BT: Lessons to be learned?

A BT engineer checks the lines on Friday.

18 days on since some 40 Ardentinny homes and businesses lost their fixed line communications during the storms of January 3, the last affected villagers have now been re-connected by BT. Brendan Dick, Managing Director, BT Regions has asked us if there is anything to be learned from this episode. Our immediate observations follow and hopefully other BT customers, affected by the outage, will also offer their feedback.

The severe gusts on the morning of January 3 brought down part of a large tree overhanging the main shore road near Ardentinny Outdoor Centre. This in turn sliced through the main telephone cable (see here) which connects the north of the village. One of the major criticisms from villagers has been the lack of communication from BT.

The normal sequence for the customer to report a fault appears to be to call 151 (from a fixed line). However, for the majority, this would not have been possible, given that they had no fixed line. The other option is to report via the web (fixed line or mobile broadband) or by mobile phone on 800 800 151. On January 3, much of the mobile network was down, due to the storms.

Over subsequent days it would appear that many residents did not (or were unable to) report the fault with their line. The reason for this we assume is that the majority of residents were aware that it was a major line cut on the shore and considered that, once BT saw the problem, they would realise which of their customers were without lines and re-connect them as soon as possible. As we found out earlier this week, this was not the case. As the main shore cable carries dozens of smaller cables, it would appear that BT engineers needed access to each property to match the cable to the customer’s line.

On January 3 we reported the fault on our line to BT (by mobile broadband). Within an hour we had received a call from an engineer requesting more details. We informed them that the main village cable had been cut and that most probably half the village was now without phone lines. He advised that no engineers were available and that it may be 3 days until BT could attend to it. Later in the week we were given dates of 9 and 12 January for re-connection by the BT call centre in India.

No BT personnel were seen in Ardentinny during this period. Finally, with no further updates from BT, we contacted Michael Russell MSP for Argyll & Bute. He assured us that he would be in contact with BT the following day.

On January 11, only five temporary lines were installed to premises on the shorefront, apparently due to the fragility of the pole. However, it took another 10 days for the rest of the village to be connected. As can be seen from the email between Michael Russell and BT’s Head of Scottish Affairs, Ian Shanks, it was considered that BT was tardy in providing a deadline for the repair.

It is a poor reflection on BT that it appeared to take the intervention of an MSP, who has access to the highest level of BT management, to resolve this issue. Why was this the case? Was senior management unaware that half a village was disconnected for almost 3 weeks?

Over the past few days Ardentinny has seen a welcome increase in the number of BT engineers on the ground and the lines have been re-connected.

For the future, we hope that BT will consider the following:

– Due to the poor coverage of mobile communications in rural areas, fixed line communication is essential for many.

– BT had 18 days in which to contact its customers, by whatever means. This could have been done by post, outlining the problem and giving an anticipated re-connection date.

– Over the 18 day period, when did a senior engineer survey the damage and report the findings to BT management? This information in turn could have been passed on to the BT customer.

– The BT call centres in India, UK and BT’s Twitter service @BTCARE were providing different information to callers. Of our calls to BT, it appeared that the BT staff were not aware that some 40+ properties were affected. Most call centre staff assumed that it was only a single fault. Is there any procedure for a community to report a major outage? Also, the ‘Ardentinny experience’ would suggest that internal communications within BT are in need of improvement.

– It appears that BT has a manpower shortage when major outages occur. It was only in the past few days that the village saw a significant increase in personnel. As a rural community, one appreciates that towns and cities will have priority over small villages. However, rural BT customers should expect a level of service comparable to the rest of the country, which includes keeping them informed.

– For the utility companies, local knowledge can be indispensable. This was demonstrated earlier in the month during the power cuts where local people throughout Scotland assisted in tree clearing, manning emergency centres etc. In rural communities. Has BT considered liaising with individuals or groups in villages to assist and disseminate information? BT and the other utility companies could have, on file, contact details of e.g., Community Council members, a local voluntary group or local website. When a major outage occurs these individuals could assist BT by providing local knowledge and feeding back to local residents

– As internet communication grows (especially in rural communities) and broadband becomes a necessity, BT could also assist these communities during extended outages by installing a temporary broadband connection in a public building to enable residents to remain connected.

– We recognise and are grateful for the conscientious hard work, in often appalling conditions, that the BT engineers undertook when they were here.

Finally, we would like to thank Michael Russell MSP and his office. Without his vital assistance, Ardentinny may have had to wait a great deal longer for us all to be re-connected.

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BT Outage: All reported faults should be repaired by end of today

The following update has today been received via Michael Russell MSP from Head of Scottish Affairs, BT Scotland.

An update – by close of play today our engineers believe they will have repaired all the reported faults ( currently less than 10 known faults outstanding). However they are concerned that there are more operational lines than faults received. If anyone in the community currently has no service and has not reported the fault they need to do that. It should be done through the normal 151 fault line but I am also prepared to flag up any faulty numbers you might want to pass to me to the local Openreach Manager. As I explained previously the damage to our cable has meant that engineers are having to trace the line back from the customers premises to the main cable – they are continuing to do that but it will help enormously if they have the telephone numbers of all the faulty lines

Ian Shanks
Head of Scottish Affairs
BT Scotland

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Ardentinny BT Outage: Statement from BT Scotland – 16 customers reconnected

We have received the following from Ian Shanks, Head of Scottish Affairs, BT Scotland.

I can only repeat the information I have relayed to Mike Russell. Our network across Scotland suffered considerable damage due to recent adverse weather conditions. We have drafted engineers in from other parts of Scotland and the UK to deal with the very high level of faults. Many of which require fairly major works to be carried out from tree removal to telephone pole replacement. There was a particular problem at Ardentinny in that a main cable joint was destroyed and our engineers are having to trace each cable pair back from the customers premises – obviously a time consuming exercise. A temporary service was provided to some people in the area last week and today a further 16 customers were reconnected. Our engineers will continue to work in the area until all faults have been repaired.

I would like to apologise to the community for the loss of their telephony and the time taken to repair the faults but I can assure you and the wider community that my engineering colleagues are doing all they can to restore service to all premises as quickly as possible.

Regards

Ian Shanks
Head of Scottish Affairs
BT Scotland

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Day 15: BT declares ‘Matters Beyond our Reasonable Control’

With still no telephone connection in sight for some half of Ardentinny’s residents and businesses, BT today declared an MBORC (Matters Beyond our Reasonable Control) notice. In what way this will assist those affected remains to be seen.

In a strongly worded email (*see below) today to Ian Shanks, Head of Scottish Affairs at BT and Brendan Dick, Director BT Scotland, Michael Russell MSP expressed his surprise at BT’s response to the unacceptable situation and requested a clear timeframe to rectify the faults.

BT has reported that there had been considerable damage to the network in the area and that Scotland has had over 6,500 faults caused by the adverse weather.  We understand that extra engineers have been drafted in from other parts of the country. However, @BTCARE said this evening that they could not commit to a (completion) date.

*Dear Ian

I am a bit surprised that my office is having such difficulty getting a response from you about the above that we have now had to initiate direct communication with the office of the Chairman of BT in London, which are turning out to be much more responsive.

However, using all the channels available to me, I am writing to you as well to express my concern that today BT escalated the difficulty by declaring the situation one which was MBORC , an acronym with which I was not familiar but which apparently means that it is beyond your reasonable control.

Whatever that signifies, the fact is that Ardentinny has been without phones since the 3rd January. That is simply not acceptable and must be rectified. I look forward to an urgent response that tells me you and BT agree and gives a clear time frame and method for that happening.

I am also copying this to Brendan Dick who I hope might also express concern and act on it.

Regards

Michael

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BT Outage: 15 days – No end in sight?

Erecting telephone poles today.

Some 30+ Ardentinny residents and businesses on Wednesday enter their 15th day without fixed line telephone or internet access. BT engineers are continuing to replace telephone poles along the shorefront and move lines from existing poles.

@BTCARE have been in almost daily contact with us re the situation, however they appear pretty much in the dark as to when the work will be completed. Householders on the shore did offer BT the option of temporarily suspending the lines from their trees, but the offer was not taken up.

Looking at current progress, hopefully they could reconnect on Wednesday or Thursday.

