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: