Stolen copper

A different type of stolen copper this time - engineers "borrowing" pairs when installing a new line!

Whilst there is a real problem with large scale theft of cables which is a big issue for companies like BT and their customers (and our customers), but there is a much smaller crime that also goes on. It is surprisingly common.

When an engineer installs a new telephone line, or even in some cases is trying to fix a broken line, he will need to find a spare pair. A pair being the two wires (twisted together) that are used to provide the telephone service. There are big multi-pair cables from the exchange to the green street cabinets and on to smaller grey boxes (distribution point, or "DP"). For a phone line to work it has to be connected at the telephone exchange, and connected in the street cabinet and ultimately connected to the installed premises - possibly involving a new wire being run from the DP. To install a new phone line the engineer will have a port assigned at the exchange and will need to find an unused pair at each stage to get the service all the way to the house/office where it is installed.

Now, you might think this is a process of checking the records to see which of the pairs in each cable / cabinet are spare, allocating one, and using that pair. They are all numbered (or colour coded). Indeed, this is the right way to do it and what you will often find is done by the engineer.

However, there is another way, and this seems to be done quite often - instead of checking the records, the engineer simply connects a test telephone to pairs looking for one that he can use. If he finds a pair that is not in use, then he acquires it for the install, and updates the records to say he has done it (actually, we are assuming this latter step is done!).

How does he find a pair - well for a start he'll look for "no dial tone". Unfortunately this means any line used for something other than normal telephone service can get nicked. We have seen this on SDSL lines that have no dial tone. To avoid this, when we install lines "just for broadband use" we do set them up to have a dial tone, and even allow free calls to be made. That helped a lot in avoiding pairs going missing.

However, it is often the case that all pairs have dial tone, but some of the lines may be "stopped lines". I.e. lines that have had service stopped for now, and someone may want to order service later and reconnect. While stopped they are allowed to be used for a new installation.

How do you know a line is a stopped line? It has dial tone, after all. Well, you get the number by dialling 17070 and you check the records to confirm it is a stopped line. Simples.

Or... You try making a call and see if calls are blocked. Well, that would be fine, except it is quite valid to have an active line with calls blocked. All of our broadband use phone lines are like this!

Turns out that at least some Kelly engineers (contractors BT use) will do this, and may explain why so many of our lines get nicked.

What is worse is that we have found that at least some engineers use a chargeable call to 123 (speaking clock) to test if the line is active or not - costing each customer 31p until they find a line they think is stopped and they can use. This is clearly fraudulent and a breach of section 125 of the comms act as they are clearly not intending to pay for that call.

We don't know how widespread this is, but we are trying to find out, and trying to arrange meetings with Kelly and BT plc trading as Openreach to get to the bottom of it and get things changed.

How do we know this? Well one of our staff, Alex, had his pair stolen! He knew this was likely the second he saw the Kelly engineer in the hallway of his flats. And he managed to get Kelly to admit they stole the pair, and admit the process they use to find a spare pair. I sit next to Alex, and I have to say well done for tracking this down like a bulldog, and getting Kelly to actually fix the problem the same day it happened.

For the full story, see his blog post:


  1. Well, that explains what happened to my A&A line a while back, and why the engineer who came to fix it (promptly - thanks A&A) seemed puzzled, and why it involved digging up the street.

    1. Indeed, if there are no actual spare pairs, and the job would become a lot of hassle, an engineer might perhaps be inclined to even take a pair that he knows is not spare to close the job off and have a simple life. That then leaves you with the "street digging" fix as there are no spare pairs to put your line back!

    2. Though interestingly it also leaves BT with the bill for the street digging etc, as opposed to potentially being able to apply ECCs to the new line (if it wasn't the first in the premises etc where there's a big exclusion anyway), which should mean BT care more about it as it's a financial penalty to them (not to mention the cost of the engineer to investigate the fault etc)...

  2. Alex should count himself lucky, BT/Openreach swapped a 24 pair cable with another 24 pair cable in the cabinet once here, so our street got another streets phones and they got ours.

    Of course the only way to resolve it was for everyone to raise their own faults, get an engineers appointment etc. so it took a long time for everyone to get their phone and broadband back. I only got mine done quicker than everyone else by having business broadband, telling them exactly what they had done (I spotted the engineer at the cabinet) and nagging them.


