Why doesn't BT come clean over fibre cabinet notspots?

13 Jun 2012

For months I’ve been rubbing my hands in anticipation of getting fibre broadband. My local exchange was enabled in March, and posters started popping up around the neighbourhood claiming that “BT Infinity is now available in your area”. I’d turned into a one-man denial-of-service attack on BT’s fibre broadband checker, punching in my telephone number repeatedly to see if I could place my order and be rid of my tumbleweed-speed ADSL line.

As the weeks and then months passed, my heart began to sink. As the fibre broadband feature in this month’s PC Pro explains (it’s your last chance to buy a copy today, by the way), even if your exchange has been upgraded for fibre, it doesn’t mean your local cabinet will be. It appeared my cabinet had been left off the list, just as Jon Honeyball’s office in Huntingdon had been, as readers of his PC Pro column will know.

So I did what anyone with a petty grievance in 2012 does: I whinged about it on Twitter. Jon and I were bemoaning the fact that BT leaves customers completely in the dark over the status of their local cabinet, when our conversation was suddenly hijacked by the @BTCare account. After a little to-and-fro, I was invited to fill out a web form and promised an answer on whether my cabinet would be upgraded for fibre within 24 hours.

48 hours later an email arrived with the spirit-crushing news that my local cabinet “fails to meet the commercial criteria”. “This is because the cabinet is too small to provide a return on the investment based on the costs for the construction and on-going running costs of providing a new FTTC cabinet,” BT explained, as if I lived down a country lane with only the livestock for company, instead of here, in the middle of a densely populated, modern estate with a business park just around the corner. A business park that, as Jon pointed out, BT couldn’t sell vastly more expensive Ethernet connections to if they suddenly had cheaper fibre on tap.

Conspiracy theories aside, what annoys me most is that BT clearly knows which cabinets will and won’t get fibre in each area, so why doesn’t it tell us? Why does it take a BT customer services staffer to eavesdrop on my Twitter conversations and the completion of a web form for BT to volunteer this information? Why can’t that data be shared using that fibre checker on its website?

BT’s promised to get back to me with the reasons why it’s not possible to share this data freely. But it’s hard to disagree with Jon’s conclusion that it’s merely “an exercise in obfuscation and confusion”.

Update: BT has sent over the following statement:

"Customers who want to check whether their cabinet will be enabled with fibre can do so via the BT retail line checker (or similar checkers from other CPs). These checkers are updated on a regular basis and are based on our most recent evaluation of the economics and technical practicality of enabling your cabinet.

" However, it is important to note that our deployment is an evolving programme; we are working hard to make fibre available to as many premises as possible within the limitations of what is commercially and technically viable, and actively seeking to work with communities, local and regional government to find additional funding for those areas which are more challenging.

"As a result of this, and the fact we are constantly learning from the rollout we have delivered to date and adapting our commercial model accordingly, the economics can, and frequently do, evolve and we revisit  and review each area on a regular basis. We make every effort to represent the latest assessment of each cabinet via CPs' line checkers."

With respect, I think BT has rather missed the point: the checker merely shows if your line is enabled, not the status of your cabinet. If I check my phone number, it merely reports that fibre isn't available "yet" on my line, but fails to mention that there's (currently) no hope of my cabinet being upgraded. However, BT assures me it's looking at ways to improve communication about the upgrade status of cabinets.

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