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BT replaces phone poles over weekend

Telephone poles being replaced.

One of the poles is marked for replacement.

BT crews were today installing the first of several new telephone poles along the Ardentinny shoreline. On Friday a BT engineer surveyed the area where the main shore cable was cut during the storms on January 3 and concluded that several of the Loch-side telephone poles should be condemned and replaced. @BTCare confirmed today that they hope to have the homes and businesses affected by the outage reconnected by Monday evening.

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Ardentinny 3-day Power Outage – £75 compensation

Scottish Hydro has issued information related to compensation during the recent power cuts. Is an ex-gratia payment of £75 sufficient to cover the losses you incurred during the blackout? You can read the full text here.

In exceptional events such as these, industry regulator Ofgem specifies the level of compensation which is available to customers. However, we have decided to make a payment well in excess of what these regulations specify and will provide customers who were without power for more than 48 hours with an ex-gratia payment of £75. Customers can claim this by writing to The Claims Department, Scottish Hydro Electric Power Distribution, Inveralmond House, 200 Dunkeld Road, Perth, PH1 3AQ or by emailing feedback@sse.com.

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10 days on… BT fails to deliver

BT engineers work on the line on Wednesday

Some 30+ Ardentinny households and businesses remain without telephone or internet access tonight. Despite assurances from BT to customers over the past days that the company is doing everything possible to rectify the situation, only a couple of properties on the shore were reconnected on Wednesday and no BT engineers were seen in the village today.

Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell has taken up the case of the villagers and has expressed to BT his dissatisfaction at the level of service his constituents are receiving.  He will be in contact with BT again on Friday.

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BT engineers make temporary fix

BT engineers have today connected five temporary lines to customers near Ardentinny shore.  As soon as we have information on when all residents will be connected, we will post here and to @ardentinny on Twitter.

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MSP criticises BT’s failures over 8-day Ardentinny outage

The cut cable near Ardentinny shore earlier today

41 Ardentinny households and businesses are today facing a second week without phone lines and internet access. The main telephone cable along the shore was severed by falling branches from an overhanging tree at the Ardentinny Outdoor Centre during the height of the storm which ravaged much of Scotland last Tuesday morning (3 January).

BT initially advised that the line would be reconnected on Monday (9 January) and yesterday they further advised a reconnection date of Thursday 12th January. (see update below)

All homes and businesses on the north side of the village are affected including the Outdoor Centre, Dundaraich Stables, Glenfinart Hotel and caravan site. Several small businesses including artists and crafts people derive some of their income from internet sales. The additional problem of very poor mobile communications coverage in Argyll, makes the situation even worse for the community.

A spokesperson for a company based in Ardentinny said ‘Our online business derives some 60% of its sales from overseas. Both the UK and Scottish governments are actively encouraging rural communities, such as ours, to embrace e-commerce. However, this can only be possible with a robust telecoms infrastructure in place. Fortunately, our servers are based elsewhere in the world and our system is very much automated, however it is vital that we can provide support for our customers and this has been very difficult over the past week. Mobile 3G services which we could have utilised as a back-up are patchy at best in Ardentinny. For the past 7 days our only means of relatively fast internet access has been locating a 3G signal ‘on the road’.

Michael Russell, MSP for Argyll and Bute, said “For any business or community interruption to power supplies and community ovations is a major matter.  Last week’s storms were exceptional but it is I think unacceptable for BT to expect any consumer to wait 9 days for reconnection and I have made that point to the company. They have performed better elsewhere but they need to sort the Ardentinny situation now.

The mobile phone companies have been particularly poor in their response. Local customers already receive a second class service, with virtually no access anywhere in Argyll & Bute to 3G, although charges are the same as those applied elsewhere.  It adds insult to injury to discover that the vast majority of O2 and Vodafone masts were out of service for most of last week, even in places  where power had been restored quickly. Indeed in Tiree the mast was still inoperable from the last storm on 8th December.  Mobile companies are failing the area and need to buck their ideas and services up.”

Update 15:30 Jan 10:
BT has advised us that they will endeavour to reconnect Ardentinny lines on Wednesday 11 January. We requested a comment from the BT Press Office, however as at time of publication, no communication has been received.

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