The Great Fibre Con

In mathematics ‘infinity’ is a number greater than you can count. Thus if you order the Infinity superfast broadband product from BT, it would be reasonable to assume that the number of Mb/s you can get is rather large.

OFCOM define superfast broadband as being a reliable service that offers in excess of 30Mbs.

Now you can debate why the UK definition of the ridiculous superfast term is so low, but then you may be missing the bigger point. Most of the residents in the UK are unlikely to get in excess of 30Mbs unless you are very close to the appropriate BT cabinet.

Even if you order a superfast fibre broadband service your house will not be directly connected to the internet via an optical fibre. From your house the same old metal cable that was put in to provide a limited voice service is still being used. This antiquated metal cable has to try to transfer your internet data even though it may be suffering from cracks, corrosion, temporary fixes, water damage, radio interference and the occasional squirrel bite mark to deal with.

In the old days the metal used was copper and to be fair, the copper cables have proven to last a lot longer than they were designed to. It’s the more modern aluminium cables that are generating the majority of the issues. The aluminium cable infrastructure is literally falling apart as it has been found to crack and degrade far faster than the copper lines it replaced.

Now that the data from your house has managed to traverse the dilapidated cable environment, it now meets the over-hyped fibre. This union of ancient and new occurs in a green street side cabinet. Although rather confusingly the street side cabinet may actually be quite a few streets away. Technically this networking approach is known as Fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC). Therefor the fibre service you have ordered could be be mostly ancient metal cables. Are you starting feel as if you’ve been duped by the marketing surrounding fibre broadband?

A real world example may help to re-enforce the level of duplicity that is at play here:

I ordered an unlimited Fibre service from Plusnet.

Plusnet use BT Openreach’s speed predictor and estimated that we could get between 11 - 16Mb/s. Not infinite and rather disappointing.

The reality was even worse. After a 26 day delay, the fibre service was eventually activated. My family rejoiced at the imminent return of YouTube, Sky On Demand and BBC iPlayer. Alas all these services require more than the unreliable 0.6 - 1.9Mbs we received from the new superfast fibre service. How would you describe that experience; disappointing, upsetting, frustrating, misleading, mis-sold,… ?

Rather than getting grumpy we marched along the route taken by our troubled telephone cable in the hope that we would find an obvious issue. Maybe a dangling tree branch was sucking out all of our internet speed… After a surprisingly short 1.9Km stroll we arrived at the fibre enabled cabinet (Thatcham Cab2). That’s not very far in telecommunication network terms. It should be almost irrelevant in a fibre network. Alas in West Berkshire it may as well be a black hole, as this 1.9Km cable is riddled with issues.

After 5 complaints to Plusnet, who then complain to BT Openreach, who then schedule an engineer, who may look at your telephone line within 10 days, it was deemed that we could no longer get fibre and had to go back to the ‘old’ ADSL connection.

Things were further complicated when I reached out to Plusnet’s very helpful community forum. Via this forum we diagnosed that the new cables that BT Openreach had installed inside our house, were actually the wrong type and had effectively turned our telephone cable into a massive radio antenna (a French radio station transmits at the frequency used by ADSL, I’m not kidding).

Once this portion of cable was replaced we sometimes achieve the heady heights of 3.0Mbs.

Absolutely not fibre, definitely not superfast.

##Notes To find out the type and length of cable you are attached to, you will have to politely insist that your ISP performs a ‘Copper line test’ and that they provide you with the results. In our case the total line length (house to exchange) is 3454 meters. Thus we should be capable of receiving an ADSL2+ connection speed of 5 - 7.5Mb/s.

You then need to ask for the BT Openreach engineers notes that explain for the disparity between the predicted speed and the actual speed. This is note we received:

Dear Mr Mudie,

I’ve read the notes on the forums, and those of the engineer for you. To be honest, I don’t think we’re going to be able to do much more, even though I think it should be possible. The aluminium cable is the main problem.

Kind regards,

  • Following our complaints, BT Openreach revised their estimates for broadband in our area on 22/11/14. The estimated fibre speed range was dropped from 11 - 16Mbs to 0.8 - 1.2Mbs.

  • On the 08/01/15, BT revised their FTTC speeds for our area and now predict that we can get 10 - 16.1 Mb/s. This would appear to indicate that BT Openreach may be manipulating their fibre speed prediction data to present a better network capability than they are actually achieving. This in turn results in the ISPs mis-selling a fibre service to consumers.

  • OFCOM does not accept complaints from consumers regarding BT Openreach infrastructure.

  • A consumer cannot complain about BT Openreach. Via CISAS the consumer can make a complaint against the ISP. In our case the ISP is powerless to rectify the fault as BT Openreach have refused to replace the unfit for purpose cabling.

It would appear the provider of the poor telecommunications infrastructure is untouchable.

It’s time to allow consumers to choose who provides the underlying broadband infrastructure, not just the billing and marketing capability that sits on top.


Image courtesy of Photo Pin.