BT or Openreach - or whatever you are called...

It is time to get your 21st Century act together...


May 2017: the overhead cables, the trees, the VDSL noise, and the Openreach ignorance....

The radio frequency interference (RFI) below 10MHz at this location has been gradually creeping up - as it has everywhere in the UK. The main suspect is the fact that ADSL is delivered on long overhead wires using  techniques that modulate analogue radio signals with digital pulse data that are well known to create wideband interference. There is a ton of evidence see here and here - but BT and now the bit of the company that has been rebranded as its partner in crime, Openreach - all pretend they know nothing, because to admit they are aware of the issues would create an enormous headache across the country.

It doesn't have to be this way, and a radio amateur (G4KGL) who lives in the middle of a new estate in Chelmsford smugly reports the has no discernible noise using a vertical antenna - which is notorious for RFI susceptibility. The difference is that the estate is recently built and all services are delivered underground, there is not a single overhead service.

Round here, as well as flooded manholes, the cables feeding in and out of those flooded manholes go via overhead cables slung between poles and threaded tightly through trees.

Here is the latest tale in this long running saga of me versus BT (or whatever the monopoly provider of rural telecom services has rebranded itself as this week):- It contains some shocking revelations of fundamental ignorance by its complaints team.


November 2016 - snap, crackle and pop

A TalkTalk VDSL service that had previously been up for months on end started to reset every other day, then every day, then every 12 hours and eventually it just went up and down every few minutes. We checked the phone line and it was crackling - just like BT's ancient and decaying copper circuits have been doing for the past 75 years or more. We deduced that it was caused by water on the joints between our socket and the BT cabinet - it always is. There had been heavy rain recently. See above for a reminder of what life is like as a BT telephone line is like around here (this is a manhole/duct cover 100m from the street cabinet) at the foot of a telegraph pole that then takes the lines overhead..

Anyone who knows anything about telecoms should be able to work this one out, but TalklTalk doesn't make allowances for users who might know anything telecoms. So we were put the through to a TalkTalk inquisition by an employee in India reading a script from a screen that gives new breadth and depth to the expression "lowest common denominator".

I played him the noise on the lines, and advised that the problem was a bad connection between our wall socket and the street cabinet. I tried to impress on him that I know what I was talking about and had experienced the problem before many times, but Talk Talk support simply does not accommodate that possibility and he carried on assuming I was the average numpty customer. Apparently BT's remote diagnostics said there was nothing wrong. Typical. So I gave up and went to the top - and sent this screen grab of one of the side effects of the dodgy interrupted connections. Bearing in mind Talk Talk's security issues, I wondered if this might get their attention...

An Openreach engineer showed up a day later, agreed my diagnosis and fixed it. (And a few more dodgy looking joints in the box)

Broadband (DSL) signals can actually be delivered along cables with quite severe faults since they are not "switched DC" like the voice circuits, but they use radio signals that are able (within limits) to jump over some of the problems of BT's ancient copper (and aluminium) cable network. But broadband will eventually suffer when the lines are crackling - speed will tend to drop, the connection will be intermittent until the contact drops completely. These radio signals - transmitted from the overhead cables acting as antennas - can also cause endless interference to AM broadcast radio. (Longwave, Mediumwave and Shortwave). It's another form of pollution, and BT is indifferent about its responsibility for it.

The killer is that if your broadband comes from anyone but BT, any faults have to be dealt with by two separate engineers - one for the phone line and one for the DSL. So ISPs using the BT infrastructure cannot call up one engineer to fix the problem, and sometimes the line engineer is simply "not trained" or equipped to diagnose DSL issues. And there is always a threat of a £130 charge if the engineer turns out and cannot find a fault.

BT Openreach engineers are well aware of this nonsense, and will bluntly tell users who are customers of BT competitors that the best way to deal with this absurd situation is to get it all from BT (Ofcom, do you care?) and then you have one support number to call.

But until the copper is swapped for fibre, this will go on driving us all up the wall and wasting a huge amount of money, time and effort. Is there anyone actually able to do anything about it? The new DCMS minister Karen Bradley is a bean counter by trade; and the junior minister Matthew Hancock is allegedly techno savvy, although before politics, he worked as an economist at the Bank of England.

Let's hope he has a clue, but since lists amongst topics of interest, "Departmental Furniture" - I am not encouraged, (Not a single DCMS-related topic is listed!)

November 27th comment

A fellow sufferer, Bev B, comments:

I have every sympathy on this one. I work with BT Business Broadband in Hatfield Peverel and BT landline. I spent from 2014 until July this year battling with them, overhead cabling that was not maintained, neither are the trees the cables run through. I have the largest pile of paperwork, names & telephone numbers you can ever imagine. Toooooooo long a tale to fit in this comments box, stressful is not a sufficient word to use, days of being unable to work due to the broadband constantly dropping out, reasons & excuses were beyond belief, got to know a number of the engineers by first name as they were forever in my house or working outside, even got to know how they liked their tea! It is not until the service is repaired do you actually realise how bad it was and what you were having to put up with, to be able to make a call or use the Internet without issues is such a relief. As for mobile, switched to Tesco which is O2 as my husband & sister both used them and signal always good, I was with Orange. At first my signal was great, however in the past 4-5 months all 3 of us are now having signal/connection problems!


February 2016

It's been a bit quiet here lately. Possibly because we have cut the number of BT lines we have from 5 to one - thanks to the availability of FTTC ADSL, and thus reduced the scope to be annoyed by 80%.

