BT Openreach prepares to declare UK MBORCed* as all new phone line installations halted over coronavirus

*Not a new backcronym, but 'Matters Beyond Our Reasonable Control'

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Updated BT is to halt all home visits by its Openreach broadband engineers except for essential ones needed to keep critical businesses and vulnerable people connected to the outside world.

As a direct result of the coronavirus outbreak, BT Openreach is refusing to accept new connection requests until 1 June 2020, though it will try to complete in-progress installations if they can be done "outside of the premises".

A briefing note seen by The Register detailed the move, which is framed chiefly as a way of helping prevent engineers from coming into contact with lots of strangers.

Transfers and fibre-to-the-cabinet upgrades will continue so long as BT employees don't need a visit to peoples' homes or business premises to complete: "Engineers will be asked NOT to enter the end customer premises and to enable/restore service where possible from outside of the premises," said Openreach.

"We will now prioritise only the essential work and absolutely minimise work that requires our engineers to enter end customer premises," said a communications update seen by The Register.

Only "self-install activities" for new connections that don't need an engineer to enter the user's premises, new connections for "vulnerable end customers" and critical national infrastructure companies will continue during the coronavirus shutdown.

Earlier this week on 23 March, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson locked down the UK for three weeks in an attempt to contain the spread of the coronavurus.

In its update Openreach said: "We will be asking our CPs to work with their end customers to understand alternative means of connectivity and to limit the movements of end customers between networks, due to the likelihood of an in-home visit being required."

Alex Tofts of comparison site Broadband Genie opined: "Under the circumstances, it's understandable that Openreach is halting engineer visits, it will help protect both their staff and customers. It's reassuring that the most vulnerable customers will still be given support to get online, but if you don't fall into that category you may need to be prepared for an extended outage, or a delay in having a new broadband service or phone line installed. Tethering a mobile phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot can be a good stop-gap solution, while mobile broadband is a suitable alternative for the longer term."

Also detailed in Openreach's note is its expectation that it will shortly declare the entire nation MBORCed, or, to use its own words, "we will shortly announce national MBORC".

Standing for Matters Beyond Our Reasonable Control, MBORC is a standard Openreach contract clause. It is normally activated for things like livestock knocking over telephone poles or floods shorting out roadside cabinets, and releases Openreach from liability, generally where contracts have defined timescales. We have asked Openreach for a bit more clarity about this and will update this article when we hear back from the firm. ®

Updated at 14:00 on 25 March 2020 to add:

An Openreach spokesperson told us: "We've been working closely with our Communications Provider customers to minimise the impact that the Government’s new restrictions have on the services we can provide.

"We know that what Openreach does is critical, and connecting people has never been more important. That's why many of our roles have been given 'key worker' status.

"That said, the safety of our people and the public is come first and, based on the new guidance, we’re now prioritising essential work.

"That means we're focussing on the repair and maintenance of connections that support critical national infrastructure, essential public services, vulnerable customers and those without service. And our CP customers are helping us to identify and prioritise these groups.

"We've also advised our engineers to avoid entering customer premises. A large amount of our work we do can be completed outside, and we can often fix problems without entering a customer's property – so we're advising them not to complete any work inside a property unless it would leave a vulnerable customer with no form of connection, and it's not possible to provide one by any other means."

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