Coronavirus: Openreach to restrict engineers’ home visits

BT’s national broadband provision division announces that it is to cut down on home visits throughout the UK and focus only on national infrastructure, essential public services and vulnerable customers

In the middle of BT ramping up the expansion of its fibre network across the UK, and telecoms engineers being classed as essential workers by the UK government in the face of the Covid-19 outbreak, the company’s national broadband provision division, Openreach, has announced that it is to cut down on home visits throughout the UK.

Backed up by a massive traditional advertising, social media and direct text message campaign, the UK government decreed on 23 March that all but essential workers should stay at home and avoid unnecessary contact with members of the public.

In making its decision, Openreach said it wanted to play its part in limiting the impact of Covid-19 on society, the economy and its employees. It added that the company’s number one priority was to keep people connected, and that it had been working closely with its communications provider customers to minimise the impact the UK government’s restrictions have on the services it could provide.

Yet even though Openreach also regarded what it did as critical, and that connecting people has never been more important, indeed noting that was why many of its roles have been given “key worker” status, it stressed that the safety of its people and the public came first and, based on the 23 March guidance, it would going forward be prioritising essential work.

To that end, Openreach stated that the restrictions meant it had to undergo a change of focus, so it was focusing on the repair and maintenance of connections that supported UK critical national infrastructure, essential public services, vulnerable customers and those without service. It added that its communications provider customers for whom it did last-mile connections were helping it identify and prioritise these groups.

The company added: “We’ve also advised our engineers to avoid entering customer premises. A large amount of the work we do can be completed outside, and we can often fix problems without entering a customer’s property, so we’re advising them not to complete any work inside a property unless it would leave a vulnerable customer with no form of connection, and it’s not possible to provide one by any other means.”

“It’s reassuring that vulnerable customers will still be given support to get online, but if you don’t fall into that category you may need to be prepared for an extended outage”
Alex Tofts, Broadband Genie

Commenting on the announcement, Alex Tofts, broadband expert at Broadband Genie, an independent UK comparison service for home broadband, TV, landline and mobile broadband services, said that under the circumstances, it was understandable that Openreach was halting engineer visits as it would help protect both staff and customers, but warned that customer service levels could be affected.

“It’s reassuring that the most vulnerable customers will still be given support to get online, but if you don’t fall into that category you may need to be prepared for an extended outage, or a delay in having a new broadband service or phone line installed,” he remarked.

Virus quarantine measures are affecting the communications industry as a whole. Virgin Media said its technicians were still making home visits, but the coronavirus outbreak had meant that some its call centres have had to close so the operator was prioritising calls from vulnerable customers and asking customers to only call in if they have an urgent query that can’t wait.

Pay-TV, mobile and broadband communications provider Sky said it had experienced several enquiries asking whether engineer visits would go ahead and confirmed that its contact centres would remain in operation. It added that the UK government had confirmed both in its published policy and in discussions with the company directly that its engineers and call centre colleagues had been classified as key workers.

In a statement it said: “At this difficult time it’s critical that we’re able to keep people connected, informed and online to access the latest news and information. Our contact centres will be prioritising vulnerable customers. Everyone’s safety is paramount, and we will follow social distancing guidelines.”

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