But this just showed up to remind us that BT is still managed by morons:


July 2014
It rained a bit (again) and there were a few thunderstorms. One of our very reliable and fast VDSL (FTTC) circuits provided by TalkTalk over a BT Openreach circuit, refused to reconnect after a power cycle. The ADSL indicator was on, the phone service on the line worked, but the router failed to lock on to an internet service. The only thing TalkTalk could do remotely was supply a replacement router - and instead of a separate BT modem with Ethernet feed to the Huawei BG533 router, we got the updates all-in-one modem and router, the Huawei HG635 "super router".
Sadly no change. Line diagnostics suggested a short (somewhat counter intuitively, lots of things will still work despite "shorts" and line faults - reliance on a partly working copper network is what has kept BT afloat for all this time, when trying to sweat the last few quid from an ancient copper infrastructure. But there is a limit.
The very helpful Openreach engineer showed up next day and went through the usual diagnostic motions, swapped routers and modems, made calls to their remote testing services, and waded through the same sort of tedious IVR phone scheme that BT's customers face every time they have a question - and we concluded that a basic line fault was the only explanation. A trek to the nearest inspection cover at the foot of the telegraph pole, from when the cables are strung through the trees to reach us provided a familiar site of a flooded manhole.
The cables are joined in plastic housing with much attention to waterproofing,  But of course nothing is going to cope with that amount of water for long, and the problem was traced to one of the joint housings (the one at the very bottom, of course) which had sprung a leak. Grubby water in a mass of open cable joints means shorting to ground and between the circuits.
If BT does not come up with a better long term solution for this type of problem, it will of course keep on happening. It is ludicrous to keep wasting BT time and money - and customer time and money - by forever patching up a network that is clearly not fit for purpose, and that will fail.
The problem with leaving analogue copper in the circuits can be quite subtle. Analogue circuits can degrade gradually - moisture creeps in over time; joints corrode at variable rates. And this means a device that has been "locked on" for months may be connected to a line where the gradual degradation takes place but does not cause the signal to drop - but reduces tolerances and thresholds to fall below those needed for a "restart" to work. A form of "hysteresis" if you like. There can also be an accumulation of issues across multiple joints, making the manageability of these networks even more random and unpredictable.
BT are always very ready to threaten customers with £100+ callout charge if they show up and the problem is down to end-user finger trouble - but if BT was forced to pay serious compensation for the inconvenience caused to customers when the problems are so obviously self-inflicted by BT, maybe the calculations would at last force fibre to the premises as the sensible solution.
This was a very avoidable BT problem that wasted our time and TalkTalk time; Moreover the original modem/router combo was perfectly viable - but it costs more to process the return than the value of the unit, so we now have a spare..

October 23rd 2013

This is so BT… from a friend in North London: who lives too close to the exchange to get Infiniti...

However, as I have received a letter from BT on the subject of broadband, I decided that the best solution would be to get a dish to get reasonable sports on my television.  The letter from BT is a classic, and it is only thanks to my MP that I got a reply. Here’s one section.

I’ve been in touch with our supplier, Openreach to ask about Mr. Miller’s situation. Unfortunately, he’s currently unable to get fibre broadband as his phone line is routed directly from the exchange to his premises.

Openreach have confirmed that the Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) technology which they have deployed needs a fibre-enabled street cabinet to supply the service. But because Mr. Miller is located very close to the exchange and is fed directly from it, i.e. not via a street cabinet, this unfortunately means that he can’t have the fibre product at present.

So the solution to my fibre broadband problem, is to move further from the telephone exchange.

September 29th: 2013
Nice gritty Yorkshire realism in the Guardian::
"Bollocks. Absolute bollocks. [BT] said the process was 'transparent'. 'Thoroughly transparent'. And yet we ask them whether they're going to get a cable to our house and they reply saying 'oh, we can't tell you'. Anyway, two megs is rubbish. Absolutely naff. Meaningless. You can't do anything with two megs."
The GPO and its successor BT has a rich history of disgraceful service, conning the public and bamboozling technically inept politicians, most starkly illustrated by the many years that the "institutionalised" and untouchable organisation grew fat and complacent from exploiting its wonderful monopoly, and resisted all attempts at introducing competition, notably declaring that anyone who dared to connect a non-BT provided phone device to a BT phone line would cause the exchange to blow up, and melt down to the core of the planet. Despite the many changes forced on BT by governments and telecom regulators and competitors, they remain one of the most obdurate, obstinate and non-transparent organisations to deal with.
We accept that a key issue for BT customer support is that has to deal with a LOT of customers with widely varying degrees of telecoms savvy, but the process of always assuming a "lowest common denominator" approach leads to a huge amount of frustration.
We also accept that all telecoms providers appear to be as bad as each other from the various online discussions - but some of us live out in the sticks where there is no alternative but BT, and we have to put up with what BT provides, or lump it.
Where BT is not the "end to end" provider of an ADSL service it will ALWAYS refuse to come and test an installation without threatening a £195 callout charge by trying to blame any other party to the provisioning process.  But if you spend £195 on diagnostic procedures - like swapping your router and generally spending time fiddling about - there is of course no way you can easily charge BT for your wasted time, if as usual, the problem turns out to be their problem.
We expect that many people are forced to give up the struggle, and use BT to provide the complete service, simply to avoid the endless finger pointing and buck passing between the various divisions of BT and 3rd party service providers.
On September 26th 2013, a report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the government had failed to ensure proper competition by awarding all 26 rural broadband contracts to BT. Plus ça change ... Radio 4 explores the issues.
And the BBC News Channel has been buzzing all morning on the topic.