Openreach is a BT Group company and is responsible for the network and infrastructure that supplies telecommunication to homes, industry, business and utilities, and for the maintenance of the network.
The network consists of 75 million miles of cable which is mostly underground and accessed via over 2 million manholes and millions of footway boxes. There are 5500 telephone exchanges and 900 other buildings that also form part of the network. The network links cities, towns and villages throughout the United Kingdom and every effort is made to supply telecommunication to the most remote of places or isolated community. This network was started at the beginning of the 20th century and with modern fibre cables now being installed, a great deal of the original network is becoming redundant, but we are retaining it as a backup should the fibre system fail, as it is easier to repair and reinstate connections quickly in emergency situations.
Due to the emerging economies of India and China, the demand for all raw materials has outstripped supply. If we concentrate on metals, the price of lead, chrome, aluminium, gold, platinum and copper has seen a marked rise in price over the last two years as demand increases. This has led to a black-market in metals and an increase in the theft of lead from church roofs, catalytic converters, railway signalling cable, bus shelters and BT copper cable. No thought is given by the perpetrator to the damage caused by water or the persons trapped on trains or the community isolation as long as they are making money.
Whenever Openreach cables are cut or stolen, we do our utmost to reinstate service as soon as possible. Our cables can be from as little as 5 pair up to 4800 pair and each pair carries a telecommunication connection. Thieves tend to target the larger cables so as to maximise the return from their theft, and as such, this means that more people are out of service. This also means that we need to tell more people why their telephone is not working, which is not always possible, and leaves our customers sometimes angry at the lack of information, but we are working on this and soon we will have large boards telling the public why there is no telephone service and hopefully keeping the public informed.
Openreach has 21 000 engineers who drive distinctly decorated vehicles. They also have image clothing with the company logo on it and wear industrial boots with metal toecaps. They have hi-viz jackets with OPENREACH written on the back. They are trained to park their vehicles safely and apply Road Works Guarding as specified by law. They are professional and trained to work safely within their environment. All BT Openreach engineers carry photo identification with a PIN number on it and an 0800 number to call and verify them. We do not work at night unless there is a major breakdown in the network and if we do, again, the site would be enclosed and lighted to the required standard. ( We do employ contractors and their standards should be the same as ours).
What can the public do to help Openreach. Be vigilant, be suspicious but under no circumstances approach persons. If you see persons opening footway boxes and they have no way of identifying then from their clothes or vehicle, be suspicious. If you see persons placing cones or road signs or even closing roads with barriers and you are unable to identify them, be suspicious. If you see or hear persons ‘working’ at night, especially on grass verges or unlit roads or vehicles screeching along the road dragging what looks like piping, be very suspicious. A vehicle registration and possible make can be of use in tracking the criminal down. Call the police if you are suspicious – they would rather make enquiries than have another crime to deal with.
What are Openreach doing? We are working with all Police Forces and offering information gained from our engineers and investigators. We are taking part in Days of Action with the enforcement agencies going into scrap metal dealers and stopping the possible outlet for stolen metals. We are working with Crimestoppers to allow the public to feed information into us, that we can correlate and pass on to the police. We are applying identifiable solutions to new cables and some existing routes, that can be traced if found with perpetrators or in the procession of scrap metal dealers. The lids to footway boxes are being replaced with lockable lids and lockable steel plates are being put under lids to add further protection. Any vulnerable routes are being alarmed, but if you look at the figures from the second paragraph, the task of protecting our network is an almost impossible task, which is why we all need to work together to stop cable crime.
By way of example, since January 2011 there have been 57 incidents in Surrey, mainly in the Chertsey, Woking and Bagshot triangle. The cost to Openreach has varied from a few thousand pounds to in excess of £100 000. If you take this as a nationwide problem, it is costing BT millions of pounds per annum. The time it takes to repair and replace cut or stolen cable can vary between a few hours and many days, depending on cable size and location, as well as damage done to the network.
If you see any suspicious persons or activity, especially at night contact-
BT SECURITY……………………………………….0800 321 999
CRIMESTOPPERS…………………………………..0800 555 111
Thanks to John Martin, BT Metal Theft Taskforce