BT to halt porting operations? An open letter to Ofcom

Simon Woodhead

Simon Woodhead

24th March 2020

By Simon Woodhead

Please also see an operational update (March 24th) since this post. And a further update (March 25th).

One thing I’ve noticed in the last few weeks is how positive and empathetic most people in our industry are being. Many of us are trying to help end-users and each other whilst of course worrying about what the future may hold for our teams and customers. In a surreal kind of way, it has shown the best of humanity and our industry, and the douche-bags have been too busy posting platitudes to LinkedIn to be too annoying. I really didn’t expect to have to write a blog post like this any time soon! But…

We are receiving strong indications that BT (Openreach) are to cease providing number portability due to COVID-19.

Whilst every onshore porting desk, including ours, has adapted to working from home, we totally understand why this is not possible in India and indeed why social distancing is impossible in an Indian BPO. Our thoughts and sympathies are with our Indian colleagues as one can only speculate whether BT will be honouring their salaries whilst laid-off.

The fault is not of India, it is squarely BT’s, and before 9am this morning the below letter was sent to Ofcom.

But some background…

BT are obliged to have Business Continuity planning, not just by the General Conditions of Entitlement, but presumably as a condition of the numerous Government contracts they’ve been awarded. We’re in unprecedented times but considering the rest of the industry have managed, that planning would appear to be woefully inadequate. Is that an accident?

The situation is more complex than simply BT apparently being unable to port in either direction. As anyone involved with porting will know that competitive operators can only port numbers to themselves from BT via Openreach in India, even if those numbers come from its microcosm porting team at BT IPExchange in Wolverhampton – yes, Openreach sit on hold to IPExchange while we sit on hold to them. Meanwhile, IPExchange try to throw the BT name around and bully their way to direct porting to BT rather than go through Openreach. Presuming Wolverhampton are able to work from home, are we seriously entering a phase where BT can only win business but has conveniently rendered itself incapable of losing it? These are crazy times with me accepting things I never imagined I would, but I can’t accept that.

Of course, this isn’t really BT’s fault alone. BT are a former monopoly with all the entitlement, arrogance and bullying tendencies that go with that. Some of the most despicable excuses for human beings I know – the kind who at their nicest check Facebag during a minute’s silence – have made it their home. Like a teenager testing boundaries, it takes a parent’s guidance to make them honest decent human beings that the rest of civilised fair society will not want to batter. The parent in this analogy is Ofcom and frankly, social services should have stepped in years ago because they are not fit.

I’ve lost count of the number of times we have highlighted how broken UK number portability is. I’ve lost count of the number of times we have highlighted how we see BT manoeuvring towards re-monopolisation. Ofcom’s response? To reward BT with windfall profits by forcing wholesale revenues down for other operators whilst allowing BT to increase transit rates and retail revenues. To completely ignore our multiple complaints about consumers being ruthlessly shafted and extorted by BT resellers. To continue to let UK number portability burn whilst fannying around with blockchain, oh, and giving BT £500k to provision the necessary virtual machines to enable it. To continue to prevent competition in mobile unless one is subservient to the oligopoly. To point score over “the shouty man” rather than do their job. Need I go on?

Every other first world country has a system that isn’t encumbered by a former monopoly and thus is not dependent on the original range-holder once a number has ported. I’ve often said banana republics would be proud of our system, but I bet they’ll continue porting too. It is a national embarrassment and only one organisation can ultimately be held responsible for that: Ofcom.

Enough is enough!

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