House builder Persimmon has launched a lawsuit against BT (Openreach), which accuses the UK telecoms giant of allegedly owing them £7.2m plus interest for unpaid work as part of deploying new broadband ISP and phone infrastructure on 759 of its developments between 2008 and 2016.
Under the current Universal Service Obligation (USO) BT are required to deliver, following the “reasonable request of any End-user” (i.e. demand-led), a telephone service that includes the ability to offer “data rates that are sufficient to permit functional internet access” (here). For the most part this results in people gaining access to a basic copper broadband line (technically they could get away with only supporting narrowband dialup), provided the costs stay within a threshold.
Naturally this is something that new home builders also had to factor as part of the old agreement with BT. Traditionally many of the developers would lay some of the necessary infrastructure and then Openreach would come in to inspect the work, before paying the property developer for any bits that it is obligated to cover.
All of this began to change in 2016 as part of a new agreement between Openreach and the Home Builders Federation (HBF) to help expand faster “fibre broadband” (FTTC / FTTP) based services (here). Since then Openreach has also started to offer either significantly cheaper or completely free Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) lines to most new home developments (here).
However Persimmon’s lawsuit reflects the old agreement via a period that ran from 2008 to 2016, which we assume would be connected to the original USO requirements rather than newer “fibre” based services (the publicly available details are somewhat vague).
The case simply claims that BT “frustrated the process of inspection and certification.” The operator is said to have breached the contract by failing or refusing to inspect the installation, certify its quality or pay invoices. Persimmon is seeking £7.2m plus interest from the operator. All of this is perhaps a touch ironic since Persimmon has similarly faced complaints from some home owners over the quality of their new builds.
We should point out that the existing USO is due to be replaced later this year with a new 10Mbps+ minimum broadband speed requirement (here), which is expected to focus on the final 2-3% of UK premises (around 600,000) that have not gained access to a “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) connection by 2020.