News : Anger Over BT's Response to Landline Phone Failures
Sutherland, UK, Jan 23, 2015 -- Serious concern has been raised about the wellbeing of the most vulnerable people in the county, after winter storms left scores of people without phone communication – several for more than six weeks.
Some customers in Sutherland are still waiting to have their phones reconnected.
Anccording to John Thurso MP, British Telecom (BT) should learn from power firm Scottish and Southern Energy’s response to this winter’s huge challenges. He was speaking after taking up the case of more than a dozen constituents who sought his help.
One customer resorted to digging a 70m long trench to help facilitate BT engineers to restore the phone line to his Bettyhill croft.
Unprecedented weather, including a spate of severe lightning storms this month and last, were the cause of the problem.
There is also a lack of mobile phone reception in the area and use of the special signal boosting hubs owned by some families is out of the question because they require the use of a landline.
BT said the worst affected areas have been Bettyhill and Kinlochbervie.
The acting head of Farr and Melvich Primary Schools, Elizabeth Best, who lives in Kirtomy near Bettyhill, has been angered by the lacklustre repair response from BT.
She said: "A lightning strike hit Kirtomy on Christmas Eve morning and it was literally a flash that went right up the valley and all but two out of about 24 telephones were hit. We’ve not had landline, mobile or broadband since then. One resident hasn’t had any landline, mobile or broadband since 10th December because their property was struck by lightning then.
"We contacted BT when we were out of the valley (where we don’t get reception) but tended to get somebody in India. I think the local engineer has been doing what he can, but nobody came to the village, BT didn’t deal with it.
"During all of this as well, when it was the really severe storms, we were without electricity, so you weren’t able to phone in and say you had a problem. We were without water as well. So the two people who had landlines were doing what they could to update the electricity companies."
Elizabeth managed to solve the problem in her own house after getting the number from a colleague for someone involved in "executive level complaints" at BT.
She said: "We just thought ‘enough is enough’. I spoke with her last Thursday and by Friday morning at 9am, my husband had a BT engineer from Thurso knocking on our door, who worked continuously for three hours or more in high winds and snowy weather. He went up the pole and he was digging in a trench and he got us back on to our landline and broadband.
"He is absolutely wonderful, but we shouldn’t have to go to that level to get it sorted. We just wanted to speak with someone in Britain about it."
Ken Starke (76), has also been without a phone at home in Kirtomy since Christmas Eve. He and his wife Joyce get no mobile phone signal at home.
Speaking by telephone from a friend’s house, he said: "I have a heart condition and my wife has asthma. It’s been very inconvenient, especially at Christmas and New Year. My brother Jack (80) died on New Year’s morning. Trying to make funeral arrangements was almost impossible without a phone.
"We keep getting messages that BT people are coming out, but they haven’t."
He has written to BT to complain.
BT Scotland said its engineers were continuing to work around the clock, "responding at a record rate" to repair damage to phone lines caused by the storms.
Farr joiner David MacKay, who suffered two cuts in his home phone line, the first on 12th December, finally opted to use a mechanical digger to drive a foot-deep trench stretching 70m on his croft to speed up the reconnection work.
He said: "They (the BT engineers) didn’t seem to mind at all. I was quite happy to do it so I would get my phone back on again. You’ve no idea the inconvenience phone loss caused."
He waited a further week to have the line reconnected due to the workload faced by BT engineers in the wake of the storms.
John Thurso echoed many in the county who have lost patience with the telecommunications provider. He also offered praise for SSE’s response to the severe weather, particularly regarding its direct contact with customers known to be vulnerable.
He said: "I thought SSE’s reaction was extremely high quality. They worked out where the problems were going to be, they drafted in engineers and got things fixed really very quickly. SSE were ringing people of a certain age in their own homes to check on their wellbeing, which was very reassuring.
"Suddenly you’ve got no telephone and you’re living in a croft house, your nearest neighbour might be half a mile away and the lights go out. That’s very, very concerning.
"I compare that to BT, who just said ‘there’s bad weather — that means we’re going to delay for two, three weeks’. You do wonder what they’re doing.
"I think sometimes that BT regard the provision of a telephone line as a bit of a luxury, whereas it is actually a vital utility on the same par as gas and electricity. If you can’t communicate you are deprived from earning, deprived from accessing services and the ability to access emergency services."
Science teacher Amanda Moseley from Bettyhill is among those who asked John Thurso to intervene after failing to get a satisfactory response from BT.
Her phone and broadband services were cut by a storm on 10th December. Six weeks on, as of Wednesday night, they had not been restored.
She told her MP: "Since reporting the fault I have received numerous phone calls to my mobile phone from the BT call centre, all with standard messages giving new dates for the fault to be fixed. I rarely get to answer these calls and speak to anybody as I am either in class teaching, or at home where we have virtually no mobile phone signal and so have to listen to voicemails.
"Not once has BT Openreach tried to call to tell us what is actually happening."
Fraser Rowberry, BT Openreach general manager for Scotland, said: "We foresaw this weather coming and mobilised our engineering teams in readiness. We’ve drafted in more than 240 extra engineers from around the UK to join our 2,500-strong engineering workforce in Scotland.
"Everyone is working flat out, some in treacherous conditions. We’re concentrating resources on where the worst damage is. But very few parts of Scotland are unscathed after a series of storms which one of our engineers described as the worst he has seen in nearly 50 years with BT."
He added: "We’d like to assure the public we’re doing our best and everything possible to reach those affected as quickly as we can and thank them for their patience and support."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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