Saturday, 27 June 2015

Binfield Engineering Centre

At last the man-cave, or as we like to call it now: "Binfield Engineering Centre", is finally going to happen. I have quotes, at last, from a local builder, and the electrician and plumbing & heating engineer. There is a good chance we can actually get started in a couple of weeks.

I have been waiting nearly a year for this... And, of course, it comes at just the right time to clash with our tax bill, but it is going to happen!

The builder said a "change of use" needs approval from the council. They had a pre-planning application thing on their web site, which seemed quite efficient allowing uploads of drawings and pictures and so on. We'll see what happens with that.

I'll take pictures once the work actually gets started. I am actually looking forward to it.

P.S. Why "Binfield Engineering Centre"? It is apparently a thing to give your garage some grandiose title: http://www.revk.uk/2015/06/peter-mcghie-phase-dscs-phase-broadcast.html

Friday, 26 June 2015

Do they not teach decimal numbers in school any more?

The ARIN IPv4 depletion web site shows how much IPv4 space is left for allocation in the American region.

It is a number of "/8s" left. For those that do not know, a /8 is 16,777,216 IPv4 addresses, and is the size of block allocated to each region at a time. The top level /8s ran out ages ago, and 4 of the 5 registries are no longer allocating IPv4 normally (most have policies on final allocations from remaining space). ARIN is down to the wire and shit will finally hit the fan any day now.

What I find most amusing is the explanation on that page, to explain a simple number, like 5.22 as apparently the meaning of "5.22" is not clear, well, not to Americans?

Of course, this explanation is fine, to explain a number like "5.22", and you can probably guess what the counter was when someone wrote that explanation. But reading it now, does that mean we have 0 /8s and 978% of another /8 left?

It is reminiscent of the 0.002 cent argument someone had with Verizon...

A NOTE ABOUT OUR /8 INVENTORY COUNTER

The counter shows the number of /8s remaining. The numbers after the decimal point are equivalent to a percentage (so 5.22 /8s is 5 /8s + 22% of a 6th /8).

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Back-haul

We have had many years now with very much the same prices for back-haul.

It is worth trying to explain to my less technical readers... One of the key things with the services we sell is connecting things. This means that you get data from one place to another. This is the crux of the whole telecommunications industry. Ultimately the costs of connecting stuff is the cost of digging up the ground and putting things in ducts. This is what allows the monopolies and major carries in countries to sell their communications services.

There are many ways the make this work, and there are some shortcuts by way of radio microwave links, and even people considering balloons and satellites. But for a long time the underlying issue is stuff in the ground.

Now, the copper in the ground is one of the key issues with broadband. There is copper from exchange to home and office and that is used for broadband (ADSL). Getting closer to the home or office by running fibre to a cabinet and then using the copper from there with VDSL (FTTC) is faster. Ultimately there are moves to get new connectivity to people's homes and offices using fibre.

But whatever the "last mile" is, whether coax, copper pairs, fibre, hybrid, radio, or what, there is also the issue of "back-haul". This is where the data goes from exchanges and similar concentration points locally to ISPs connection points and on to the Internet.

As an ISP we are in the middle - on one side we connect to peering points and transit providers that connect to "the rest of the world", and on the other we use carriers like BT and Talk Talk to connect via "back-haul" to the various local exchanges and "last mile" connections such as broadband. We join the two together.

There are costs on both sides.

When connecting to the "world", there are transit providers that buy capacity on (or run their own) transatlantic fibre links, and national fibre links in many countries. For as little as £1/Mb/s/month (that is £1 per month for a megabit per second) I can buy transit that connects to thousands of connection points around the world using national and international fibre links.

When connecting to the "UK", I am using back-haul carriers. Now, these have a simpler job in many ways, they are all on land and connecting to several hundred telephone exchanges. The "last mile" from the exchange to homes and offices I pay for separately. So this back-haul is simpler and smaller than the challenges of "transit" to the world, but the cost is anything up to 50 times that of transit! And for no good reason than "It has always been so".

The good news is that there is competition. The good thing about fibre back-haul is that you can simply change the transceivers on the end of the fibre and go from a gigabit to 10 gigabit to a terabit. It is a cost for the technology on the fibres, but the real cost is digging up the road, and that is not needed to make more and more use of the fibre links.

The good news is OFCOM are trying to get BT to open up "dark fibre" links to other operators. This is a big step as the existing way to buy from BT is by link speed. If you buy dark fibre you can choose to invest in later transceivers and get more out of it. If you buy by the gigabit than you are stuck with that.

Third parties can do this themselves if they have the fibre and can upgrade, so we really hope back-haul will finally start to come down in price.

I really hope that it will get cheaper. We are starting to see some clues to this with some carriers. We may even be able to offer new services soon. But what we really need is the major carriers like BT lowering the back-haul pricing to something a tad closer to transit. After all, transit providers link to the world, and BT link to the UK - surely BT should be cheaper!!!

NoT and 12 months term

I seriously think BT have got this wrong and it needs fixing.

BT plc t/a Openreach provide GEA links (basically what most ISPs use to provide FTTC) on a 12 month minimum term.

Firstly, this is a problem anyway - most other services whether broadband or phone line - do not have a minimum term. This may have made more sense in the start and when there was an engineer visit and modem supplier, but really starts to make no sense for wires only FTTC, and now that FTTC is the norm. So ideally BT need to drop the minimum term. However, for now we have it.

When migration of FTTC services came in there was a problem - BT would charge the old ISP for the end of the term whilst charging the new ISP for the same period of time and holding the new ISP to a new 12 month term. What was even worse is that this was done by BT plc t/a BT Wholesale. Their excuse was that BT plc t/a Openreach had this 12 month term. However a migrate from one BTW customer to another BTW customer did not involve BT plc t/a BT Wholesale restarting the term with BT plc t/a Openreach - they literally were charging two ISPs for the same service for the same time!

The eventual fix was to make a migrate not have a min term for the new ISP but the old ISP pays to end of term. It addresses one issue, but has some serious problems.

The issue here is that when two parties agree a contract and dictate something like a minimum term, it make sense for the party that breaks that term and ceases before the end of the minimum term to compensate the other party.

So, if an ISP buys a service with a 12 month term and ceases after 6 months, it makes sense to pay the supplier / carrier something, perhaps even the whole of the remaining 6 months of service.

But what if the supplier (carrier) breaks the term - and ceases the service within the 12 months. Then surely the supplier needs to compensate the ISP for that breach, at the very least not expecting the ISP to pay to term for a service that is not being provided.

Sadly BT plc t/a BT Wholesale do not agree - they think that even when they break the 12 month minimum term the ISP has to pay them for the remainder of the term!

