Saturday, 27 February 2016

On splitting up BT...

OFCOM have decided not to split up BT but there are various things they are doing.

I have been asked a lot on how I stand on this, and I am still not sure.

I remember when BT was one thing, and to be honest I used to get on OK with them back then. They had reseller arrangements which worked well. They had compensation that was pretty much "one month rental for each day late" on a fault or install. This meant some incentive for doing things on time, and when they did not would mean very much free installs for some things. First two years trading A&A have a negative total phone bill.

The idea of splitting up BT has a lot of different aspects - where you split them is key and I am not 100% sure of the way it is done now (operationally) makes sense or not. The split was based on the idea of copper pairs in the ground, but communications is not quite like that now. You have, at one level, ducts that people should be able to rent and put fibres in, and at the other end you have FTTC cabinets that could do PSTN and VDSL with handover for VLAN and SIP at exchange. Then you have wholesale broadband/etc and where that fits.

One of the issues we have now with BT is the operational split with Openreach. In a lot of ways this makes it way worse for us dealing with BT, but you have to remember we are not (yet) putting out own kit in exchanges and running our own national network. If we were, we may have a different tale. In a lot of ways the Openreach stuff is a pain as we have BT Wholesale blaming Openreach for operational aspects of the service and costs.

I very nearly blogged that BT Wholesale do not seem to know who their "supplier" is, as it took a day for them to finally confirm that they are BT plc and their "supplier" is also BT plc. They were trying to blame Openreach for not being able to fix a fault whilst a 14 day lead time cease was pending (as part of a migrate to LLU) and I was saying that they, BT plc, were refusing to fix the fault. It is still not fixed, but they are now at least trying and not blaming their "supplier". The big issue is that if they really had a separate "supplier" they would, in many cases, in my opinion, be negligent in the contracts they have chosen to negotiate which do not allow them to perform their contractual obligations with us. Also, if it was really a separate company they could talk to them as a separate company - we have good relationships with many suppliers and customers - relationships which BT Wholesale seem banned from having with Openreach!

I seriously doubt a real split of Openreach would help any of the day to day operational aspects.

It would have impact on the economics and politics I guess. Things like who invests in putting in VDSL cabinets? And can BT Wholesale buy backhaul and services from someone other than Openreach? What would stop BT Wholesale selling Talk Talk Business services? Or BT Retail selling Talk Talk Business? If really split, the risk of such things would put a rocket up BT Wholesale and Openreach somewhat. Would it be good?

Right now, we play BT Wholesale off against Talk Talk Business, and in spite of our medium size we do quite well at that (hence some new tariffs now, and more to come). What if BT retail could do the same?

Annoyingly things that really matter are demarcation points and service provision, such as VDSL being to an Ethernet port on a BT supplied modem (something that is no more). That is what we need from Openreach, and even BT Wholesale, to remove the nightmare that is SFI engineers and charges. If that meant the tail costs were 50p/mon more or whatever, it would avoid the threat to end users of totally stupid costs (£160) for an engineer to fix a fault. It would make faults clear cut again (which they simply are not when modems are involved). Moving away from this is not good, and OFCOM need to be defining standards for such things for whoever offers them (BT or TT as one or many companies). That would help massively with quality of service if people can safely report a fault without the risks.

So, I have not got a good conclusion, sorry. Much to ponder though.

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