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Openreach still neglecting SME broadband, claims TalkTalk

TalkTalk’s business division claims Openreach is neglecting business broadband connectivity, and repeats its call for SME customers to take part in Ofcom’s consultation on the future of the BT Openreach relationship

Internet service provider (ISP) TalkTalk Business has hit out at BT’s infrastructure arm Openreach.

TalkTalk said a general failure by the unit to address business connectivity, alongside unaddressed service delivery failures, are hindering its ability to service its small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) and small and home office (Soho) customers effectively.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, TalkTalk Business director of enterprise and direct sales, Duncan Gooding, reiterated TalkTalk’s support for full structural separation of BT and its infrastructure wing, saying that because Openreach was “consistently failing to deliver, it holds back our organisation’s ability to grow”.

He said TalkTalk Business frequently had to delay work for its customers because of the slow pace of response and work from Openreach, which was leading to friction between the business and its customers.

“We are fairly open, and people are generally aware that the last mile is Openreach. But when work is delayed, customers still perceive a lack of updates as a TalkTalk failure so we have to account for that,” he explained.

All ISPs providing services over the Openreach network have contractual service level agreements with Openreach, with various service packages available, meaning that Openreach does pay compensation for delays.

However, Gooding said this tended to take the form of additional project services, rather than outright compensation. “Our view there is that they’re trying to sell us more stuff to compensate us for what should be business as usual,” he said.

Gooding said despite a major push from Openreach to improve its consumer-facing service, which has attracted the bulk of popular opprobrium in the national media, at a business level things were taking longer to change.

This meant many business owners were either still being forced to take an unsuitable consumer broadband product, or to pay over the odds for an enterprise grade Ethernet service.

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“Improving the service we provide to customers is our number one priority and, while we’re making progress, everyone at Openreach recognises there’s more to do,” said an Openreach spokesperson.

“We’re recruiting 1,000 engineers this year, and by simplifying the way we work and giving our people the training and tools they need, we will achieve even better outcomes.

“There’s no evidence to suggest that a separate, smaller Openreach would invest more in customer service,” the spokesperson added.

Under pressure

Gooding said he was hopeful that pressure from the consortium of ISPs behind the Fix Britain’s Internet campaign – which besides TalkTalk includes Sky and Vodafone – could be successfully brought to bear on Ofcom, and perhaps make the regulator reconsider its position that structural separation of BT and Openreach was undesirable.

“This consultation is key and I think Sharon [Sharon White, Ofcom CEO] is becoming more open-minded, hence our collaboration with Sky and Vodafone. We now feel able to ask our customers to be more bullish on the subject,” he said.

The 10-week consultation on Ofcom’s proposals for the future of the BT – Openreach relationship, which include making Openreach a legally distinct company with its own board, among other things, will close on 4 October 2016.

Gooding said TalkTalk Business had written to tens of thousands of SME and Soho customers to encourage their participation in the campaign.

BT chief executive Gavin Patterson previously condemned the Fix Britain’s Internet campaign. In a letter to the Financial Times, he portrayed its statements as “misleading” and said it was painting “an unfairly diminished view of connectivity across the UK”.

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