Now, this only really happens if the service is transferred to a new ISP. But even so, it is the carrier breaking the term with the ISP and not the other way around.

Now, if BT plc t/a Openreach insist on a 12 month term, what would make sense in the case of a transfer is for the new customer to be starting a new 12 month term, and the old customer to be let off. That would mean that the carrier would not have to pay BT plc t/a Openreach when it is BT plc t/a Openreach that breaks the term, and similarly BT plc t/a BT Wholesale would not have to charge the ISP for the rest of the term when it is BT plc t/a BT Wholesale that broke the term, and ultimately the ISP would not need to charge their customer an early termination fee.

Even better would be for a migrate to carry over the remaining term and not restart the 12 months. This would ensure BT plc t/a Openreach always got 12 months rent for a VDSL port that they have installed, which is what they want.

But ultimately the best would be for BT plc t/a Openreach to just drop the minimum term on the wires only FTTC installs and then it would avoid a lot of unfair contract terms and arguments.

P.S. One carrier is being very very special, suggesting early termination means not only paying to term but also paying an extra early termination fee. That is crazy - why would you cease the service early rather than just leave it in place to end of term in that case.

Business Names Act

The Business Names Act 1985 was repealed and the various requirements included in to The Companies Act 2006. This is a tad confusing as it does not just apply to companies, but also individual sole traders and partnerships.

Basically the idea is that if someone is trading, acting as a business, then they have to actually identify themselves. It is why many shops will have a small plaque that states the company name and registered office, and why web sites and letterheads state company name and number and registered office. It applies to individuals and partners in that they have to state the name and address of the people involved on business letters and order forms and so on.

The principle is that you have to be able to identify the party with whom you are dealing relatively easily.

Unfortunately I am having trouble working out who enforces these rules!

Trading Standards said Companies House.

Companies House said yes, for rules relating to registered businesses (82-84), but not the section on individuals (1202), try the police.

Now I have had a nice chat with a Scottish policeman, who has paid a visit to Mr McGhie after I made a complaint, but who is unsure what to do. He says he has checked all the details he has, his manuals on such things, and cannot find anything that covers this. He thinks it is not a police matter, even though it is a clear criminal offence. He suggested Companies House!

In the end we have left it that he is going to ask Companies House for advice, but ultimately, surely, if there is a crime, then someone should be responsible for enforcement.

We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

BT Account Managers

It must be a hard job in some ways - an account manager to A&A.

In principle, it should largely be about selling us stuff - that is what account managers do in a lot of companies - making sure that their client / customer is buying all the things that they could be.

But there is the customer care side - handling things that are not working right and trying to improve the partnership or business relationship. In the long run that can mean selling more stuff as well, obviously.

Sadly, one of the things we can be sure of with BT is a regular change of account manager, usually once a year but sometimes the break more often.

We have had some really good account managers in the past, Ian was especially proactive and really took on the challenge of trying to actually get A&A and BT working together. He also played WoW.

Sadly, there have been a few that are a bit more mediocre, and a couple really appalling account managers, sorry. Don't get me wrong, they are all nice enough. Usually we get to meet them - but that is part of the issue - the level of engagement various year to year. At some points in the past we have had a long period with no account manager. That was fun as the stock answer to anything complex is to "ask you account manager", and front line people and managers have no reply when we said "we don't have one".

In one case we have had a "desk based account manager" - who we never met and sometimes answered emails. More recently we had another good account manager, Martin, who spend months coming in every week to try and finally resolve ongoing billing issues (mostly SFI disputes) and managed to get a lot sorted.

Sadly, not all can be praised, and I won't point fingers. Sadly some are very poor at engaging with us, meeting us, or even answering emails.

But that time has come again - a new account manager. We don't know how it will go, but if the first emails we have had are any clue, the answer may be badly.

Why ask an ISP if they have an "IP network". I mean, really? Did something not go well in the handover from the last account manager, perhaps in the sense of not actually handing over any clue whatsoever about the client?

I suppose things can only get better. It is a shame BT cannot manage to have slightly longer term account management strategies. We really would like to work with BT on issues, and there are things we are actually trying quite hard to buy from BT and struggling to do so. We have issues that are not answered, let alone resolved, and go on for years and need handing over from one account manager to the next.

We'll just have to see how it goes. We'll do our bit and try and make this work well, honest. I assume other ISPs have much the same.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Do I give in to blackmail?

We have a customer with a dispute, and of course we want tor resolve it. I'm not going to give any personal details here, obviously...

The dispute is relatively simple, he asserts that we told him 100GB/mon for Home::1 would be fine for a house of 5 adults all separately watching netflix every night. Unsurprisingly he used 100GB in 10 days. Home::1 has a minimum term of 6 months and a very reasonable early termination charge.

Now, let me say right off, if we did say that to him, we will sort something out for him - more allowance for 6 months or leaving with no early termination fee, or whatever. If we screwed up and said something wrong, we will take responsibility for that. We have ticketing for emails and record all calls, so it should be simple to work that out. Sadly he is being a tad vague on times or numbers or names of people he spoke to. Hopefully we can confirm this.

He had a huge long debate with our accounts department over what is "average usage". We explained what we say on the web site and ordering pages and what OFCOM have reported about average usage for broadband. He seems to think he is "average", which is clearly not the case, but all irrelevant - we sold him 100GB.

The problem is that he is now talking of ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution).

Obviously we are going to try and resolve this, and ideally come to an agreement without involving ADR, but at the end of the day ADR is a huge problem with this and massively impacts negotiations.

The early termination charges are much lower than the cost of ADR even if we only look at the fee we have to pay (and ignore all the time and effort) and even if ADR finds we are completely correct and we are not ordered to pay anything or do anything. This means the threat of ADR is effectively blackmail. The customer can simple be as difficult as he likes; insist we said things with no evidence of that; and demand he can leave with no early termination charge "or else, ADR".

What concerns me is we may find the call recording and prove we did not say that, and so have done nothing wrong, but he can still demand ADR and still put us in this annoying position of choosing to cave in to blackmail or pointlessly go through ADR - a process which would not "resolve" the dispute.

If we cave in, we save money compared to ADR, but what is to stop everyone who changes their mind just invoking "ADR", making a total mockery of simple fair contract terms.

Very frustrating. We'll see what we can do to resolve it anyway, and what evidence we can find. In the long run we have have to think of other ways to package services as clearly "early termination charges" may effectively be un-enforceable on consumer products. I'll try not to get stressed this time.

