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Automatic fault compensation system outlined by Ofcom
Friday 24 March 2017 10:07:58 by Andrew Ferguson

Ofcom has started the formal consultation period on a set of proposals that will see consumer and SME telephone and broadband customers receive automatic compensation for things like slow fault repairs, missed engineer appointments and service activation taking longer than originally promised.

The telecoms industry has laid out its own proposal in the of a voluntary code of practice but is saying that this proposal does not sufficiently meet their concerns. Thus the consultation and an increased likelihood of something being mandated by the regulator.

The Ofcom proposals as they stand mean:

  • If your broadband or telephone service breaks and is not fully fixed after two full working days you would get £10 compensation for each calendar day that the service is not repaired.
  • If an engineer was scheduled to visit and does not turn up or the appointment is cancelled within 24 hours then £30 of compensation would be paid out.
  • A new service start date is missed (we presume the same for a migration) then compensation of £6 for each day of delay including the missed start date.

"When a customer’s landline or broadband goes wrong, that is frustrating enough without having to fight tooth and nail to get fair compensation from the provider.

So we’re proposing new rules to force providers to pay money back to customers automatically, whenever repairs or installations don’t happen on time, or when people wait in for an engineer who doesn’t turn up. This would mean customers are properly compensated, while providers will want to work harder to improve their service.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director

Crucially the compensation would be paid automatically as a cash payment or a credit on your bill, meaning that while there will be frustration over the fault or missed appointment still you will not have to keep chasing the provider for compensation.

This removal of the ad-hoc arrangements that are currently in place and a clear set of rules across all providers will make it easier for the public understand what their rights are.

The exact amount of compensation that will be paid out has been estimated based on past performance of operators across the UK broadband industry by Ofcom at £185m per year, but we would expect that if compensation was made automatic that the industry would do more to ensure that faults and provisions levels were reduced further.

The finger of blame and chinese whispers can sometimes play a part in how broadband faults (and to a lesser extent telephone faults) are dealt with currently, particularly with the multiple tiers of retail and wholesale arms involved. Some operators have also quietly in the last year or two downgraded their service level options with Openreach, and once you add the time lag from the consumer reporting a fault and Openreach attending to fix it if a local loop fault this would make the fully fixed in two working days limit very tight. An additional point of contention in the new rules is the 'fully fixed', since after some faults the broadband speed takes a period of time to recover depending on how operators Dynamic Line Management systems work, so hopefully once the consultation is all over and anything concrete is published there will be a clear consumer definition of what 'fully fixed' in terms of broadband means. One can envisage a scenario where a provider has an issue with a major node in its network, knocking a large proportion of its customers offline for an hour or two, but by re-routing traffic people can get connectivity, but this may be at the expense of things like latency and throughput. Another scenario is a business or gamer that is reliant on reasonable latency but while their connection is working to some extent, or congestion is so bad that web pages are timing out which many will say is a broken connection but a provider may consider it not to be, hiding behind the contention ratio magic and stating its not them but what other users are doing.

These proposals do apply to all the broadband operators in the UK, and while the larger operators can more easily absorb the charges, Ofcom should work to ensure that the same automatic compensation applies to wholesale providers when dealing with the retailer i.e. ensures that wholesale providers who often sit between Openreach and smaller broadband providers are doing their part. Virgin Media of course as a full vertical operation should have an easier time.

The broadband market in the UK has been price sensitive right from the get go, as many early adopters jumped at broadband as it was cheaper and faster than many dial-up plans some seventeen years ago, and then there was the excitement as Pipex started the price wars with the big bang moment being the TalkTalk phone and broadband bundling in 2006. The Ofcom consultation if you dig deep does explore these areas and looks at how for many (including the SME market) are much more driven by headline price rather than quality of service, low fault rates and how good or bad an operator is in dealing with compensation.

Will automatic compensation drive prices up? Well £185m shared between 23 million connections works out at £8 each or 70p per month, but just like house insurance which we all hate paying but gives us piece of mind, if guaranteed compensation is in place it will be a good thing and for infrastructure operators it will mean more of an incentive to ensure adequate staff levels to deal with faults, though there is bound to an accountant somewhere running the figures to see if there is more profit in keeping the current staffing levels and paying more compensation versus employing more engineering staff.

Comments

Posted by WWWombat about 1 month ago
A fixed 2-day repair timescale? So much for the existence of, and requirement for, different care levels.

It even swaps priorities - as a 2-day-old fault on standard care is more likely to be seen than a 1-day fault on enhanced care. The law of unintended consequences in action again.

