By Simon Woodhead
Last year Ofcom “consulted” on what could have been described as BT’s business plan for the next five years. We put a lot of work into our response and made our views very public here as this was such an important review.
The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of consultation, is “the act of discussing something with somebody or with a group of people before making a decision about it”. Key phrase there is “before making a decision about it”.
So naturally, we were pretty disappointed to see it conclude so many months later largely unchanged. Was it a complete waste of significant time and effort?
On the face of it, it would appear so.
Our asks were apparently ignored or kicked into the long grass, even those where we believe there is legal precedent that requires Ofcom to consider them. That’s sad because one thing that is really apparent reading the Consultation’s findings is how Simwood approaches these things differently to peers. Many companies don’t tell their customers what they’re saying, or significantly redact their response, and that is probably a good thing as they’re entirely talking their own book and protecting their position or opportunity, including in some cases their ability to exploit customers. By contrast we genuinely try to call out the injustices and here made proposals that were against our commercial interest (e.g. regulate us not our customers), but would make the industry better. We figured if the industry improved, we’d adapt. Ofcom ignored or, in the example case, disagreed despite in our view subsequently contradicting itself. That’s fine but the sad part is none of those issues will now get fixed for at least five years – competitor CPs will go on being shafted by the former monopolist, whilst some get to continue shafting consumers, and the consumer champion and promoter of competition is ok with that!
The fact that this report is only 166 pages long (excluding Annexes), with much repetition, suggests to us that the findings in here aren’t expected to be sufficiently controversial for anyone to take this to the Courts. And that is sad too.
However, had our intent been commercial self-interest, there are some wins!
Firstly, whilst resisting making BT take responsibility for those who host ranges with it, who (based on many years experience trying to get some of them to port numbers) we affectionately call ‘IPX Scrotes’, they did affirm the obligations said scrotes have which are uniquely not fulfilled by BT. Ofcom believe those scrotes have the commercial power to force BT to fulfil them, or alternatively the willingness and ability to discharge them themselves. Neither situation works: BT barely moves course for entities with billion-pound buying power such as TalkTalk, Sky and Vodafone, so why it would for a reseller who is outsourcing its obligations because it can’t (or often won’t) discharge them itself is just beyond us.
Were they hosted with Simwood of course they wouldn’t have to worry about this because we already do the right thing, from porting through to wholesale call termination. So does every other hosting network that isn’t BT incidentally. Meanwhile, whilst we believe this doesn’t conclusively address the issue as we’d like, it pushes BT one step closer to not having its cake and eating it. That’s another way of saying we’ve got some letters to write…
Next, building on the ‘won’t’ [discharge responsibilities itself] mentioned above, we gave an example of a certain mobile operator who had totally ignored our requests even when sent, registered mail, FAO their Company Secretary, to their Registered Office. This, and their name was redacted in our public response, but Ofcom devoted an entire paragraph to expressing their displeasure with this sort of situation. That is tremendous and, again, doesn’t resolve anything in itself but moves us one step closer to bringing on the rest of the deck of mobile operators as direct peers.
There’s arguably a lot of arguments we could’ve made more vocally but chose not to, now we’re in the Secret Club. While we note that some others did broach these subjects, it feels as if the industry was somewhat already resigned to the issues being left unresolved (again). It may feel like pulling the ladder up behind us, but there’s immense satisfaction that Simwood customers will be migrated to all-IP (but preserving SIA economics) five years before those of our peers – those very same peers are likely to be backed up like the container ships in the Suez Canal right now. We’re living the process of that migration and are very grateful we’ll have it done five years before the world and his dog are trying to do it simultaneously!
So overall, maybe Ofcom do listen, and ‘we do not agree with Simwood’ has simply somehow found its way into the template! This was a good review for us commercially and there’s lots we can do with it to strengthen our customers’ positions. Sadly though, for IPX Scrotes thinking they’re getting a full service from BT, operators losing money on any numbers ported from BT, those concerned about call scenarios other than just geographic (especially with the former monopolist in the call path), or any consumer hoping to be able to port their number more easily / at all, this review does diddly squat. And all that is before BT pores over this document to find the loopholes and wiggle-room. Oh, and that little thing called security: drop kicked well down-field to DCMS and their legislative proposals currently in front of Parliament!!