P.S. One way this may be resolved in future is with routers getting cheaper, migrations getting cheaper, people already having FTTC, and, of course, cheaper back-haul bandwidth. Eventually there will be no need for any minimum term and no reason for someone that simply "misunderstands" not to simply move on to their next ISP as complete resolution of the issue. We can but hope.

P.P.S. In all the years I have been blogging, you can see disputes really are rare - I would not expect to blog every disagreement, but an actual unresolved dispute is incredibly rare and I think I probably have blogged every one so far - making me wonder even more why the hell ADR even exists.

ICO is total waste of time

I am getting a lot of junk calls, and have reported around 5000 calls to the ICO now, and they have chosen not to take any action in relation to these calls.

It seems that even the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman agrees that they do not have to do anything if they don't want to.

What the hell is the point of a law that bans something if NOBODY will take any action on it.

The Ombudsman said I could take civil action, but I know from personal experience a judge will consider the nuisance of calls and emails to be insignificant and not valid as a cause of such action.

Just to give some idea how totally pointless this regulation is, today, we got a call at the office from a company calling themselves Media Planet. Listen (MP3)

The call was to our "press" number, published in one place on our web site, which is where we also make it clear that we are listed in the TPS and that we do not want junk / marketing calls.

To our surprise this is a company that has apparently been in business 12 years and never heard of the TPS - they had no idea that they were meant to check their calls against TPS, and no idea that what they were doing is unlawful (Alex went a tad far saying criminal we think, but that is beside the point).

What is the point of these laws? They are a total and utter waste of time and need fixing.

An incredibly simple change would be to make it possible to take civil action for some minimum amount without justification, e.g £50, just based on the fact that you are the recipient of the nuisance call or email. That would allow civil action to work, and if the ICO really are so inept and uninterested, that would allow some real action on this from people affected. It would not be a burden on the courts as those breaking the rules would soon learn they have no defence, and pay up without need of court action. With any luck they would then change their behaviour.

We also need any contract formed as a result of such a call to be void, allowing people to "play along" in order to identify the caller properly so that they can sue them for the £50.

We need the law fixing!

Monday, 22 June 2015

3D scanning

I made the mistake of buying an iSense, and have sent it back.

What you need, if you want to do some 3D scanning, is the Structure scanner and Skanect s/w. I purchased the scanner from Technology Outfit, who seem very efficient.

What's the difference?

Well, the iSense s/w is all in the iPad, which is not bad processing wise, but not good enough when used with the iSense app. It was incredibly slow to scan something. It also did a very poor job. I was really difficult to work out the initial scanning area. I just about managed to scan a face, but scanning a person was a waste of time. It then took an age to process.

The Structure/Skanect solution uses the iPad as a remote for the main s/w on the computer (in my case a Mac) over wifi. It is quick, and really easy to use. The result is much better.

Both are basically the same as a kinect, and fit to the iPad with a bracket. In fact they look identical and even have the same connectors.

I used Skanect once before, with a hand held Kinect, but that was really difficult to man handle the laptop and scan. The iPad as a remote scanner works well, and it appears to use the iPad accelerometers as well which makes it even easier than using the Kinect.

Ashley in the office.
So, now, I need the Skanect s/w (or better still find the licence from the last time I installed it) and I am away - scanning people, rooms, anything :-)

P.S. Oh, and there are a load of free iPad apps to work with the scanner stand alone, cool!

Fun weekend, NoT

Lots of tweaks and minor adjustment to wording, and still some work today now Talk Talk have finally updated the file format, but so far so good.

We have had loads of people migrate to us using the new system without MACs.

Next week will be no migrations because of the change of lead time from 5 working days to 10 working days.

I wonder how other ISPs are coping.

P.S. Thanks to OFCOM and ispreview for kicking TalkTalk.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Well done OFCOM!

There is a contact in OFCOM that is handling the Notice of Transfer process that completes on 20th June.

So I email her regarding the issue with Talk Talk.

I get an auto reply - "out of office" until 24th. Wow, let's book leave over the whole fiasco.

But the "out of office" email does state someone else to contact for any URGENT issues.

Email her and guess what?

She is "out of the office" until 22nd.

I am at a loss for words.

Slamming

The new system is not even in place yet for broadband, but we had our first PSTN slamming today. In theory the PSTN side has been in place for some time, but it was very rare and we had a much less automated system in place before now. The new migration process means we have integrated our automated systems for PSTN lines as well as broadband.

Some other telco was trying to take over one of the PSTN lines that was part of an Office::1 installation. Our new system alerted the end user by email to their accounts and technical contacts and also texted them.

Unusually, it also alerted our sales staff as it is an Office::1 line, and transferring or ceasing one part of an Office::1 line is suspicious. The system has a few safeguards in place to try and pick up things like this.

Office::1 is a package of two or three PSTN and broadband lines with a FireBrick and optional 3G fallback providing a bonded and monitored service. Ceasing or transferring just one part of that service makes no sense, so will almost always be a mistake or slamming.

Needless to say the customer was pleased to be advised, and quick to confirm that he had not authorised a transfer.

Now we await our first broadband slamming - something that simply could not happen with MACs. Our what joy.

P.S. As someone asked on twitter, yes, you can pre-emptively tell us you are not planning to transfer so we reject a request (anti-slamming). It is on the control pages for your line.

Talk Talk wholesale dragging their heels

The new "Notice of Transfer" system has a deadline of Saturday!

We, as an ISP, and all other ISPs, have to have the new system in place by then.

A key part is sending notices to end users, and for that to work we have to receive the details from the carriers. In our case we deal with BT plc t/a BT Wholesale, and Talk Talk business. We also deal with BT plc t/a Openreach, but that did not actually need any real work as the system for phone lines is not really changing.

Oddly, I see nothing in the OFCOM rules that say that the carriers have to send ISPs like us any notices. It is all about ISPs sending end users notices. But, none the less, we expect to get the details from these carriers in order to comply.

BT Wholesale have several systems in place, and we coded using one (BBCR) before realising that a different system would be better. We have now coding our system to work with BT's B2B XML SOAP updates for unsolicited orders. It was a slight pain as all of the forums we went to implied that we would just get these updates, but in practice they had to be turned on, and that took a few days to sort. However, it was done, and was not even the only way to get the information. Well done BT and especially John who is looking after this whole thing.

Unfortunately Talk Talk are dragging their heels. They have an FTP site from which we can get files containing details of orders, including these unsolicited orders. However, for the new system they have a new format and new files with new fields.

We were told about this months ago (well done) and were told we would have to ask to be changed to the new format (which we did). Nothing happened.

Weeks ago we asked again as it was getting urgent. We were told there was a 5 day SLA, but that ran out last week, and still nothing.

