Friday, 11 March 2016

Phone lines and broadband, and OFCOM

Generally a broadband service requires the use of a phone line - this is down to the way the technology works, in that it is applied to a "normal copper pair" that is otherwise used for telephone service.

It is possible for the broadband to be on a copper pair with no telephone service and even with no connection back to the exchange, but that is not really how it is done. This is partly down to the pricing model used - where someone pays for the copper pair as a telephone service and then someone pays to "share" that pair to provide broadband.

OK, yes, sounds technical, and that is part of the problem.

One of the other issues is that people are not using a phone line as a phone line any more... This is a change since broadband first started. For personal use a mobile is often both cheaper and more convenient. For anything business related VoIP is usually far cheaper and way more flexible. So who uses a phone line to make/receive phone calls any more?!

As an ISP we recognise this and over 10% of our customers take a "copper pair for broadband use" along with their broadband as a single package. Other ISPs offer similar. Some provide a phone line and broadband together as a package. Some insist you have their phone line for their broadband and juggle the prices of the two parts to make one look very cheap (a practice that OFCOM and ASA are keen to stop).

There are moves afoot in BT to start offering single broadband services. They already do some limited FTTP (Fibre to the premises), but they should start offering something they call "Single Order GEA", which is a copper pair with VDSL to the cabinet as a single BT service we can buy. But that is all in the future and will have its own problems :-)

So for now, it is straight forward. A combined package has lots of advantages such as a single bill and a single point of contact for faults. One of the problems we have with customers from time to time is that they do not understand the way the two separate services work. If they have a phone line fault, they have to get the phone line provider to fix it even if it is what is breaking their broadband. This is not us being difficult, it is the way it works and we have no real choice in the matter, sadly. This is partly why we offer the package of both, so we can handle either type of fault in one place.

Until recently, if someone wanted to move ISPs, the losing ISP could talk to the customer. The customer had to ask for a migration code, and many ISPs would try to suggest other packages, discounts, incentives, etc. ISPs had whole "retentions departments". It is the way it is in many industries. It also meant that it was easy to ensure the customer understood the whole phone line and broadband being separate services, and would be migrating both.

However, OFCOM changed things, and made the process gaining provider led. You contact the new ISP, and they claim the line/service (with 14+ days notice). The losing ISP has very limited option to contact their customer, simply advising the migration is happening and the date and details of any related services that are impacted.

This sounds sensible, but we are starting to see a problem.

As customers do not always appreciate the link between phone line and broadband, and may even see it as a "single service" (after all, they don't use a phone line any more), they may simply migrate the broadband to a new ISP. The losing ISP does have to tell them if a related service, like the phone line, is affected (e.g. ceased), but that is it.

We have seen this both ways - someone moves to us, and we provide broadband, and then a few days later the phone line part is ceased and that means the broadband is ceased. This can happen with basically no notice.

This all ends up costing us cease charges (yes, we have to pay when BT cease a service on us - that is another gripe) and minimum term charges, and costing us to reinstall the service and provide a phone line, and so on. It is not nice.

We have also seen it the other way, where someone is leaving us and we make very clear in the notice we send them that the phone line part will cease and that will kill their broadband! But we are only really allowed to do what OFCOM say, which is a notice of migrate and related services that are affected.

Sadly, some times, customers ignore this, and then get upset that their new broadband has been ceased some days after they moved away from us. Very frustrating consequence of the new OFCOM process. Having had this happen recently we are making the wording in our notices even clearer but not a lot more we can do really.

Once again, well done OFCOM - helping the consumer with an ill thought out process.


  1. Honestly I am still confused after your explanation. If a customer can opt to "simply migrate the broadband", why is the phone line ceased? Shouldn't the ISP just keep charging them for a phone line?

    Perhaps you could post an example of one of your migration notices and I will let you know if I'm still confused?

    1. If the ISP sells a phone line on its own. Some do not. We don't. As I say we have seen this moving from other ISPs to us as well.

    2. FYI this is what we say on first email, when migration is notified.

      Your copper pair / phone line service is being ceased at the same time
      as a result of this transfer.

      IMPORTANT! If you wish to retain the copper pair / phone line service,
      which is normally necessary for broadband to continue working, you will
      need to ensure you transfer the copper pair / phone line service to a
      new provider before your broadband transfer completes.

      If you do not then it will be ceased and your broadband will probably
      stop working and be ceased with your new provider.

      And then when migration completes

      Your copper pair / phone line service was being provided by us.
      It is now being ceased. A working copper pair / phone line is normally
      required for broadband to continue working with your new provider.
      Once ceased, it is likely your broadband with your new provider will
      be ceased.

