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BT and Openreach misled customers checking broadband availability

Thursday, April 23rd 2015 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Broadband availability checkers on the BT and Openreach websites were likely to mislead customers, according to the UK’s telecoms watchdog.

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) made its ruling after complaints about forecasted dates on the BT Consumer and Openreach websites indicating when fibre broadband would be available.

Three complainants questioned whether the dates, which are based on estimates, are often put back and as a result were misleading.

Openreach, which is responsible for the rollout of superfast broadband in the UK and is run separately to the rest of the BT group, said there were a number of factors that could impact on the rollout.

It said the deployment of fibre cabinets was “a complex engineering challenge” that involved the availability of power connections, planning consent and road closures.

The installation of some cabinets is delayed by “some months” due to unexpected problems, said Openreach, and they were therefore not always able to meet the timescales for deployment.

BT Consumer said that, like other internet service providers, it was reliant on Openreach for the fibre activation dates displayed on its BT Infinity availability checker.

It said it was unable to comment on why individual dates might change but added that it did make it clear to consumers that the dates were not guaranteed.

'Likely to mislead'

The ASA upheld the complaints, saying that although BT Consumer operated separately to Openreach, “we did not consider that the disclaimer which stated that the estimated dates were provided by their supplier absolved them of their responsibility”.

The watchdog said it was satisfied the initial advertised estimated availability dates were based on a sound calculation by Openreach and that the presentation of initial delivery dates was not misleading.

“We considered that, although the original advertised dates were based on a likely estimated timescale to completion, the revised dates were likely to mislead consumers,” the ASA said in its ruling.

“They were not based on an analysis of how long the delays might possibly take.

“We therefore concluded that the revised dates presented on both availability checkers were misleading.”

The ASA has told Openreach to ensure dates displayed on its postcode checker were based on a “robust calculation” and were not “routinely rolled back without specific information being taken into account”.

BT Consumer has been told not to display estimated dates on its checker unless it can substantiate that Openreach was using “a robust method to calculate those dates.”

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