We are chasing several times every day this week, and now we have under 48 hours for it to go live and STILL it has not happened.

This is taking the piss, and it was a toss up whether blogging about it would kick their arse more quickly than complaining to OFCOM. I chose the blog route, but if we have nothing by tomorrow it is calls to OFCOM that will follow. Sorry to do this to you guys, but what other choice do I have?

P.S. OFCOM have been contacted now.

Broadband speed

What do we mean by "broadband speed", and what are the factors that affect it?

I had intended this to be one of my blog posts aimed at my less technical readers (Hi, Pauline), and explain some of the issues in a non technical way. It seems, however, that people like the ASA, OFCOM and Which may do well to read it as well. Again, they miss the point hugely (see recent ispreview article).

Technology

First I'll just summarise some of the different technologies and what they mean. Some technology can be used by many different ISPs via a whole sale service (i.e. exactly the same equipment and wires used, so no difference technically). In some cases multiple ISPs can use the same type of equipment, so the same technology and basically the same speed and service offered but by different actual equipment. In some cases an ISP will have their own dedicated equipment and so offer a very different service to other ISPs even to the same address.

  • FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) is one of the most common technologies now. It is provided using a normal copper pair (phone line) that has equipment connected at the main street cabinet to provide broadband over that phone line. The cabinet has glass fibre back to the exchange and on to the ISP and the Internet. It is almost always a BT plc t/a Openreach cabinet and equipment which connects to an ISP or back-haul carrier at the exchange. This same technology can be sold by lots of ISPs and the link speed will be the same regardless. Typically it can be provided with a cap at 80Mb/s down and 20Mb/s up, or a lower cap of 40Mb/s down and 10Mb/s or 2Mb/s up. These are usually tariff options. The speed depends on the line length and quality from the cabinet to the premises. It can reduce a bit over time as more lines on the same cabinet get service. It makes no difference to the actual sync speed which ISP you choose when buying this sort of service.
  • ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) uses a copper pair (phone line) from the exchange to the premises with equipment in the exchange. Glass fibre is used to connect from the exchange on to the ISP and the Internet. There are typically two variants: ADSL1 and ADSL2+. The former allows up to around 8Mb/s sync speed (around IP 7.15Mb/s data rate), and the latter up to 24Mb/s sync (21Mb/s IP data rate). Again, the sync depends on the line length. Speeds can be as low as 250kb/s on very long lines. Apart from some areas with older ADSL1 only BT kit, most ISPs can offer ADSL2+ either using BT, or TalkTalk or some other back-haul carrier, or even their own kit. In general, it will make no difference to sync speed which ISP you go for. It may matter if one can only offer ADSL1 and another can offer ADSL2+, especially if you are close to the exchange and could get speeds over 8Mb/s.
  • FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) is similar to FTTC but has a fibre from the cabinet to the premises instead of copper wires. There is technology provided by BT plc t/a Openreach with 40/10, 80/20 and even 330Mb/s speeds. Unlike FTTC the speed is the same regardless of distance. There are some ISPs that offer different direct fibre services, and some that even provide gigabit (1000Mb/s) services. This is much rarer.
  • Coax (cable). In lots of places there are alternatives that don't actually use phone lines. Virgin have a network of cable installations originally for cable TV services. These use coax to a cabinet nearby, and may then use more coax to a main cabinet further way. These are then typically connected using glass fibre to a core network and on to the Internet. Like FTTC, this is not a "fibre" service. The speed depends on the length of coax, and can be quite fast (e.g. 100Mb/s). Typically such services are not available to other ISPs, so this is an area where choosing the ISP offering this service may provide a very different service to choosing a different ISP which is inherently using a different technology.
  • Radio. Like WiFi but over a wider area, some ISPs provide radio links. The speed can depend on distance to their nearest mast. Like coax/cable, this is typically a very different offering to other ISPs using different technologies.

Advertised speed

There are different sorts of underlying technology used to provide a broadband (Internet access) service. What we see is companies advertising a possible speed - usually as "up to" some number of megabits per second. This is actually a data throughput, not speed, but that is not really important here.

One of the problems is that some of the technologies used are adaptive to the underlying phone line that is used, and so a long phone line will have lower speed. This is a simple fact of physics, and generally, for a specific technology, the speed you can get will be around the same.

The ASA were unhappy with people advertising ADSL2+ technology as "Up to 24Mb/s". The technology can do that, on short and good quality lines, but on longer lines it is slower. The "up to" is quite correct. Read that as "not more than" and it makes as much sense. However, the ASA felt that this was somehow misleading almost all customers, and they felt that ISPs should only mislead 90% of customers rather than 100%, so they insist that "Up to" speeds are set at a speed that at least 10% can achieve. This is, of course, a totally daft thing to do - if customers do not understand "up to", then all you do is reduce complaints by 10%. What you need to do is make sure customers understand what the statement means.

OFCOM stated that "BT’s ‘up to’ 76 Mbps package: Only 1% of customers received the maximum advertised speed.". For a start, that surprised me - and I suspect they are not actually looking at the line speed but perhaps measuring speeds of transfers in to the Internet (see below). I would expect that 10% of lines can get 76Mbit/s or more on that service. In fact I would say that 90% get what was advertised, which is "not more than 76 Mb/s" and 10% don't (i.e. they get more than 76Mb/s so the advert was misleading to them).

The good news is that regardless of the "up to" rate, ISPs provide means to get a speed estimate for a specific installation, and that is all that matters. It does not matter if you are buying an "up to 40Mb/s" service or an "up to 80Mb/s" service if the service you can get at your address is only 25Mb/s.

If anything, I think adverts should explain the technology and carrier used. This would allow comparison to be simpler. If comparing two ISPs, if both use "BT Wholesale" then the underlying technology that both ISPs can use will be the same. Speeds will be the same. It matters if you order FTTC 40/10 or FTTC 80/20 or ADSL2+, but typically you could order those from any ISP using BT Wholesale backhaul. Similarly, using Talk Talk wholesale backhaul would offer ADSL2+ which will work at basically the same speed as BT Wholesale ADSL2+. For FTTC on TalkTalk the underlying modem and line is identical to BT as it uses Openreach modems in the cabinet. Now, some ISPs are different - some use radio, or coax, and so on. Some even use fibre, and there really should be a ban on claiming that copper coax or copper telephone lines are "fibre" to avoid confusion and aid comparison.

Explaining the underlying connection type would allow people to compare ISPs and the packages more sensibly.