      IMPORTANT! If you wish to retain a working copper pair / phone line
      you must IMMEDIATELY (TODAY) arrange for the line to be transferred to
      a new provider.

  2. BT should really be forced to sell a twisted copper pair with no phone service as such to end customers. The only reason they don't is because they're abusing their monopoly; there are no significant market forces to force them.

    Obviously there are costs involved that BT would need to pass on to the customer, but it prevents BT getting effectively free money for a phone line no one wants. As you say, landlines are going the way of the dodo, and the only people I know who regularly make use of landlines are the older generations.

    (As an aside, it was quite funny c. 2007 when on a contract with Virgin for cable/broadband that they couldn't seem to get it in their heads that we didn't have a landline -- it was one reason we went with them!)

    For me, I literally have no other choice but to pay BT for a phone line, effectively doubling my broadband cost. No FTTP here (nor am I going to pay the very large installation costs), there's no one running their own cables, mobile phone signals are too spotty (and the provider would kick up a fuss anyway because how dare you download large files!). For a fast, reliable signal it's BT or the highway.

    1. I'd go further and say why not have Openreach sell copper pair and VDSL with people paying separately for the ISP connection, maybe even more than one ISP. That would avoid a lot of issue, and migration would be a non-event - you would just change your login - a bit like the old dial-up modem days.

  3. I use my landline far more than my mobile for making phone calls. Partly this is because the audio quality is so much better (why do mobiles continue to sound so damned awful?) and partly because my Pay As You Go mobile is quite expensive for making 35 minute calls to my parents etc. My mobile is for emergencies only really (and texting my mum), it costs me about 30 quid a year in top ups. My landline has a DECT cordless phone on it so it's no less convenient than my mobile either.

    1. Indeed, there are exceptions, but you could perhaps use a DECT/VoIP base station and use VoIP for calls just as easily and possibly more cheaply.

    2. Does A&A offer such a service, with their own SIP servers etc?

    3. We offer SIP, and have numbers in all area codes and can arrange porting a BT number in. There are DECT/VoIP base stations and we sell them. So yes. It even does call recording for free.

    4. 3G phone calls sound considerably better than landlines in most cases.

      2G varies a lot - with O2 often being worst as they *STILL* seem to use Half Rate on busy cells, but 2G frankly is poor regardless

  4. People used to be able to change provider freely by changing the login. Used to be great for us working in providing users with non-BT routers that we could test with any ISP before we sent it out. Then BTW introduced a block but I would very much like to see that option back again.

  5. Seems some kind of fail safe system needs adding to BTw/openreach systems.
    The script will look for a pattern which is a broadband migration shortly followed by a line CEASE. If the pattern match the CEASE will "not" be actioned and the new isp supplying the broadband will be notified that a CEASE was prevented and they have X amount of days to take preventive action to fix it such as changing the CEASE to a migration. If no such action is taken then the CEASE eventually will go ahead, lets say a week later.

    It took me all of 30 seconds to think of this idea, its amazing how silly things can be let to happen.

    1. I quite agree - for our part we have decided that we will *pay* for 3 more days of PSTN so as to put the cease in to BT with advance notice, which will give the new ISP notice. We'll see how it goes. I have a bad feeling though that it will allow the new ISP to change the cease to a migrate but OFCOM rules requite 14 days for that forcing us to pay for 14 more days or service when we don't want to - that will be a BT billing debate every time, so we may have to change back to current system if that starts happening.

    2. Since this is a gaining isp led procedure, the logical and fair solution is for the gaining isp to cover that 14 days cost. Or for this to be an exception to the rule given that the migration will have already been taken place and line shut down if it wasnt for the intervention.

    3. Rev, may I trouble you with a question. There is some discussions going on elsewhere currently about how CP's are not been transparent in regards to rollout of new technologies and trial's been run on end user lines. So could you do a post regarding about if and why aaisp dont disclose information about g.inp rollouts (e.g. g.inp is now currently suspended for a section of ECI cabinets but with no official public information) and if aaisp inform their customers about trial's, and if you think the industry as a whole should be more transparent on these issues? maybe consider having aaisp automatically duplicate BTw news feeds to the public so we can all be aware of rollout's and trials? or is there some kind of NDA preventing you from doing this?


    4. We like to try and keep customers informed, obviously. I am not sure where we are with things like the G.INP stuff, if we have any choice, or if we even have any information to pass on. I'll try and find more. Where we specifically get on a trial for something on a per customer basis and can offer that to customers as a trial, obviously we explain it. We don't have any reason to hide such things.

  6. Good stuff, glad to hear aaisp do things the right way.