Tech News : EE and Plusnet Customers To Get Refund From BT

After an Ofcom investigation that found BT didn’t give clear and simple information to customers who signed up to deal with its subsidiaries EE and Plusnet, BT has been told it must refund early exit fees and let existing affected customers walk away penalty-free.

What Happened? 

Under new consumer protection rules, known as ‘General Conditions’ (GCs), that came into force in June 2022, phone and broadband companies, of which BT is both, must give consumers and small businesses the details of a contract, as well as a summary of its key terms, before they sign up. These details must include the price, the length of the contract, the speed of the service, and any early exit fees.

UK Telecoms regulator, Ofcom, says that it opened an investigation into BT after it received information that two of BT’s wholly-owned subsidiaries, EE and Plusnet, may not have been providing the required documents to some customers.

The Findings 

Ofcom says its investigation revealed that since the introduction of the new rules on 17 June 2022, EE and Plusnet made more than 1.3 million sales without providing customers with the required contract summary and information documents. Ofcom found evidence that 1.1 million customers were affected by this between 26 June and 30 September 2023, i.e. they were not given contract information before they signed up as is required under the new rules.

Other key findings by Ofcom were that:

– Despite telling Ofcom in February 2022 that it was confident the deadline to meet the new rules would be met, evidence showed that BT knew as early as January 2022 that some of its sales channels would not meet the deadline.

– In some cases, BT deliberately chose not to comply with the rules on time.

– Ofcom says that whereas other providers dedicated the resources required to meet the implementation deadline for the new rules, BT may have saved costs by not doing so.

– Some sales channels are still non-compliant, and BT is still not providing the required information at the right time to some customers.

The Outcome 

The outcome of Ofcom’s findings in this case are that:

– Ofcom has issued a £2.8 million fine to BT, although this includes a 30 per cent discount as a result of BT’s admission of liability and its completion of Ofcom’s settlement process.

– The 1.1 million customers affected have been given the opportunity to request the information and/or cancel their contract without charge.

– For those customers who left BT before the end of their contract and were charged an early exit fee, BT must refund those early exit fees, and let existing affected customers walk away penalty-free.

Other Action 

Other actions that BT has been instructed to take by Ofcom in relation to this case include:

– Identifying and refunding any affected customers who may have been charged for leaving before the end of their contract period, within five months of Ofcom’s decision.

– Within three months, contacting the remaining affected customers who are still with BT and have not already been contacted, to offer them their contract information and/or the right to cancel their contract without charge.

– Amending remaining sales processes that are still non-compliant within three months of Ofcom’s decision.

Unacceptable 

Ofcom’s Enforcement Director, Ian Strawhorne, said: “When we strengthened our rules to make it easier for consumers to compare deals, we gave providers a strict timeline by which to implement them. It’s unacceptable that BT couldn’t get its act together in time, and the company must now pay a penalty for its failings.”  

Also, Rocio Concha, Director of Policy and Advocacy for consumer organisation ‘Which?’ said: “It’s absolutely right that Ofcom is fining BT for not providing EE and Plusnet customers with clear contract information before they signed up – as some people will have been hit with pricey exit fees they never should have faced.” 

What Does BT Say? 

BT has been reported as saying that it is sorry, will “implement the remedial actions” required by Ofcom and has “taken steps to proactively contact affected customers and arrange for them to receive the information and be refunded where applicable.” 

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Ofcom’s ruling against BT is a reminder to telecoms companies and service providers about the importance of compliance with the latest regulatory requirements. For BT, this incident highlights the critical need for transparency and accountability in customer communications, especially in a competitive market where trust is paramount. The £2.8 million fine (which some commentators say should have been higher) and the mandated refunds are examples of the financial and reputational risks associated with non-compliance.