Up To

I have raised this before, but one issue with "up to", and I think a key confusion, is that there are two "up to" speeds involved. One is the fact that the line speed will depend on length of line and quality, and so for a service the speed may be "up to 80Mb/s" meaning that one address may get 80Mb/s and another may get 45Mb/s, etc. It is not a variable, it is pretty much fixed for the address based on its line characteristics. It can change over time (as more lines get broadband in they area).

The other "up to", and perhaps what people are confusing the advertising with, is that a line synced at 80Mb/s is not always transferring data. If you transfer a file, you will get a speed of transfer for that file. If sending several files at once, each file will share that one link. The speed the file transfers will be anything "up to" the line speed you have. When it is the only use of the line, and the other end is not busy and well connected to the ISP, the speed will be the line rate. So a line synced at 45 Mb/s can transfer files "up to 45Mb/s".

The problem I see is that people buying a service that is "up to 80Mb/s" expect that, at some times, when "the Internet is not busy" that they will be able to transfer a file at 80Mb/s. They don't realise that this is not what they are buying. It is an "in some places may be 80Mb/s" service, not a service that "for anywhere that you can get it, can, at times, get 80Mb/s". The "up to" part is ambiguous!

Throughput to the Internet

The other issue is how fast can you download something from the Internet. This is generally what people actually care about, not the sync speed.

There is a huge problem here - the ISP has some control over the service they sell in terms of the technology used to provide it (the "up to 80Mb/s" bit) and the backhaul they install or buy, and the links they have "to the Internet". However most of the services that customers which to access are outside the control of the ISP. Indeed, most are outside of the control of anyone the ISP contracts with.

Now, there are things an ISP can do such as choosing good peering and transit, but ultimately an ISP cannot be responsible for the speed of third parties.

Unfortunately it is very hard to tell if there is a problem with speed to the Internet, whether it is something the ISP does control (back-haul from ISP to premises, core network, choice of links to peering points), or something outside their control (transit, far end congestion, busy servers).

Now, maybe OFCOM could commission some independent speed test equipment that they connect to LINX and LONAP and other peering points, and use that as a reference. The issue is that it is not hard for an ISP to prioritise these speed tests and still have congestion for other connectivity!

What would be good is ISPs having to publish loss and latency from premises in to their core network - that is the area that is most likely to have congestion as it is the most expensive aspect.

Faults

Another issue which OFCOM seem to be trying to address, but in an insane way, is lines that are faulty. The problem here is that a long line running at 500kb/s may be perfect and the best you can get on such a line, and not a fault, but a short line running at 500kb/s may be faulty.

OFCOM tried to define faulty lines by saying that they are the lowest 10th percentile - defining 10% of an ISPs customers as having a fault - which is crazy!

Defining that long slow line as faulty does nothing to actually get it fixed, and allowing a customer to leave with no penalty does not help the ISP or get any investment in infrastructure that could help the customer.

This is especially true when dealing with links such as BT Wholesale. The ISP may be penalised by insisting customers can leave with no penalty even though the ISP may have paid for installation and a router, and hence making a loss. However, BT Wholesale see no issue. Indeed, they see migration fees and maybe even install and cease fees much more often as a result of OFCOM rules. BT Wholesale are not penalised or incentivised to get BT plc t/a Openreach to install an FTTC cabinet instead. OFCOM are penalising the wrong people.

To add to the fun, a line that should get 20Mb/s and is getting 10Mb/s because of a fault is probably not bad enough to meet OFCOMs 10th percentile rule, and so that customer does not have the right to leave with no penalty!

It would make a lot more sense to say that a line that cannot sync at the forecast minimum speed can be ceased with no penalty, and apply that rule at wholesale level as well as retail. That would allow individual lines that do not live up to expectations to be fixed or penalise the people actually providing the faulty service itself (the carrier) rather than the end ISP.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Peter McGhie, Phase DSCS / Phase Broadcast

Bit of a waste of time - going 400+ miles to Falkirk and the pursuer did not even turn up. Oddly court said most we could claim on expenses / costs was £70. Thanks to Phil for going.

Obviously, as always, this is just my personal, honestly held, opinion of these matters. I'll be happy to correct any factual errors.

The case was pursued by "Phase DSCS (UK) LLC", a fictitious company not listed in Companies House. After much chasing we had an email from Peter McGhie stating that it was "Phase DSCS (UK) Ltd" that was actually suing us (company SC502663) which was incorporated April 2015, but the case was about us supposedly failing to provide broadband adequately in 2014! Obviously we had provided broadband to someone, and fixed faults when reported. He claims the service never worked and was rejected and not put in use even though, on one of the lines, the only fault report was 7 months after installation, no fault seen by us or found by BT and service was heavily used with no apparent issues for nearly a year in total. Clearly, in my view, trying it on. He was claiming nearly £3000 even though we have a limit of liability clause very clearly on the order form and terms.

One of the real issues here is that this guy tries to hide the identity of the legal entity in question, or so it seems. The letterhead does not say the name of a sole trader or partners, or the name of a Limited company or a company number. When asked directly for company name or number he will often not say - it took ages to get him to state the company Phase DSCS (UK) Ltd having put a bogus company name on the summons.

But who is Peter McGhie? Who is "Phase"? The clues are not hard to find on Facebook and twitter, and it seems to me that he is a one man band - he is director of Phase DSCS (UK) Ltd and was director of Phase Broadcast Ltd which he dissolved in Jan 2015. He claims to be Scotland & North Region but there is no indication of any other "region".

The best bit of bullshit is "PHASE DSCS are Agents to HM Government & Authorities". What the hell is that meant to mean? He uses the (old) government security classifications on letters and emails to look impressive.

But just look at the letterhead - he looks all very fancy, and even uses the royal arms in the background (a breach of the Trade Marks Act 1994 if you don't have permission from the Queen). He quotes four NQA registrations for various ISO certifications, but NQA tell us that he does not have any. He also quotes UKAS.

His address is "Bonnybridge Engineering Centre", but that appears to simply be his garage. Not 100% sure, but I think it is this one. From the address, it is likely to be one just like this if not this specific one.

Bonnybridge Engineering Centre, maybe?
Sadly we had no chance to actually defend this in court or counter claim (if he had got the pursuer changed to him personally, we could have, as he still exists). We have been trying to claim early £300 for unpaid invoices, and been thwarted by the lack of clarity on who exactly contracted with us.

What was interesting was when I looked up the replacement for Business Names Act which is now part of The Companies Act 2016, I found clause 1206. It looks like it was almost written for this case - where someone in breach of 1202 is suing someone over a contract breach and the defender has a counter claim that they have been unable to pursue because of the breach, the case must be dismissed. That is exactly what is happening to us.

We'll have to investigate the issue of costs more.

If you have dealings with this man or anyone like him, it is well worth looking for warning signs and being extremely cautious dealing with anyone that refuses to properly identify their legal entity.

