Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Industry wide process (SFI)

So, once again, the same old issues all over again but this time with Talk Talk.

We had managed to previously get them to agree that they would not charge for an engineer unless it is proved that the cause of a fault is the end user equipment. We are generally happy with such a system because where there is proof given to us we can use that to justifiably charge our customer who will have claimed to checked/replaced his equipment as part of the process. (Obviously if we screwed up in the process, that is our cost).

It seems, once again, that things are not working well, possibly because we have a long list of outstanding disputes over SFI charges, and oddly TRC (Time Related Charges) too.

Once again it is "won't send an engineer unless you agree possible charges", and once again it is "charges is engineer fails to find fault in BT network". This last point is subtly (but importantly) different from "proving it is end user equipment at fault" as they are often reasons to "not find a fault in BT network" even when one exists (incompetence or bad luck or intermittent fault).

Just like we had with BT all those years ago, with Talk Talk, "SFI" (Special Faults Investigation) is a product they sell us to investigate a fault. As such we can choose not to buy such a product - why would we - we have investigated the fault ourselves already and found it to be in the network which we pay Talk Talk for already. All we want is the fault fixed, not some private investigator (SFI) to investigate it for us.

Of course this means essentially Talk Talk refuse to fix the fault, and we get deadlock again.

Their latest is that this is the industry wide processes. Of course I don't give a shit about that! For a start we have a contract with Talk Talk for a broadband service and we expect it to be fixed if there is a fault. It is no concern of ours if TT have engaged the services of some company that seems hell bent on ripping off the whole industry (just my opinion). But importantly the industry wide process is that every ISP disputes these crazy charges so much that BT have to create special processes on top of normal billing systems to manage the number of disputes (another industry wide process).

This really has to be sorted somehow.

Just to be clear (and this is where the lawyers reading may like to comment, unofficially). We consider it that the supplier has to provide a working service and repair faults if not working. We do accept that we have some role to play, checking the equipment, and eliminating it as the cause of the apparent fault. We recognise that if we fail to do what is agreed, and do not check the equipment, we should be liable for the wasted engineer visit that may ensue, as a pre-agreed penalty for a breach of contract. What we do not wish to do is purchase a new investigation service or pay for fault repair, or more importantly - pay if an engineer is unable to find a fault that exists.

It is quite unacceptable for the whole SFI system to encourage poor performance of engineers; to encourage the failure to find a fault.

So, once again, we are at a deadlock, until someone blinks. Only we have done this before and won the argument many times before. Let's see how it goes.

The real challenge is picking the fights that will not impact end users - they should not suffer from this, but if we do not fight it simply means us paying more and charging end users more. It is better to have a system that actually fixes faults and to work with BT and TT to do so.

P.S. We have offered to help Talk Talk break up this industry wide extortion racket process and try and fix things.


  1. Maybe you should resell Virgin Media connections where it is "free repairs and servicing" ;) ?

    1. I get the feeling that this, as well as Sky TV's attitude of "the box is yours you have to pay to fix it", was the intention of VM's advertising.

  2. > Just to be clear (and this is where the lawyers reading may like to comment, unofficially)

    What you say in that paragraph all seems very reasonable. Whether it is what your contract with TT says is perhaps a different matter. (Although, if it is not what the contract says, one might then want to analyse the contract to see if it is purporting to do things which would make elements of it void or voidable etc.)

  3. I don't think the SFI charge would be a penalty - what the process boils down to is that if they send out an engineer and it is the EU equipment at fault, you are merely compensating them for their loss (i.e. the engineers time).
    But I agree, the system is a bit stupid as it stands.

    1. Well, "compensating them for their loss" is the point. Not a punitive penalty, but a pre-agreed level of compensation for us doing something wrong (not checking EU kit).

    2. The joys of "penalty" v liquidated "genuine pre-estimate of loss" damages...

    3. Indeed, and to be fair I was not actually meaning "penalty" in the sense of exceeding realistic damages - I am sure engineers cost money. My point is that it is a payment for "damages" caused by a breach, and not buying a "service".

    4. In the context, it read to me exactly that: in the situation in which AAISP should have done something expected of it and did not, some form of reparation from AAISP to the injured party seems reasonable enough.

    5. As for whether it is a realistic pre-estimate is also fun - for way less money I could pay the same company to have a brand new copper pair phone line and ADSL installed, with no minimum term. This kind of suggests it is not.

    6. Would an argument be if the fault is the end users equipment (or wiring which they connect to the new line) then a new line won't solve the issue, what you're therefore paying for is someone to identify the fault / fix the end users equipment / wiring?

      Obviously it's a ridiculous price even allowing for that though, as you could probably get a local IT company out for say £50...

    7. I've seen a couple of enterprising ex-BT guys offering diagnostics like that in their local area - much cheaper to get them out to check all your kit and identify the fault than to pay BT's rates, if you're afraid the problem might be your end.

      Ironically, I'd actually rather like to order a chargeable BT repair ("Broadband Boost" rather than SFI in Openreach parlance though) on a TalkTalk retail line - but they don't seem to offer it, not helped by misusing that name for an unrelated offering of their own.

  4. I'd love to know how other countries with deregulated telecoms handle this.

    It strikes me that there are two problems (with fixing broadband faults) in the UK:

    1/. Openreach have the USO to provide phone lines. There's no obligation to provide a line that works for broadband at all, let alone works 'well' or 'as best as it can'. They can continue to use any antique wiring that's in place - provided it gives a working phone service. So a visting technician can stick a phone on the end of the line, if there's dialtone and no noise, it's fine.

    2/. Whilst I appreciate that intermittent faults can be devils to find and fix, Openreach attempt to charge for every fault which they can't find - despite any evidence that the fault existed before their visit and still exists after their visit. It's very easy for a lazy/incompetent technician to label a fault report as 'no fault found' and make the visit chargeable.

    From talking to a few ex-BT guys, it appears that it's in the last few years that Openreach's attitude has changed to an attempt to make every visit chargeable unless they really can't get away with it. And it looks like 'SFI' is being used as a chargeable visit to look at a broadband fault.