, or maybe does other work if it does but is chargeable. So once again SFI2 is an optional service.

So the cunning plan...
  • We are have got a JDSU, which is the test kit BT engineers use to test a line to SIN349. We hope we will not have to use it that often to prove the point here.
  • When we get a fault near us, we will send someone (our staff) to test the line.
  • If the line fails SIN349, we report a PSTN fault and get fixed
  • If/when the line passes SIN349, we report the broadband fault
Now, at this point BT will, as always, offer an SFI2 engineer. However, we will have the justifiable reason to not take that offer as we will have tested the line to SIN349 already so do not need to pay for a service described as "The SFI2 visit simply checks whether a line is working within the specification of SIN 349". Job done, move on to next step in fixing fault!

However, we will have evidence in our line testing of a broadband fault and be well within our rights to insist BT fix the broadband fault, within the 40 hour SLG, and without using an SFI2 engineer.

If they refuse to fix the fault, county court claim.

We'll see how it goes, and what next crazy step BT come up with to stitch up ISPs after this one.

P.S. Same will apply to TalkTalk.

Update: The JDSU has a lot of useful tests which should help where we can use it, including ADSL and VDSL tests. Looking in detail at SIN349, which is literally a "Metallic path facility interface description" the tests are purely electrical characteristics, and most are tested by BT from their end for us. Indeed, we are not really able to test these without isolation and/or loop at the exchange end. We'll ask BT and TT how we can arrange open/loop at exchange end for independent testing and see what they say. Even so, the specification of SFI2 makes it very clear that it is simply not the appropriate "product" to consider as a means to address broadband faults so we will be back to "Not buying SFI2, are you refusing to fix the fault?" as before. Oh well.

Update: It seems that a SIN349 test needs an earth. If the end user does not allow use of power socket or other earth in premises a full SIN349 test cannot be done. If doing a SIN349 test is what we are paying for and the engineer cannot do that, well, then we won't have to pay, will we?! That could be another angle (assuming engineer does, as they usually do, go on to fix the problem).

I wonder if we need to get OFCOM involved

There is a serious issue with SFI charges, as I keep ranting on. This is because BT have pushed and pushed and pushed to stitch up ISPs, even when there is a genuine fault in the service they sell us.

The issue is not unique to BT "Wholesale" but also carriers like Talk Talk.

Both buy copper pairs from BT "Openreach", who have a monopoly on doing any work on that pair. They cannot send their own engineers to fix the copper pair to resolve broadband related issues, they have to ask BT "Openreach".

The problem is that BT "Openreach" offer "SFI2" as a service, and that is clearly defined as an engineer who will test a line to SIN349 (and fix if it does not meet it). The engineer might do more work to try and fix broadband issues, but might not, it seems. All he has to do is prove to SIN349.

This means that neither BT "Wholesale" nor Talk Talk have any way to get an "Openreach" engineer to fix broadband specific issues on the line. But they cannot send their own engineers either.

It seems that, from what I can see, there is no official way for a carrier offering broadband to get broadband issues fixed. All they offer us is BT "Openreach's" SFI2 service, for which they charge.

Surely Openreach need to offer this type of engineer, and surely the carriers need to absorb any cost for such engineering work on the basis that they sell a broadband service, and not a phone line, to ISPs like us.

The current situation means that nobody can properly offer a working broadband service using BT copper pairs - a situation that surely needs OFCOM intervention.

Or have I missed the bleeding obvious?

Some times BT just don't understand

We have a customer getting extra latency in the evenings, and noticeable slow down in performance (e.g. 20M on a 70M line).

It is clearly evening/residential congestion somewhere within BT's network. This is something we handle quite often. It could be cabinet level, exchange level, BRAS level or somewhere else. We only have one customer affected, so seems quite local to him. It also came on suddenly after an outage of a few seconds one day, suggesting something has been re-routed within BT to a congested link.

The excuses and replies from BT on this relatively simple issue are getting beyond a joke.

Bear in mind, they end emails with things like: Our vision for BT is to be dedicated to helping customers thrive in a changing world.  and BT Wholesale is a world-class enabler of converged network solutions.

  • All BT tests completed ok, diagnostics show no fault condition.
  • Right when tested (several times)
  • Suggest sending an SFI (even though SFI will not test latency, will not go at the time there is latency, and will only test for phone line to SIN349 so will charge).
  • Service cannot be provided due to line loss limitations;Broadband service cannot be maintained due to Line Loss limitations (even though this is a 70Mb/s line).
  • Congestion is due to Internet (even though we check LCPs between use and modem, so only "internet" involved is BT's back haul network).
  • Lift and shift to new port at cabinet cannot be done if no access to premises (even though they will happily install FTTC with no access to premises).
  • Latency issues at peak times are beyond our control (even though it is their network).
  • Several unexpected engineer visits to site with no idea why there were there.
As ever we will continue to battle this one, but it is a tad depressing that these issues cannot quickly be escalated to someone in BT that has the same basic understanding as our own front line technical staff.