We've reported him to NQA, UKAS, Trading Standards, Companies House, the Cabinet Office (who seem to handle the royal arms), and the Police.

I am very disappointed that it seems one cannot even get the simple cost of traveling to the court when a case is dismissed like this. I do hope Phil had a good time though.

I am also very disappointed that the court process has no way to make an application for a judge to preview the details of the case. The fact the pursuer was a company that could not have done the things in the statement of claim should have allowed the case to be dismissed without a hearing. But there seems to be no such process.

P.S. When we first started A&A, we actually had dealings with the MoD, when I worked from my garage at home. We actually had a meeting with a Major in our dining room in the house once, with my wife making cups of tea. Difference is that I did not pretend we were anything otherwise.

Update: (3rd July) the actual order "extract of dismissal" orders payment of £290 in expenses (10% of the claim). Yay...

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Stress

Just one cornetto?!
In spite of all my efforts, I spent most of the weekend away running through every possible way this damn court case could turn out. There really is no point in my mind doing this, but it is the way I work, clearly.

The result is have been snapping at a few people, sorry.

Anyway, having got back last night, my plan was to fly up this evening for the court case 9:30 tomorrow.

I have bottled - I have way too much work this week (with stupid OFCOM Notice of Transfer stuff) to take another couple of days out, and Phil has kindly offered to go. He has spoken to the pursuer over the last year and so he has probably got the most background on this whole thing anyway.

It is also a huge training exercise for him and a weight off my mind.

I also found a rather nice Clause 1206 in the Companies Act 2006 which is ideal when we have been thwarted claiming for unpaid invoices because someone won't identify themselves properly as a legal entity :-)

Apart from that - Rome was fun.

OK, I was stood up on top of the sight seeing bus for this shot!

P.S. Hotel WiFi was a nightmare, but the A&A voice SIM worked perfectly ;-)

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Slow broadband

Seems OFCOM are being daft again, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-33083056

One of the issues with the code of practice, which, last time I looked, was voluntary, was that it defines all lines at or lower than the 10th percentile of similar services as being "faulty" and so could be ceased for no charge.

This causes a load of issues.

For as start, the "no charge" is simple for any ISP to work around. Make the router you supply free as long as you take service for X months, then if you cease within that for any reason you have to pay for the router. Supply of a router is not a communications service, it is a simple sale of goods, and so not covered by the OFCOM rules or ADR. You could even invoice it on 6 months terms with an agreement of a bonus/credit once you have the service for 6 months meaning you won't have to pay the invoice. So OFCOM trying to change business models of ISPs where the install and equipment is cheap in return for a minimum term simply won't work.

However, the far bigger issue is simply defining 1 in 10 lines as faulty. It is mental. It does not encourage an ISP to do anything about slow lines, as whatever they do they will always have 1 in 10 lines defines as faulty.

Indeed, it actually encourages ISPs to try and have 10% of lines working really slowly if the customer is not actually complaining, perhaps even deliberately so, as that lowers the 10th percentile speed and removes the issue of people leaving because of slow speeds. After all, if the ISP fixes those slow lines, or the ISP loses those slow line customers, they just have a higher 10th percentile and more lines that are impossible to improve as they are working as well as the service can let them.

I agree, making estimates at point of sale as accurate as possible, and even the idea that failing to meet those is reason to leave, is sensible. But if you are on a long line and have an estimate of 1Mb/s and get 1Mb/s why should you be able to consider that a fault just because you are in the lowest 10%? You canna change the laws of physics captain - there will always be 10% of the people on the longest lines and they will not be "fixable" just because they are on long lines!

Of course for more modern links, like FTTP, you get even more crazy. OFCOM defined it as lines at or lower than 10th percentile. When all lines get exactly 80Mb/s on a fibre to the premises, that means all of them are at or lower than the 10th percentile! The better the ISPs service the worse the problem for them and so OFCOM are discouraging good service and speed.

If OFCOM start insisting on this code of practice we will start a telemetry package deliberately clamped at a very slow sync rate on DSL, and sell that to people with parking meters and signage and credit card terminals and so on. That way we can try and get the 10th percentile down to like 250kb/s and be immune from this stupidity.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Busy week

I am off on a long weekend holiday this weekend - Rome - I'll post some pictures when I get back. Then I have to dash off to Scotland on Tuesday night for this stupid court case. Once that is over, however it goes, I plan to do a nice exposé on the whole operation of this guy. The bullshit is strong with this one, in my honest opinion. I hope I come back happy with Scottish justice.

All this whilst still trying to join all of the dots together with BT Wholesale, Talk Talk Wholesale and Openreach over "Notice of Transfer" stuff by end of next week. Finally making some progress on the actual cancellation orders today so we should be ready in time. Stuart and Shaun and myself have been hassling BT and TalkTalk all week over this - several things not quite right.

Then, before end of month, we have to sort the other OFCOM mess with charges for special numbers. Basically we need to set our pricing on a whole load of numbers based on the rate defined by the operator for the number plus a single "access charge" we add on top. Given that we don't do premium rate, this should not be too hard, but yet another load of faffing about week after next.

What will be fun is 0800 calls. They are to be free, which is fine. Of course our SIP2SIM simply connects to a VoIP gateway for a fee per minute regardless of number called. If the gateway makes 0800 free, as it will, that does not negate the charge we make for the mobile access to that gateway. Let's hope OFCOM do not see it some other way. If they do, it will be interesting when someone using a VoIP app on a mobile is paying by the MB for data, and so their call to an 0800 costs them in mobile data costs and so is not free! I am not looking forward to that debate if OFCOM want to start it.

Then we have some new stuff which I hope we can start next month - no promises, but it may finally mean some new broadband packages which I am quiet sure some people will like. Just watch this space.

There is a load of other stuff going on - some major infrastructure work over the next few months, and stuff with text messaging and all sorts. Lots of investment in the future, as always.

Anyway, tomorrow I sort the paperwork for this court case, and then go on holiday and try very hard to forget it for 4 days. When in Rome... don't worry about Scotland!

Monday, 8 June 2015

How hard can it be?

I wonder if I can hack and re-write the controller for my air-con?

I am not asking for much, and for the air-con this is a simple job. I have a 5m x 5m x 2.4m cuboid room with door and window closed, one person, and one computer. It has one job - keep the room around 21.

It is a powerful unit, and this is the first springtime I have had it trying to do its job.

It seems, when heating the room, if I set it for 21 it will set the room between 21 and 22, roughly. That is fine.

However, when it gets warmer, it switches to cooling mode. In this mode, even saying to cool to 23 it will make the room between 19 and 20. I have to set it to around 24 to work sensibly.

