Ofcom has begun an investigation into BT’s alleged overcharging of customers living in rural areas who are looking to install or upgrade their broadband connections.
Some reports suggested that BT had quoted as much as £100,000 to some consumers.
Most of the UK’s broadband network is run by Openreach. BT, as owner of Openreach, is legally obliged to provide all homes and businesses with a reasonable broadband connection on request.
As per the law, BT must provide a broadband connection of at least 10Mbps and also bear any costs up to a maximum of £3,400 as part of its universal service obligation (USO).
However, the costs can far exceed the £3,400 limit in extremely rural areas. In these areas, BT will still provide a broadband connection as long as the customer is happy to pay the excess.
Ofcom estimates that there are about 189,000 homes in the country that do not have access to a basic broadband connection of 10Mbps.
“The broadband universal service is a vital safety net that gives everyone the right to request a decent broadband connection,” said an Ofcom spokesperson.
“And while properties in very remote locations will clearly be more expensive to connect, we’re concerned about how BT is calculating some of the quotes for people making connection requests – particularly where those costs could be split across a number of homes in an area.”
The telecoms regulator has had talks with BT about the way that their quotes have been calculated, but no changes to their system have been implemented as of yet.
“We are concerned that BT may not be complying with the regulatory conditions correctly where it assesses excess costs for a given connection,” said the watchdog. “This could result in some customers’ quote for a connection being higher than necessary.”
A BT spokesperson said: “We are obliged to send USO quotes to customers when they request them and appreciate that for the most remote properties some of these can be unaffordable.
“For some communities, even if they share the costs, the price will remain out of reach.”
BT said that there needs to be a new approach for providing broadband to the 0.5% of households in the country that are uneconomical to connect by the usual means.
“We need a new plan for the hardest to reach,” said BT. “Options could include alternative technologies, such as satellite, as well as clarity on the government’s £5bn funding pledge for rural fibre.”
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