Why OFCOM's ruling on BT charging Talk Talk SFI and TRC charges does not help most ISPs

As reported by ispreview, Talk Talk made a complaint about the amount BT plc t/a Openreach charged for Special Faults Investigation (SFI) and Time Related Charges (TRC). They argued that the charges were not cost based and much of their complaints are upheld by OFCOM. There is now much ranting over back-dating and refunding, and so on.

As you know SFI charges are a major problems for most ISPs. The costs, of there order of £160+VAT per visit, are massively more than the monthly, or even annual, profit from selling a broadband line in most cases. Either ISPs get stung or end users get stung, even when the work done was fixing a broadband fault, something that we should not pay extra for!

To explain the problem you have to understand the layers of services provided. I'll explain for ADSL as this is where it is most relevant.

1. BT plc t/a Openreach sell wires in the ground, a metallic path service. They are not selling broadband.

2. BT plc t/a BT Wholesale buy the metallic path from BT plc t/a Openreach that connects a home or office to the exchange; their own equipment in the exchange (DSLAM); their own back-haul across the country; their own BRAS equipment; and routers and links to ISPs. They sell broadband. Talk Talk Business do the same as BT plc t/a BT Wholesale in this respect.

3. Companies like A&A buy broadband from BT plc t/a BT Wholesaled Talk Talk Business; have our own routers; DNS servers; and make use of transit and peering and equipment in data centres. We sell an Internet Access Service.

The complaint Talk Talk made is against BT plc t/a Openreach, and is only about the price. It is sensible for BT plc t/a Openreach to sell a service (SFI) that finds and fixes broadband faults as only their engineers can work on the network. It is sensible for BT plc t/a Openreach to charge for that, because it is over and above the metallic path they sell.

The issue we have, repeatedly, with BT plc t/a BT Wholesale and Talk Talk Business is that we have no interest in buying an SFI service. We already buy, and pay for, working, broadband and any work to fix that broadband is the responsibility of BT plc t/a BT Wholesale or Talk Talk Business. The fact that BT plc t/a BT Wholesale or Talk Talk Business have to pay BT plc t/a Openreach to find and fix broadband faults is not our problem, any more than the fact they may have to pay CISCO engineers to fix a BGP router in their network.

So our gripe has never been with BT plc t/a Openreach.

This ruling may make some SFI visits cheaper but as we should never pay for an SFI visit ever, and it is not a service we want to buy, all this ruling will do is make the amount we dispute every month slightly smaller. It won't solve anything useful for us. Sorry.

Even so, well done to Talk Talk on this - it will reduce their costs which is good news.


  1. So what happens in the end to all these disputes you raise every month with BT plc t/a BT Wholesale? I presume you would never pay a single one as a matter of principle so do BT plc t/a BT Wholesale ever try to enforce payment via the civil courts, or do they eventually always end up cancelling every disputed charge? If the latter, then why do they persist in trying it on in the first place?

    1. They have threatened to. So instead we are now threatening them with court if they don't issue credit notes. Easier that way around :-)


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