  3. Kelly. That name makes me cry.

    When we moved office, I had 8 PSTN lines ordered. For reasons known only to Openreach, they were created as 8 individual orders. 8 visits by engineers, 8 separate dates (yes really).

    3 were installed by "real" openreach engineers - they work just fine

    5 were installed by "Kelly" openreach engineers - every single one was faulty in some way at install time

    ...which is no real surprise.

    Some months back a new customer needed 2 PSTN circuits. We ordered them, "Kellyreach" were assigned ... no engineer visited, yet the job was marked as completed. As the premises physically had no extra NTEs we queried this and were told they were "definitely there" ... it took much running around to get this sorted, before it emerged as usual as the job looked tricky, Kellyreach got as far as the easy bit, said "yep that's lovely" and sodded off. I had to fight to get a real openreach engineer to come out and do the job. They also failed because they didn't fit proper NTE (I still doubt it was proper openreach, my money is on them lying to the customer and saying they were not subcontractors) as what was fitted was a bog standard buy it in B&Q "double faceplate" - that's right, no test socket, no useful setup. In the end we sorted it as by luck when we went down and discovered this, there was a real engineer from openreach working down the road who kindly gave us a couple real NTE5 boxes so we did it ourselves (and BT can sue me if they like, they cocked it up twice, we did it properly).

    Then there is the "Kelly" visit where they lied and said they'd "been refused access" but in reality, they were let in, shown the install location, decided it was tricky (because they'd have to actually run some cabling from the DP in another room) and instead said they were going to van, and disappeared. I had to fight again because BT refuse to believe we were right. We had CCTV of the engineer IN THE BUILDING he was supposedly refused access to, but Openreach insisted the notes they had were the authoritative thing.

    EVERY single time a job is referred to kellyreach it is a farce, half done, faulty, or just plain refused and lied about.

    I did discover once that one issue is that kellyreach don't have any kit to test unlike reach openreach so while the real deal use hawk's and so on to completely test, Kelly have an old phone (if you're lucky) and assume any sort of dial-tone is a result.

    That's my experience...

  4. That sounds similar to what happened to my line a month or so ago. I spot an Openreach engineer on the street, broadband disappears, I ask the engineer whether he has done anything, I'm assured that he has not, and that I will need to raise a fault.

    AA do a sterling job in getting a fault raised and an engineer to attend... and, sure enough, the engineer says that a previous engineer has cut our line. He traced it up the street and fixed it, so goodness knows if someone else's broadband died as a result...

  5. As a counter example I had a line installed by Kelly, and despite it taking the engineer quite a long time (apparently most of the pairs that were going to the pole (this was a domestic premises) were dead, so he was up and down the pole a lot), he did get it done.

    Unfortunately though it wasn't quite perfect as the line has a (quiet but constant) buzz on it, so I then had to raise a fault (which OR sent an engineer with a tester out that claimed was absolutely fine, despite there being a clearly audible buzz) - not quite sure where this one is going to end up...

  6. My story is still ongoing. I was on a BT phone line with LLU O2 home broadband. Due to O2 broadband selling to Sky I decided to MAC migrate just the LLU broadband to A&A. I came home in early December to find a totally dead phone line. It took a week to get this fixed, but broadband speeds and reliability are nothing like they were on O2.

    I've given up on trying to get the speed back, now I just want to get rid of the hundreds of broadband line drops I get per week. I've no idea if a Kelly engineer was involved, I never saw who switched the broadband over and killed the line and I never saw who reconnected it since they didn't tell me what day they were coming. I've had two OpenReach visits since and neither have made any real improvement.

    I may have to put up with this until we get FTTC some time in 2014, at the moment there is no end in sight.

  7. My experience of Kelly… you might enjoy it.. and don’t get me starting on pair stealing – that happened to me where I used to live too :(

    An engineer from Kelly Communication (working on behalf of BT Openreach) was at my property to install a second line with the circuit number XXXXX

    On arrival he didn’t seem to know why he was there, and seemed surprised to find a line already to the property. There seemed to be no knowledge that this was to be a second circuit at the same property. This was an appointment booked for between 1 and 6pm – he arrived at 11.30 and left around 2.30.

    The master socket had been connected two weeks previously to an extant 1950s junction box (fused) in the hall which in turn was connected by a two core cable to an EBT hidden behind render on the exterior wall. The engineer stated there were “enough pairs” and he would have to visit the pole to find it so then connected his oscillator to the spare pairs on the cable between the junction box and the master socket (e.g. to my internal wiring) subsequently spending 15 minutes up a pole where he, not surprisingly, could not locate a tone. It was only after I, the customer, pointed this out on his return that he then noticed there was only a single pair coming in.

    Before climbing the pole he pointed out he didn’t have / couldn’t find his hard hat as it has been “left on another job” – I loaned him one which was never returned to me.

    The pole is accessed via my neighbours property. their garden gate is pushed inwards to open it… the engineer assumed it was stiff and pulled, with some considerable force, ripping the gate from its hinges and splitting the timber. I explained this neighbour had a dog and that the gate needed to be secure. He agreed to fix it but later when my neighbour complained to the engineer his response was “how was I to know you had a dog” … The gate was later repaired by hammering in the screws that had been ripped out!

    He agreed to split the incoming cable where it meets the property and run a new cable from there to the new master socket. I requested this was ran in the basement which apparently they’re not allowed into for “health and safety” so I had to run my own cable through my property! (my basement is not full height but is floored and fully illuminated)

    Upon terminating the sockets he couldn’t get his butt-set to work correctly as, by his own admission, “he’s pressed something and doesn’t know what” and it had “done this before” – he ended up using my own DECT telephone to dial back to test and complete the job!

    In summary, the engineer was unprepared, didn’t seem to know what he was doing, damaged my neighbours property, had to be supplied with PPE by me, the customer who also had to run his own cable!

    I can only imagine what would have happened if he had visited a customer that doesn’t have things like hard hats, tools etc lying around. Also amazed that a simple NTE and new cable install took 3 hours (!)

    1. Why did you lend him a hard hat? He forgot his, that's his problem and he'll just have to go up the pole without one.

  8. This is not really new. Back in the pre-broadband days it was not unknown for ISDN2 lines to fail because the engineer listed on the pair for dialtone, which of course ISDN does not have, thought it was spare and used it.

  9. For what it's worth, my only experience of Kelly was the utterly nauseating lack of personal hygiene the FTTC installer exhibited. The last time I smelled something that bad was... Well... You know what? I don't think I have ever smelled something that bad.

  10. Nic- would you mind personally emailing me (my contact details are pretty easy to find / guess) I am under the impression that BTOR are keen for evidence based cases rather than "hearsay" based ones. So if you wanted to supply me a chronology and some evidence I'd be delighted to start compiling a dossier. Just to check - it was Kelly?

  11. Sorry I should say I am Alex Bloor, the writer of the original blogpost linked at the end of Adrian's, and I work for A&A.

  12. Dammit.. I'm scared for my install next week now, especially since the last one walked out when I didn't have a homehub.

  13. Looks like this might be going national: http://www.pcpro.co.uk/news/broadband/387892/broadband-dead-perhaps-bts-reused-your-line

  14. Pair theft was a common occurrence with certain types of connection I used to handle occasionally in my job. And the fault repair process often involved checking the capacitance of the now-dead line and calling it "no fault found" if acceptable - without even bothering to check for the signal that should be there.

  15. I too think this is common and its all until now someone been caught red handed. There is also stories of things like in villages with long E sides where the newest install gets the one good pair so that good pair keeps changing hands.

  16. Arghh, there's one parked outside my place right now, I have a photo of his van number plate just in case. Don't really want this happening to me again!

  17. Arghh there's one parked outside my place right now, I have a photo of his van number plate in case, don't really want to lose my line to them for a second time!

  18. In rural areas they split a pair and use DACS which means neither home can get broadband. Then fuckwits in the council fall for the spin that 'superfast' is soon going to go to that area, and people who can't get 'superfast' can have bonded lines to get 'upto' 2 Mbps. They don't realise the pairs don't even exist. The whole thing is a superfarce.

  19. I know this is an old item, but... This is still an issue as of September 2016. Been without phone or broadband for over a week. Openreach were here installing a new line three doors from me and suddenly, no phone or bb. I tell the engineer that I lost everything whilst he was up the pole and he says not my problem mate, then drives off. Turns out my line has been switched to a faulty one with an underground issue, exactly the same fault I had several years ago that Openreach fixed by switching my pair, mmmm. When I checked my online bill, there's a 111 call at exactly the time Openreach were here, I know we didn't make that call.

    So annoyed, TalkTalk have been useless and Openreach have been trying to trying to fix the line for two days now!


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