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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Carphone denies unbundling Voice only Services… deliberately

Carphone Warehouse (TalkTalk) have issued a statement to the consumers friend, Thinkbroadband, basically denying that they are unbundling voice only services
“We naturally take reports of customer 'poaching' extremely seriously. We don't connect anyone to our unbundled network unless our records how that they have ordered TalkTalk broadband and we can confirm that we don't migrate voice-only customers to our unbundled network.”
Fair enough and looks very clear. However the fact remains that two ISPs Zen and PlusNet, now part of BT, are reporting that TalkTalk voice only customers are being ported to their LLU platform and their resold ADSL broadband is cut in the process. In replies to the Register and Thinkbroadband articles individuals have claimed that they have been affected by this type of process. So either:
  • Zen and PlusNet are wrong; or
  • Someone at TalkTalk cocked up provisioning the CPS services and instead entered it as a LLU order on the TalkTalk systems.
Hmmm, I know where my money is. Any Communications Provider can issue a standard API call to BT Wholesale checking the status of any non-LLUed line, whether broadband is provisioned and who the ISP is, so there is really no excuses.

TalkTalk then go on to blow any sort of credibility in the rest of the reply.
"Our network is based on a more advanced technology of Next Generation Network (NGN), similar to BT's 21CN."
I can personally testify that TalkTalk’s network does indeed look like a 21CN on a powerpoint slide, however the actual performance is somewhat lacking especially with regard to availability and performance of basic data services. It is more a late 1980’s network than a 21CN.
"This technology (known as MPF) means that broadband services can be transferred between one provider and another without the need for a MAC code, as detailed by OFCOM in General Condition 14."
General Condition 14 is actually about code of practice and dispute resolution and there was a specific consultation back in 2004 which dealt with slamming or mis-selling or poaching CPS customers but it didn’t mention broadband once.

General Condition 22 is actually the one that deals with broadband migrations and is the result of a lengthy consultation. Here is the relevant bit about full unbundling

1.17 Where the MAC process does not apply (for example, for migrations to and from connections based on MPF, for home moves, or where there is no live broadband connection), the high-level obligations in General Condition 22.2 will require broadband providers to:
a) facilitate the migration (or where applicable, connection) of the Broadband Service in a manner that is fair and reasonable;
b) ensure that the migration (or where applicable, connection) of the Broadband Service is carried out within a reasonable period;
c) ensure that the migration (or where applicable, connection) of the Broadband Service is carried out with minimal loss of the Broadband Service; and
d) assist with, and facilitate requests for, the migration (or where applicable, connection) of a Broadband Service provided by another Communications Provider, in instances where the other Communications Provider has failed to, or
refused to, comply with the MAC Broadband Migrations Process, in a manner
that is fair and reasonable.
Whereas the MAC process is defined and well understood by all ISPs, there is in fact nothing but the above woolly statement about full unbundling (MPF)

In my personal interpretation, TalkTalk or any other full unbundler, would be fully justified in just provisioning the line if a customer has ordered “Free Broadband” without any communication whatsoever with the existing voice (BT or CPS) or data (resold ADSL).

Currently the majority of traffic one-way ie onto the TalkTalk service, I have a feeling that the real fun and games will start in Oct when people start coming out of the 18-month contracts and decide to go for Sky, the upcoming O2 service or even back to BT. Would it perfectly legitimate for the migrations team at TalkTalk to consist of one person on the plains of Outer Mongolia? Or would it perfectly legitimate for Sky/O2/BT or whatever to just grab the line in the same manner as TalkTalk is currently doing?

I predict chaos in 2008 and our light touch regulator, OFCOM, will once again be in the firing line over broadband migrations.
"However, we reiterate that we don't connect anyone to our unbundled network without an order for the broadband service."
Well not on purpose at least…
"TalkTalk currently operates at significantly below the industry average for alleged incidents of this kind and we are working with our industry partners to address these concerns and will undertake a full investigation of any issues raised with us."
I’m not sure what the “incidents of this kind” actually mean. It can’t possibly mean error in MPF line provision because currently TalkTalk are the only player and therefore by definition they ARE the industry average. TalkTalk however are probably below the industry average in slamming data, but we don’t know because despite OFCOM preparing a slamming blacklist they keep the data safely under lock and key and away from the prying eyes of actual consumers. And this is despite being hit by various Freedom of Information notices.

However, Carphone Warehouse was found to be in contravention of General Condition 1.2 back in 2005 (pdf) relating to preventing churn in their CPS line of business:
Carphone Warehouse has used and is using this information (the identity of transferring customers) which is acquired from another communications provider in connection with the provision of CPS for a purpose other than that for which that information was supplied (facilitating CPS transfer), namely undertaking CPS Save Activity which could provide Carphone Warehouse with a competitive advantage.
Hmmm, it is going to get really interesting in October.

ps: my internet services have been up and down all night (not voice and not adsl line problems) so I'll be one of the first fighting the TalkTalk migration process.