BT acts to improve service for rivals

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BT is taking emergency measures to try to improve the quality of services it is giving to rival companies that want to offer alternative phone and broadband deals to consumers.

Openreach, the BT division charged with giving rivals access to the former state monopoly’s telecoms network, has come under intense pressure because of the surge in demand for its services, even though it has 25,000 engineers.

Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, on Thursday disclosed it had given BT permission to draft in 150 engineers from the group’s global services division to assist Openreach until the end of the year.

BT said it had asked Openreach’s engineers to work overtime. It is also seeking to recruit more skilled engineers to Openreach, and has placed advertisements for 400 apprentices.

BT’s difficulties are rooted in its commitment to let rival companies take control of the landlines that run from its phone exchanges to homes and offices. The process, known as local loop unbundling, is the centrepiece of Ofcom’s efforts to inject competition into the telecoms market.

Openreach, which was set up in January, is supposed to ensure that BT’s retail division does not get preferential treatment compared with companies that also offer phone and broadband deals.

Peter Black, another regulator who monitors Openreach’s delivery of local loop unbundling, last month expressed “severe concern” at the quality of some of its services.

Unbundling involves companies such as Cable and Wireless installing their telecoms equipment in hundreds of BT’s phone exchanges. Openreach’s engineers then connect the equipment to the landlines of consumers and companies that buy phone and broadband deals from BT’s rivals.

Mr Black complained that Openreach was not hitting targets for “right first time” delivery of services, such as repairs of faults. He demanded an improvement plan from Openreach because he was “sceptical of the assurances I have received over many months”.

John Pluthero, chairman of C&W’s UK business, said he was also “sceptical” about BT’s plans to resolve the problems. “Promises of extra resources and improvements to come are all very well, but it’s only delivery of improvement that actually matters,” he added. “It’s a case of show me the engineers and show me the improvements.”

A BT spokeswoman said an improvement plan had been discussed with Mr Black and some of the companies engaged in local loop unbundling. She acknowledged some difficulties with Openreach’s services, but added: “We are confident that within the next couple of months we will have improved the situation dramatically.”

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