Broadband and ADSL Information

UK Broadband Information

In the UK, broadband was originally only available from BT or Cable Broadband from NTL, if you lived in an NTL cable area.  As this gave BT an obvious (virtual) monopoly, Ofcom - the Industry watchdog forced BT to allow competition by allowing other companies access to the crucial 'last mile' telephone line connection from the BT exchanges to the customers premises (offices or houses).

This effectively allowed other companies to compete with BT without the prohibitive cost of installing their own cables in every street, as NTL had done in some areas a few years previously.

BT OpenReach

As the exchange configuration work has to be done for both BT and non-BT clients, in 2006 BT formed a new division "BT OpenReach" who are responsible for all Broadband connections and exchange work for both BT and non-BT provided Broadband connections.

If a new line is being installed, an OpenReach engineer will terminate the line at the customer premises and then enable the broadband connection at the exchange.  This requires a change to the termination of the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network - the telephone line) at the exchange to include a filter, electrically similar to the ones used at the customer end of the cable to isolate the telephone and broadband signals.

It is this exchange configuration that is frequently done wrongly - commonly resulting in one of these problems:

  • No "Line Sync" on a newly activated Broadband connection - The engineer actually added the broadband connection to the wrong line at the exchange end.  This is not a security issue, as the user of the other line would not have the correct username and password to use the connection - even if they DID realise what had happened.
  • Loss of telephone service - broadband works OK - The engineer correctly connected the Broadband - but did not correctly re-terminate the PSTN connection, resulting in loss of service
  • Loss of telephone and no Broadband service - The connection was again done incorrectly and not tested, but on the customer side of the broadband filter in the exchange resulting in complete loss of service.

The above problems are VERY common (as I type in April 2007, since around October 2006 when over 600 new staff were employed by OpenReach with minimal training) and we have seen a failure rate of 30% - 50% of new connections to be not correctly enabled at the exchange - usually leaving the customer with no Line Sync, requiring the problem to be reported via the customers ISP to BT OpenReach.

Reporting Broadband Faults

It is important to understand that broadband faults cannot be reported like 'normal' telephone faults.  Regardless of who your ISP is, e.g. BT, PlusNet, Orange, TalkTalk etc etc - The fault and initial diagnosis has to be done through the ISP, who can then report the fault to BT OpenReach - who will then investigate and report back to the ISP concerned.

If a fault such as intermittent broadband is caused by a reportable fault on the PSTN line - such as a severe cracking on the line, which will cause the broadband connection to fail, this crackling CAN be reported as a telephone line fault.

Initial problem Diagnosis - or "Avoiding the BT Call-Out Charge"

If an engineer is called out and the fault is found to not be with the BT line, but with the customers equipment, which INCLUDES the telephone extension wiring from the master socket, BT will try and charge for the callout.

To avoid this, the connection should be tested by removing the lower part of the BT Master socket and plugging a test telephone and/or router with a different filter into the test socket exposed after the lower front panel is removed.  This disconnects the internal house wiring.  The test should be done with a different telephone, router and filter to eliminate any possible faulty equipment.

If this test is done correctly, you can confidently report the fault and be as certain as possible that the fault is outside your control.  If in doubt, get an IT professional to do the test - or double-check your findings.