Broadband, Mobile & Energy News: Weekly Roundup 05/10/18

Here are some of the top stories from the last week:

Full Fibre Broadband Now Covers 5% of UK Properties

‘Fibre to the premises’ (FTTP) broadband now services 1.4 million premises in the UK, according to Ofcom’s most recent report.  Based on data from the 1st quarter of 2018 (until April), the report reflects the ongoing progress towards faster and more reliable broadband.  FTTP, where fibre optic cables are built into the building’s infrastructure, is generally seen as the best broadband structure available, as it is not converted to copper wiring before reaching the property.

There is encouraging news further down the broadband hierarchy too, with ‘ultrafast’ coverage (over 300 Megabits per second) rising from 45% to 48% of UK properties, and ‘superfast’ (30Mbps or more) broadband now available in 93% – that’s around 27 million premises in total.  Openreach, the public sector infrastructure firm, and telecoms firm Virgin Media have been the busiest expanders.

As of April 2018, fewer than one million (860,000) UK properties are unable to access broadband capable of a download speed of 10Mbps, which will be the required cut-off for the new Universal Service Obligation law proposed by the Government.

Ofcom Targets 070 Number ‘Scam’

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has announced that the practice of using 070 numbers for fraudulent activity or on premium rates will be clamped down upon.

070 numbers generally work as fronts for another number, directing the call to the actual receiver’s number, which is kept secret.  They are easily mistaken for standard UK mobile numbers, which always start with 07 – both these facts make them an easy tool for scammers.  Ofcom have estimated that 20% of 070 calls, out of a total of 2.6 million, were used for some form of ‘fraudulent activity’.  070 premium numbers can attract charges of over £1 a minute – but, as they can be mistaken for standard 07 mobile numbers, callers may well attract charges they were not expecting.

Ofcom have announced that the new cap on price per minute for 070 numbers will be 0.5p per minute – the same as a call to a standard UK mobile number, and that they will encourage contract providers to include 070 numbers as free minutes, as many do for 07 numbers.

Ofcom’s Competition Group Director, Jonathan Oxley, announced the changes, saying: “Millions of calls are made to 070 numbers, but many people aren’t aware of the high costs of calling them.  This can lead to people receiving much higher bills than expected.  So we’re slashing the wholesale cost of connecting 070 numbers.  There’s no reason why phone companies shouldn’t pass this saving on to their customers as soon as possible.”

Paris Agreement Unlikely to be Fulfilled – by Anyone

The accountancy firm PwC has warned that every single signatory to the Paris agreement is on track to miss its targets, which were set in a bid to limit the harmful effects of carbon emissions and thus slow down the pace of global warming.

The worldwide target, of limiting global warming to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, is therefore also due to be missed, with emissions continuing to rise.

Having said this, PwC did highlight some positives.  Firstly, the rate of ‘carbon intensity’, the speed at which carbon emission levels are rising, has dropped.  Secondly, some countries have made clear and visible improvement, even if they have not been able to hit their set targets.  Among these are China, who reduced its carbon budget by 5.2% in 2017, and the UK, the strongest performing G20 nation in the quest to convert energy production to renewable means while continuing to maintain a strong financial record.  Since 2000, the UK has dropped greenhouse gas emissions levels by nearly 30%, while also growing the economy by more than a third.  The UK’s emissions fell by nearly 3% in 2017, and will continue to do so as more coal power stations are switched off and renewable facilities, mostly offshore wind farms, grow in size and number.

Jonathan Grant, PwC’s Director of Climate Change, warned of the dangers of global warming – and a misdirected response to it: “there seems to be almost zero chance of limiting warming to well below 2°C – the main goal of the Paris Agreement.  Given the gap between talk and actin on climate, the risks to business are obvious: fragmented, knee-jerk regulation and physical impacts of climate change.”

Government Announces New Smart Meter Regulation

The Government has announced changes to the way first generation smart meters are managed by providers.  The Smart Energy Code, governing energy firms’ actions relating to the smart meter rollout, will be updated by the regulator Ofgem.

Claire Perry, the Energy and Clean Growth Minister, outlined the move: “Today we’re announcing new measures to ensure suppliers are installing the next generation of smart meters and setting out how we’ll ensure all devices stay smart when consumers switch suppliers to get the best deals.”

The main thrust of the changes aims at ending the deployment of first-generation smart meters from the 5th December 2018, to make way for installation of the next-generation meters due to be introduced soon.  An important other piece of new legislation concerns switching energy providers – generally meters lose their smart function when the customer switches, which contradicts the Government and regulator’s position of encouraging shopping around and switching suppliers. This problem should no longer occur with future generation smart meters.

Smart Energy GB, the campaign group helping the rollout, was supportive of the new measures.  Robert Cheesewright, the Director of Corporate Affairs, said: “The announcement that confirms first generation smart meters will be enrolled into the secure national infrastructure is good news for customers and an important step forward for the smart meter rollout.”

New Energy Suppliers Consistently Perform Weakest

Data released by consumer advice charity Citizens Advice has highlighted that many newer, smaller, energy providers are unable to compete in customer service standings with more established firms.

The weakest performer, TOTO Energy, scored only 1.45 out of 5 stars, actually decreasing from the 1.6 rating in the first quarter of 2018.  The list of customer grievances against the company include hiking a direct debit bill by over £100 with no warning, and not responding to calls for two weeks.  The average customer spent 23 minutes on hold before reaching a member of staff, while 10% of customers didn’t receive a single accurate bill in over a year.

Citizens Advice has called for better regulation of small suppliers, pointing out that many firms simply aren’t prepared for large-scale customer service.  Gillian Guy, Citizens Advice’s chief executive, said: “Too many customers are being let down by firms which aren’t ready or capable of providing a decent level of service.  These aren’t small problems.  Billing errors, blocking people from switching, and poor communication can cost customers money and make people’s lives a misery.  It’s vital Ofgem now tackles the problem of newer and smaller firms letting people down and tightens up the rules around who can become an energy supplier.”

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