The problem then is that it can decide that it is now too cold, switch to heating, and make the room 25 or more, which is getting silly.

If it is overshooting, which I can understand, then surely the code can understand that, and can act accordingly. Heck, it could even learn how the room behaves if it tried.

P.S. Set to cool to 24 it actually allows the room to go to 21.7 and a few seconds of cool air back down to 21.5 so a really good narrow target, just way off what I set!

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Legal entities

So, looks like I'll be popping up to Scotland in a little over a week.

It is a shame a judge won't look at the stupidity of the case to see if a hearing is even necessary, but there seems little I can do. We even tried to contact the pursuer to reach a compromise if only to save me the trip and he won't even talk to us.

What I am failing to find is whether a dissolved company can take legal action. All I keep finding is advice on the impossibility of suing a dissolved company, which is apparently slightly easier if you can get it reinstated as a company (something new in 2006 Companies Act it seems). I am failing to confirm if a dissolved company can sue.

This is not directly related to this specific case as it is not the company we contracted with that is suing - that being the main defence in this case, but just in case things change, I want to confirm a dissolved company cannot sue.

If nothing else, I assume, if a dissolved company can sue, and win, I would pay the Crown the amount awarded as that is where all residual assets of a dissolved company go.

Anyway, just chasing my understanding of legal entities and of the impact of one no longer existing having been dissolved. Ideally something I can reference. But I would hope a judge is well up on the basics of legal entities - it has to be pretty fundamental stuff for them.

Lots of work for a bogus case.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Number porting woes

One of my customers has asked for advice, after losing his long standing mobile number. His blog is here.

Long story short - O2 took over the number from Vodafone, for no apparent reason. Both refuse to do anything about it, and now he cannot get calls to his mobile. He can't even pay Vodafone his phone bill!

It is a sorry tale, and I really have very little practical advice. He needs to consider short term (get them to fix it) which is complaining, calling, tweeting, blogging, and maybe even trying to get a PAC to move the number somewhere that works. He also has to think long term to document all of the impacts, loss of business, and so on that result from this. Recorded delivery letters and the like. IMHO (Not a lawyer) vodafone will have a contract with him that may limit liability, but O2 do not, and if O2's actions have caused him loss he has a case in tort against them. I wish him luck.

This is all part of a larger issue.

Who "owns" a phone number?

This is complex. It is originally an identifier for a line used by a telco, e.g. BT. And not really something anyone "owns", but over time phone numbers have taken on a life of their own. People with the same number for themselves or their business for decades feel they have a right to it. I worry that one day IP addresses would ever go the same way (OFCOM did suggest it once, I think).

So if the subscriber "owns" the number in any way, what then? Well you need porting of numbers somehow - allowing the subscriber to choose a different telco but using the same number.

Sadly this is a fucking mess. There is no nicer way to say it. It is horrid.

So how would I do it?

Well, there is a separate problem that also needs solving - that number blocks are at least 1,000 numbers, and sometimes 10,000, and allocated to telcos, and some areas are running out of numbers. This is not the issue for mobile blocks (yet) but an issue none the less, and a solution to porting is also a solution to block allocations and number exhaustion.

The solution, to my mind, and I have said this before, is to separate the "ownership" of a number from the telco handling it. This is pretty simple technically, allocate some new blocks (in mobile, geographic, and even a new range such as 04) to be assigned using enum. Make someone like Nominet handle it - but unlike existing enum where the enum DNS record follows the telco assignment, it is the authority. It allows the owner of the number to point the number at the telco of choice, or even directly to their own kit. It uses DNS. It is not that hard technically, and it needs only one telco such as BT to be the route of last resort and do enum routing to make it work (for which they would charge normal interconnect rates).

Of course telcos would "handle all that for you" with the new ranges in that they could handle the Nominet registration and DNS and call routing and make a "phone line" just work. But ultimately Nominet would record the "owner" of the number as you, not the telco.

Once done the number can be contracted to someone like Nominet for the owner of the number, the subscriber, and the telco handling the number can be independent, and can be changed at a whim (migrated) with no problem.

OFCOM, please consider this!

Bob the builder

OK, I finally have had a couple more builders in to quote - nothing back yet, but maybe we'll get somewhere at last.

So, I am starting to refine what I want done and what I want internally. The builder wanted a sketch, so I decided to play with openscad :-)


Oh, and neither is called Bob...

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Can of worms

The new "Notice of Transfer" system demanded by OFCOM really is being a pain. However we think we are on course to be ready for 20th. I am not sure how other ISPs are doing!

In principle it is simple - the ordering of migrations no longer needs a MAC. That is basically it. Oh, and the lead time is 10 working days now, which is a pain for everyone concerned.

The problem is the processes OFCOM have insisted regarding notices to customers, including the need to provide details of "early termination charges".

We have changed the whole way we do things. Instead of a simple minimum term, we now have an "Early termination fee" which is a monthly rate for the remainder of the term depending on the line type and tariff. It applies separately for each broadband line or copper pair. This means we are able to work out what the early termination charges is on each notice we send separately, which meets OFCOM rules nicely. Of course, that has led to all sorts of knock on effects in billing, and credits. And credits mean knock on effects in terms of refunding Direct Debits. It is a nightmare, and the reason we have been doing so much billing work over the last month. I do apologise to those few people that suffered some billing errors as a result, and needed corrections.

We have made a central clearing house module for all of the OFCOM mandated notices. It ensures we meet all of the requirements, and handles the notices, early termination charges, and even the anti-slamming logic.

Now we are integrating the existing processes we have to allow us to track the transfers (migrates in and out) and use this new system. But we have three separate systems (Openreach, BT Wholesale and TalkTalk), and we are tracking four types of order (Migrate in, Migrate out, Unsolicited Cease, Normal Cease) and three states (Start, Complete, and Cancelled), so 36 scenarios to code. We included ceases as the notices and early termination charges all fit together nicely with migrates and it is nice to send these to customers anyway.

For Openreach the whole system uses a B2B (Business to Business) gateway that involves signed XML passed each way. This allows orders initiated by either side to be tracked cleanly and has allowed the integration of the new reporting system with ease - only took me a day! Well done Openreach. Bloat of a protocol but it works.

Then we start with TalkTalk. That is not so easy as they have not "push" to us. Instead we have a system to poll orders we sent them, and a system of ftp updates of orders they initiated. We are close to that all being integrated thanks to one of my staff, Stuart.

