Wednesday, 23 April 2014

SFI2 is an optional extra service

This is not a comment I have heard in a long time, but was quoted to me today.

When BT introduced SFI (Special Faults Investigation) it was a cunning way to charge people for fault repair. The underlying issue being the grey area of how well a modem works on a copper pair which had lead to lots of wasted engineer time and BT wanted to recover that. Rather than fix the underlying issue of the product they sold having a grey area (something fixed by BT supplied modems on FTTC), they decided to charge for engineering investigations and launched SFI. Like many, we think SFI pushed the cost too far away from BT and there has been an ongoing battle between ISPs and BTs for many years now. In practice BT charge if they fail to find a fault in BT's network even though the service was always sold as charging if proved to be a fault in the end user's or customer's control.

There have been many stances taken by each side in this ongoing arms rate. For your amusement, at one point in this arms race BT claimed the SFI charge was for inspecting customer equipment and that a visual inspection was done by the engineer - that led to us instructing customers to remove and hide all of their equipment thereby thwarting BTs argument. The arms race moved on.

Even so, the "SFI2 is an optional extra service" is one I have not heard for some time. The standard argument and counter argument for this are as below

BT: We will, of course, fix faults, but when we can't find a fault using our remote testing you have the option of ordering an extra service to investigate if there really is a fault. If it turns out it was a BT fault after all, we don't charge you for this extra investigation, but otherwise we do if it was customer equipment causing the problem after all.

ISP: We can demonstrate that there is clearly a fault in the service, even though your tests don't see it. We have done lots of investigation already and already replaced all end user equipment. Here, look at out findings - you can see a fault, now fix it, please.

BT: We won't do anything unless you book an SFI2 engineer (for which we might charge you)

ISP: But SFI2 is optional - we don't have to order it. So we take the option not to. Now, are you refusing to fix this fault?

The conversation degenerates in to repeats of "no, not refusing to fix, but you have to order SFI2" and "if you are not refusing to fix it, then just fix it, no we are not ordering SFI2 as it is optional" and eventually "fix it! fix it! fix it!" (literally, in one case).

It is hard work, but the final result is usually BT booking an engineer which we, obviously, refuse to pay for because we did not order the extra optional service.

It was not a very good time, so it rather odd that BT have now moved back to this stance with their latest statement in an email (as reported to us by our account manager - who is a good guy).

This all came up because BT have come up with a new policy with regard to SFI disputes. Basically, if we have reported a fault, and they have sent multiple SFI2 engineers, and eventually they actually find a fault and fix it within BT's network, they don't charge for that final SFI2 engineer. The policy used to be that they would also not charge for all of the wasted previous SFI2 engineers, but the change of policy is that they now will charge for all previous engineer visits where no fault was found.

Now, this is, obviously, totally wrong. If there is a fault, as the final engineer confirmed existed, and it is within BT's network, then obviously it is up to BT, at BT's cost, to fix that fault. A working service is what we pay for in the first place.

If previous engineers failed to find the fault, then that is BT wasting our time (and our customer's), so if there is anything to pay it should be BT paying us compensation for that wasted time (so we can compensate our customer, who may have had to take time of work, etc).

There is no way on earth we would pay BT engineers for failing to find and fix a BT fault.

We have said this one will go to arbitration, or even court, if they do not fix this broken policy.

Let's see how it goes, but I warn other ISPs to check this new policy out. It is supposedly briefed via account managers, but we have not seen any such briefing.

P.S. BT have asked for some discussions that don't go on my blog. This is no problem, and I am pleased that my blog is taken seriously. I am happy to work with BT to resolve issues by whatever means we can. An off the record meeting is always possible and sometimes useful. We normally try to work with BT before blogging stuff anyway, and I have previously blogged about cases where we have worked with BT successfully. But there are, of course, cases where other ISPs need to know what is going on and present a united front to BT - so there will be cases, like this blog, where I feel it is important to spread the word, within the bounds of confidentiality agreements, obviously.


  1. Clearly if there is a fault with BT's network (as confirmed by the final engineer) but the previous engineers didn't find it then the "investigation" service is not fit for purpose - it seems reasonable to refuse to pay for a service which is provably not fit for purpose, irrespective of what their official policy is.

  2. Just out of interest how far down the chain does the full fault report go?, in my experience with ISPs the engineer has very little specific information on the problem, and so try and fix a problem which doesn't exist (which of course they can't find!!)

  3. The new policy is really nothing short of ludicrous, unless perhaps they try to claim the fault eventually found was coincidental - indeed, surely even if the fault found is on the customer side, how can they justify charging for their failure to fix it the first time?!

    BT really need to re-think the Wholesale fault handling interface. Having seen the thread: "previous fault closed in error, still with HLE, re-opening" auto-replied to with two automatic close attempts, then "SFI required" ...

    Of course, if they did a better job testing and monitoring their own backbone, or indeed just investigating faults when reported, many of these faults wouldn't cause spurious SFI2 orders in the first place: a few minutes checking router/switch performance counters would have located the fault instead!

  4. Surely this is a case of the service not being fit for service?

  5. It's about time BT just paid AAISP to monitor its network, since AAISP seems to know better than BT most of the time what is going on. I'm sure AAISP could provide a mutually beneficial arrangement.

  6. As we all know how long it can take to get BT to resolve a fault its a shame you don't offer a get online next day solution. You could hire out a firebrick and 3g dongle with an A&A SIM all pre configured with a next day courier service. Once the fault is resolved the Firebrick gets returned and the SIM suspended until needed again.

    1. Wouldn't it be the case that if your Internet service is important enough that you "must have it online [immediately/next day]" then you would already have a suitable solution in place?
      e.g. SIM backup, Office:1, another broadband line (even with another ISP) as a spare?

      I view the £30ish per month I paid for a secondary ADSL line(£40 now I have fibre - and this is just for myself working at home, so not a big company at all!) a necessary "insurance" - and one that has "paid out" several times in the last 3 years due to line problems that have usually taken more than a few days to resolve - but it removes all panic from the situation...

    2. A second line may still give you single points of failure. For example my second line was installed onto the second copper pair in the cable that connects the property to the pole. The same street cabinet could be in use. and certainly the exchange is a single point where the connection will go to.

      Having an option to hire a firebrick (albeit probably an expensive one) would have been nice.

  7. My line has been faulty since December. I've had five engineers out to try to fix it. One improved speeds dramatically by putting me on a better cable from the cabinet to the exchange, but the line errors and random resyncs remain.

  8. This is why I steer clear from BT at all cost. Thankfully I am in a cable area and I'm extremely happy with the service I get. It is outrageous that a monopoly infrastructure company can behave in such an anti-competitive way. I completely agree that they should be charged for wasting you and your customers' time.

  9. I'm not defending BT but I wonder if their change of policy has been caused by service providers with less instrumentation calling them out when it eventually turns out to be a problem under the service provider's control.

    I did have an issue with this myself recently which I did type out but I was told the comment was too long.

  10. I'm not defending BT but I wonder if their change of policy has been caused by service providers with less instrumentation calling them out when it eventually turns out to be a problem under the service provider's control.

    I experienced an example of this myself recently, I did type this out but was told it was too long, the problem went on for about 3 weeks and in the end led to my switching ISPs which fixed the issue.