And it puts ISPs that don't even call Openreach for a couple of days right up the creek.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) about 1 month ago
One would hope that Openreach would only have their clock started once the provider reports it, but there is complex blame game when provider takes 26 hours to go through its fault finding, and openreach fix it within 36 hours, but total fault time as far as end user concerned is over the two day limit.

Retailer clearly compensates customer, but then what happen? Openreach can say if you'd contacted us earlier then no compensation would be due, and we've fixed fault in timescale.
Posted by mlmclaren about 1 month ago
This looks like a complete waste of time and unlikely to ever work....

They can't roll something like this out until the deals between ISP's and their suppliers are made better.... so as mentioned, ISP's need to be allowed to contact Openreach immediately and leave it in their hands but then ISP's are also at fault because an issue might be on their networks or backhauls....

This is why I like Virgin.... they run it, the manage it, they screw up... not Openreach or Wholesale or some other Tom dick and Harry in the works.
Posted by ODST about 1 month ago
Well Virgin then owe me a huge sum since my Broadband has been slow at peak time since September 2014 and has just been pushed back again to June.
Posted by aquiss about 1 month ago
Our biggest fear with this, is we often get customers who sit on faults for a couple of days, or more, before reporting a problem to us, such as a total loss of phone services. There has to be clear point as to when the clock starts.
Posted by mervl about 1 month ago
Seems to me like Ofcom again taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Most problems I think are around quality of service, not no service (apart from cases of force majeur, and what happens then?) I can see we'll end up paying for engineer visits but why not? Even more disruptive roadworks, too. No joined-up thinking. But we should be used to it. And I suspect even more premises will become unviable for fixed line broadband. Robots rule; what computer says is what you get, or not!
Posted by comnut about 1 month ago
ODST: The BBC news has confirmed it is about 'NONE', not slow... :/
Posted by gr0mit about 1 month ago
It is not clear from the ofcom document as to whether "fixed line and broadband" applies to wireless providers. I am presuming WISPs are excluded as we are not "fixed line" providers in the traditional way. If it does apply to the smallest WISP then i can see deep trouble ahead.
Posted by Blackmamba about 1 month ago
Hi Broadband Watchers.
At last OFCom has put the Responsibility on ALL ISP,s to get the faults cleared and with the Openreach crews waiting ( engines running clock ticking ) to respond and not wanting to pay out the ISPs they will have to be correct on there testing and distribution of faults or it will be costly to them as BT and Openreach are split.
Posted by Michael_Chare about 1 month ago
Why should everyone have the same 'service level agreement'? I think ISPs should be able to state what SLA they are offering. Customers can then pay more for a better service as they see fit. My phone was cut off for 5 weeks by the 1987 storm, that would be £350 compensation.
Posted by ribble about 1 month ago
There must be a force majure/MSO clause in there to cover against 3rd party damage, storms, acts outside their control,
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) about 1 month ago
Ofcom is forcing a baseline, nothing stopping providers offering even better SLA options
Posted by pfvincent about 1 month ago
Whilst £30 may be better than nothing, it is still totally inadequate compensation for a missed appointment. Even someone only on the so-called National Living Wage will lose £57.60 currently, and £60.00 from April, if they lose a day's wages waiting in for an engineer who doesn't turn up! I suggest the figure should be at least £100.
Posted by HangTime 30 days ago
^BT charge £129 or something like that for a wasted engineer visit i.e. no fault found.... Shame it can't be applied in reverse for a customers wasted visit to their homes during working hours only for the engineer never to show up.

I'm interested to hear the timescales on this, in my town there are many people who would have been due hundreds of pounds in compensation under these terms . Some people have waited months for provision of service which at ~£180/month soon adds up.
Posted by LT38 29 days ago
@ pfvincent why is £30 inadequate I personally dont think so.
some of these companies are quick to charge you if you cancel at last minute or are out when they show because they dont stick to the timeslots they give. I got a bill for £50 that was added to my monthly bill because I apparently wasnt in when an engineer called so was put as wasted visit.
Even though I sat in all day waiting and no one showed. they refused to believe me untill I told them I had proof no engineer called with cctv footage from that day and would happily supply them with a copy of the footage.


Posted by LT38 29 days ago
It took over 6 months to finally get the fault fixed and all I got was 1 month bill free but still paid full price for 5 of those 6 months with either none or intermitent service both phone and broadband. Since then ive had 2 canceled for simular faults but only told an hour before the end of the timeslot they give you.
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