For other providers, this case is a cautionary tale that emphasises the need to adhere to consumer protection rules and the potential consequences of failing to do so. It also shows that companies that decide to push boundaries in their marketing campaigns must think more carefully about these strategies, ensuring that their promotional activities do not leave customers in the dark about what they are signing up for. In an industry where bundling services into complex contracts is common, maintaining clarity and simplicity within customer interactions is still essential to avoid regulatory scrutiny and potential penalties.

For customers, this case may see them benefit (a little) from increased regulatory oversight and assurances that providers must comply with clear guidelines, thereby helping them make more informed decisions about their service contracts. Also, the knowledge that you can exit contracts without penalty in cases of non-compliance should be reassuring and help consumers from being unfairly trapped in agreements they did not fully understand.

Sustainability-in-Tech : Green BT Street Cabinets To Become EV Charging Points

In line with the government’s aim to increase the number of electric vehicle (EV) charging points from 50,000 to 300,000 by 2030, the BT Group has announced that it will be repurposing its old, green street cabinets to EV charging points.

60,000 New EV Charging Points 

The move, as part of a pilot scheme beginning in Scotland “in the coming weeks” will see BT’s end-of-life green street cabinets being repurposed to add 60,000 new chargers nationwide.

Green Boxes 

BT’s green boxes, a familiar sight on many streets, have traditionally been used to house cabling for phone lines and broadband but BT says the cabinets are slowly becoming obsolete as fibre-optic broadband is rolled out across the country. The company says that when the boxes reach the end of their life the old broadband equipment can be recycled, and EV points housed there instead.

Easy To Repurpose 

The BT Group says green boxes can be converted simply by using a small device to supply renewable energy to an on-street charging point, without the need to create a new power connection. The technology can actually be deployed in cabinets which are either in use or due for retirement.

Huge Step 

Tom Guy, Managing Director at BT Group said: “Our new charging solution is a huge step in bringing EV charging kerbside and exploring how we can address key barriers customers are currently facing.” 

Other Ideas 

An insufficient number of charging stations and whether charging points are available at home (or at work) have long been seen as major challenges to the growth of EV ownership in the UK (along with other factors like the price of EVs).

Some of the many suggestions for other potential kerbside solutions include:

– Lamp posts, especially in residential areas where traditional charging stations might be impractical, and they already have an electrical connection, which can be modified to include charging points.

– Parking meters. This would save space plus make use of the existing power supply and payment systems.

– Utility poles (similar to lamp posts), which have an existing power supply and are widely distributed, making them a viable option for EV charging.

– Street furniture such as benches, bus shelters, or other street furniture with integrated solar panels which could be equipped with charging capabilities.

– Retired/classic telephone boxes (only available now in some areas) can (and have been) repurposed as EV charging points, combining cultural heritage with modern technology.

– Bollards could be equipped with charging technology.

– Public toilets, which have been getting scarcer due to closures from council cuts, already have electricity for lighting and heating, and could be adapted to include EV charging points.

– Solar-powered recycling bins with built-in Wi-Fi and charging capabilities are one suggestion of an innovative way to combine waste-management and EV charging.

– Pop-up, temporary charging hubs / mobile charging stations, in areas with high demand, using existing power sources or portable generators.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

The innovative repurposing of BT’s green street cabinets essentially kills two birds with one stone, breathing new life into old infrastructure while tackling the UK’s lack of EV charging points. It’s one step in the right direction towards sustainable technology and environmental responsibility and it sounds as though it has the potential to make a major contribution (60,000) to the UK’s target of having 300,000 EV charging points by 2030. However, bear in mind that this is still only a pilot scheme.

It also seems like quite a practical option for a broad segment of the population. For organisations operating in the EV sphere, this expansion could also open new avenues for growth and innovation, as the increased infrastructure will likely stimulate demand for electric vehicles.

Environmentally, the repurposing of existing structures for EV charging aligns with green initiatives and carbon reduction goals and utilising existing assets, such as BT’s green boxes, is a way to reduce the environmental impact of constructing the necessary new EV charging stations in the UK. It also highlights how sustainability can be achieved through intelligent innovation, rather than just new construction.