But BT Wholesale is where the can of worms really starts. Some of the code is 15 years old. The way we handle broadband has changed over those 15 years (it started with us filling in forms, which we generated as PDF and emailed), and went on from there. We have a load of polled reporting systems (one called BBCR which even BT want to retire), and lost-migration reports and so on. We have the ordering, which was split between 20CN and 21CN until recently, and now is finally a B2B XML gateway - except that does not cover orders BT started such as outgoing migrations and unsolicited ceases. We have had a lot of defensive code to allow for the B2B not providing quite the same information as the BBCR reporting on some occasions, so a lot of duplication just in case.

So my job this week is untangling BBCR - deciding exactly what parts of it we still need, and what is now entirely covered by the B2B stuff, and getting the new Notice of Transfer stuff integrated before the 20th June deadline. In principle it is simply picking the key events and calling the new system, but I think I need to unravel the whole need for BBCR in the first place. It is a lot of tired and old code to mess with.

It is just a matter of how deep in to the rabbit hole I want to go. I do wonder how other ISPs are coping. We are pretty confident that we are on target for this, but it is not simple.

And it is all OFCOM's fault!

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Thar's you problem

You have to love some customers.

We were sent this by our customer. We tried to report the issue to BT as damaged BT equipment. They seemed to be very unhelpful, saying they could only get someone to put a bag over it!

I think our customer may be right - it could perhaps explain the problem with his broadband!

He is reporting to his PSTN provider.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Marketing?

I don't get this often, and ironically this is exactly what the flawed cookie law was meant to address.

I am getting a lot of targeted adverts for stuff I recently purchased, from those same suppliers. Especially on FaceBook but on other sites too.

This means they are paying good money to try and sell me the very things that I definitely no longer need, having purchased from those very suppliers only last week. In my case some shirts from M&S and a camera strap from Calumet.

Now this has to be wrong somehow.

I did not get adverts for these things when I wanted them, when I was thinking "my shirts don't fit, I must be getting fatter?", or "where the hell is that camera strap I bought on St Maarten last year?", no. I had to go find the web sites of people I buy from and buy things. Adverts were no help.

But now I have them, these people are paying advertisers to try and sell me more of these things - the exact things I no longer need and are the very least likely to want to buy from anyone.

How broken is this marketing industry?

Apple Watch whilst driving?

Ignoring, for a moment, that it is almost certainly an issue to use an Apple Watch to mess about texting and crap whilst driving, simple as "Dangerous Driving", I was wondering it if was illegal to simple make/receive calls for example.

This is covered by section 110 of Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, it seems. It is specific legislation for using mobile phones, hand-held, whilst driving.

There seem to me (not a lawyer, remember) two reasons an Apple Watch it not prohibited by that law.

1. The definition of "hand-held" which is "a mobile telephone or other device is to be treated as hand-held if it is, or must be, held at some point during the course of making or receiving a call or performing any other interactive communication function". I would not say a watch is "held" in any way.

2. The definition of mobile phone excludes "two way radio" (which is allowed), and that is defined as something to send/receive spoken messages (which an Apple Watch can) and "designed or adapted to operate on any frequency other than 880 MHz to 915 MHz, 925 MHz to 960 MHz, 1710 MHz to 1785 MHz, 1805 MHz to 1880 MHz, 1900 MHz to 1980 MHz or 2110 MHz to 2170 MHz". This means they actually specify the bands for mobile phone use, but left out the 2.4GHz bluetooth band that the Apple Watch uses!

I suppose in many ways it is the same as a bluetooth headset, which is simple allowed for mobile phone use in cars. The issue is more to do with sending/reading emails, and texts and crap on it whilst driving.

Interestingly they leave out some 4G bands too (2.6GHz), so all 4G phones that are designed to operate on frequencies outside those bands, even if not currently operating as such, are now a two-way radio, and so allowed. Actually, that would make any phone that does bluetooth a device designed it operate outside those bands (2.4GHz) and so a two-way radio. That is really badly worded double negative logic in the legislation there! Anyway, the Apple Watch only operates outside those bands.

Again, another pointless law that totally failed to keep track with technology.

Consumer Rights Act 2015

This one seems to have slipped under the radar somewhat - not seen anything on the news, but it seems to cover a lot of stuff, and impacts consumers and businesses.

I have to read through it, at least the sections that impact us, and make sure our terms match up properly. We have always tried to be fair to customers, so I expect only minor changes.

I'll probably post more when I work out some of the implications, however, skimming it I have found one bit I don't quite follow. Section 65: Bar on exclusion or restriction of negligence liability.

It starts off sensibly with "A trader cannot by a term of a consumer contract or by a consumer notice exclude or restrict liability for death or personal injury resulting from negligence." which is pretty bog standard stuff and very simple. Obviously this is the sort of thing the public liability insurance helps cover anyway.

But then it goes not to "Where a term of a consumer contract, or a consumer notice, purports to exclude or restrict a trader's liability for negligence, a person is not to be taken to have voluntarily accepted any risk merely because the person agreed to or knew about the term or notice."

That I am not sure of - it is not clear to me if excluding consequential losses, etc, from negligence is simply not allowed any more, of if it is allowed but not merely by it being a term or something agreed. It seems odd wording, and sounds like it would be allowed if you jump through some sort of hoops to allow it, but it is not clear to me what. i.e. do we have to spell out "I agree to the risk that there may be consequences for a failure of this service that I cannot expect A&A to pay me" or something - i.e. agreeing the risk as opposed to agreeing the "term" in the agreement?

When selling a service, one of the key things that can impact the cost of providing that service is the risk factors taken by the service provider and the customer. I am all in favour of such things be very clear and understood up front, but it would not be appropriate to disallow limiting liability. After all, even with insurance the insurance may have a limit on the amount covered.

Obviously one tries to ensure one uses reasonable skill and care, and is not negligent, but at the end of the day mistakes can happen. This clearly includes mistakes as it is immaterial "whether a breach of duty or obligation was inadvertent or intentional".

If we sell a service for £1/month, as a lot of services are, and a mistake on our part (i.e. negligence) stops that service working, at present we offer a "money back guarantee", in that we will refund what was paid for the service for the time it does not work. This is at one (low) end of the level one might expect in compensation for an error, but I do not think it that unfair, as we go to some lengths to make it very clear to customers so that they can decide it is worth the risk to buy a cheap service. The problem is if such a service has an issue, perhaps a domain service or a VoIP service is out for a day due to a mistake, could a customer claim to have lost out on some high paying job offer and expect us to compensate to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds in consequential losses?

So, I am trying to work out if we are still allowed to limit liability to consumers, or not, and if we are, how we do it. If not, we'll need to look at some better insurance and consequentially increasing our prices rather a lot to have unlimited liability for simple mistakes.