Forget Who Owns Openreach --The Real Issue Is BT's Woeful Customer Service

It's perhaps ironic that I was on the phone on hold with Sky to book an Openreach engineer to fix my faulty line, again, that I was reading of outrage surrounding one regulator's latest proposals. Ofcom is not going to force BT to break up with Openreach, its controversial infrastructure arm, but will instead come up with separate living arrangements. Openreach will be BT-owned but will be considered a separate entity with its own board.

BT is more than happy with the decision except for one point. Ofcom is suggesting, quite rightly, that now that BT's rivals have full access to ducts and poles, they should be able to speak with Openreach without Openreach sharing details of those conversations with its parent, BT. It's an obvious "Chinese wall" rule that BT will kick up a fuss about and then concede because breaking up is, as the song has always insisted, very hard to do.

I think the real problem in all of this is BT's customer service rather than Openreach's ownership. Rival telecoms providers will never be happy that BT owns most of the country's broadband and telephone infrastructure via Openreach. There is no way around that -- it will always be a rival's position that it is unfair. However, the big issue around infrastructure rollout is that it is too slow.

However, like any provider, BT has cherry-picked the easiest wins first and is leaving the difficult job of bringing super-fast broadband to rural areas until last. I see no rival likely to pursue a different strategy if they were leading the rollout of fibre to the cabinet. So unless a rival had already promised to have connected the 95% of households to super-fast broadband, which BT is due to supply by the end of next year, complaining about rollout speed is pointless.

What isn't, however, is BT's woeful customer service. Trust me -- I have a line with Sky, and BT and Sky do this crazy thing of answering the phone and speaking to you, in English, from a British call centre. Call BT and you're in India somewhere having to go through several calls and arguments before you can book an engineer in a week or two. I've had one of many, many issues with BT Broadband that have gone on so long they had to become a new complaint halfway through the process. It took them several years of getting engineers in before someone had the sense to just replace the rotten connector my line had in the local exchange rather than attempt to patch it up each time. 

So today i've called Sky and was offered a BT Openreach engineer within two days. This is miles beyond the customer service that BT offers. And let's get to the reason why BT really sucks. When their broadband network goes down, as it has done nationally twice in recent months, they keep it a secret. They leave "customers" scratching their heads trying to get devices working. Visit their fault line page, if it's working, and they'll tell you all is fine, which just serves to frustrate even more. When the press eventually calls them out they'll admit there's been a problem and apologise. They never proactively put on their fault page, on their social media feeds or via an email or text that they have a problem. it's poor service at the worst degree and it is BT itself doing this, not Openreach.

So with no rival proposing a faster rollout, if they had a bigger input or shared ownership of Openreach, rivals' claims of faster broadband sooner are just trouble making. The real problem, in my experience, isn't Openreach, it's the awful customer experience provided by BT, its Indian call centres and the lies it spreads telling people there is no network issue when it later turns out there is and they were working on it at the very same time they were reassuring customers all is fine.

If you've never tried being a BT customer, trust me, you're lucky. From what Ive seen this is where the poor customer experience begins and ends, yet Openreach will often bear the brunt of dissatisfaction because they're the guys driving the vans that you actually meet.

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