Exploring the other potential kerbside solutions, like integrating charging capabilities into lamp posts, parking meters, and even public toilets, underscores the potential for creative solutions to the EV charging challenge. A versatile approach like this could well be the key to meeting the challenge of insufficient charging points in a faster, more affordable way at scale.

However, it’s still important to acknowledge that there are other remaining challenges within the EV market, such as the high initial cost of EVs, the need for widespread adoption of renewable energy sources to truly realise the environmental benefits of EVs, and the technical challenges associated with rapidly scaling up EV charging infrastructure. Addressing these issues requires a concerted effort from both the private and public sectors, with continued innovation and investment in sustainable technologies being paramount.

That said repurposing BT’s green street cabinets, alongside other innovative kerbside solutions, could offer a blueprint for how we can meet our environmental targets while fostering the growth of the EV market in the UK.

Tech News : AI Contributes To 55,000 BT Jobs Cuts

BT has announced that the completion of its fibre roll-out, 5G rollout, adapting to new technologies like AI, plus general cost cutting are key reasons why it will be axing up to 55,000 jobs, primarily in the UK, by the end of the decade.

40 Per Cent Of The Workforce 

The massive 40 per cent cut in BT’s workforce will lead to a significantly reduced cost base by the end of the 2020s and, according to boss Philip Jansen, make the new BT Group “a leaner business with a brighter future.”

Drivers Of Job Cuts 

The main drivers and numbers of the job cuts are reported to be:

– The completion of the most labour-intensive stage of BT’s next-generation full-fibre and 5G network expansion, which will mean 15,000 job cuts as fewer engineers will be required.

– The digitising of BT’s business and the wider adoption of AI, e.g. for call handling and network diagnostics, which will result in the loss of 10,000 jobs.

– The above-mentioned changes leading to fewer maintenance staff being required, which will result in another 10,000 jobs being cut.

– Cuts in the number of contractors (mainly abroad) which will mean the loss of 30,000 jobs.

– General re-structuring and cost-cutting as part of a rolling programme, meaning a loss of 5,000 jobs.

Vodafone  

BT’s job cuts announcement follows Vodafone’s decision to cut 11,000 jobs (around 12 per cent of its 90,000 global workforce) over three years.

Unions Expected It

The Communications and Workers Union (CWU) said that the BT job cuts were no surprise due to the introduction of new technologies and the completion of infrastructure projects.

Share Value Affected 

BT’s profits had dropped 12 per cent to £1.7 billion for the year ending in April and the company’s shares also fell more than 7 per cent after the job cuts announcement. Analysts suggest that the job cut announcements may be aimed at convincing investors of the promised cost savings.

AI Opportunities

With ChatGPT’s massive impact on the business world, much has been made around the part it will play in replacing some of the BT jobs. BT’s Boss Philip Jansen admitted that he sees “huge opportunities” to use AI in the business, e.g. to improve customer service and that an AI tool like ChatGPT “gives us confidence we can go even further”. However, he also says that, although adapting to new technologies, he doesn’t want to make customers “feel like they are dealing with robots”. 

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

As the unions pointed out, job losses at BT were expected anyway due to the introduction of new technologies across BT and the completion of the fibre infrastructure replacing the copper old network (resulting in in less labour costs). The arrival and enormous impact of ChatGPT (and now Bard), CoPilot, and others, however, have brought with them the kind of automation that has long been thought could lead to job losses, which appears to be the case here for around 10,000 BT workers. This could now become a growing trend as other big companies start to bring the cost and time saving benefits of AI into more parts of their business. As many commentators have noted, however, AI can also create new opportunities and new types of jobs and we are still very much at the beginning of the journey with generative AI, and regulation is likely to be an important step in making sure that the rapid growth of AI usage is safe and beneficial.