KCOM boss takes to Facebook Live to answer customers’ questions
The people of Hull and East Yorkshire took their chance to put questions straight to the boss of KCOM as the company hosted its first Facebook Live event.
This week, KCOM’s managing director Sean Royce took to Facebook Live to answer questions from the public.
The event, the first of its kind in the UK, was watched thousands of times online and prompted dozens of probing questions from customers.
If you would like to watch a recording of the live event you can do so by clicking here.
Sean, who took over the reins of KCOM’s Hull and East Yorkshire operations in April 2018, promised no subjects were “off limits” and answered questions for 45 minutes during the event, which was mediated by former Hull Daily Mail editor John Meehan.
Here are the answers to questions posed on the night. Where questions were submitted on a similar theme Sean answered representative examples that hopefully provide answers to all those who asked about the same subject.
One of the questions that KCOM is frequently asked surrounds the issue of KCOM’s position as the only fixed line provider of phone and broadband services in the region – and the Facebook Live event proved no different.
Graeme Wightman asked: “Will the monopoly of phone and broadband services in the Hull area be opened to normal competition, allowing consumers to get a genuinely competitive deal?”
Sean said: “I expected that. I expected the questions around the monopoly subject. The “M” word. Many people say we have a monopoly – and it is true we have a very dominant position here.
“How it’s going to be opened is a different question. Anybody can access our network. Anybody can pay the wholesale pricing that we charge to access our fibre network and Talk Talk, Sky, Virgin can do that – but it doesn’t happen and I can understand that sense of frustration.
“I often hear, ‘why does that not happen?’ and ‘you’re charging too much’ – but that is a myth.
“Our fibre pricing to access our network is the same as it is in ‘BT Land’. In fact, in some instances it’s even cheaper – but the competition doesn’t happen.”
Sean agreed that, although there are other wireless and fibre broadband providers and resellers in Hull and East Yorkshire, there is a lack of choice when it comes to choosing your supplier in the region.
He said: “The question is ‘why is that?’ And that’s a really difficult question for me to answer. You’ve really got to ask the other providers.
“We have wholesale prices out there that are sometimes better than they are in BT Land and yet others do not choose to take the service up.
“It’s a bit like me going to Debenhams in town and saying, ‘why on earth aren’t John Lewis here?’ Debenhams can’t answer that question. You need to talk to John Lewis.”
Sean added that Ofcom, the telecoms industry regulator, had asked other providers some time ago why they had decided not to provide services in the Hull area – and the general answer had come back that it would not provide the returns on investment that they needed.
“The inconvenient truth is, they don’t want to be in Hull and, as sad as that may seem, you can’t force a commercial business – these huge PLCs – into this area. That’s the conundrum we’ve got.
“Whether we like it or not, the patch we are on is small. It is 0.5 per cent of the UK. So, if you are another provider and you want to make some money by providing broadband and voice services you will naturally go to the 99.5 per cent of the UK.
“Another important point is the average income in this part of the country is lower than in other parts of the UK, there’s not as much affluence, so it’s not as attractive for others to come in here.
“The third point is our fantastic broadband network which we have got here. We have got the best, fastest, ultrafast fibre broadband network in the UK, arguably in Europe, so how are they going to compete with that?”
Sean said that he believed it was “only a matter of time” before competition did arrive in the Hull area as the broadband market and technology to provide it evolved.
Competition, he said, could come from other fixed line and wireless broadband providers as well as mobile phone operators offering 5G packages
Adrian Wright asked: “Could I please ask why KCOM overcharge customers in Hull for Internet services? My Mum is moving to Barton and I've been pricing Internet packages for her, she can get TV unlimited fibre and telephone cheaper than my phone and Internet price.”
Responding, Sean said the Ofcom broadband market review of 2018 had found that KCOM’s prices are broadly similar to those of providers outside Hull.
The report said: “While there are some differences in speeds offered, data allowances and pricing, packages available in the Hull area are broadly comparable to the rest of the UK.”
He added: “I do sympathise with Adrian. Recently we have been listening to our customers about the lack of choice and the lack of flexibility of packages so we have introduced the Pick and Mix packages, which you may have seen promoted in and around the town, which give our customers some choice around the different types of products and services they can take.”
Sean said the entry price for Lightstream broadband had been reduced to £26 per month with packages ranging up to the premium 400Mbps, unlimited data service at £60 per month.
Submitting a question on Facebook Chris Columbus said: “I don’t want another provider, I just want more for my buck.”
Sean replied: “I do recognise that and some of the feedback we have got back suggest we need to think about lowering prices and that is something we are looking at. We will look at lowering price points where there is value to be gained.”
He said the company constantly checks its prices against other providers to make sure they are comparable, but that it was also important to remember that “what you see is what you get with KCOM”.
KCOM, he said, was transparent and didn’t offer introductory offers where the prices were hiked towards the end of the contract.
WHY IS MY LIGHTSTREAM BROADBAND BUFFERING?
Jo Collinson, asked “Why is it when I got Lightstream you told me there would be no buffering any more. Why is it I still get it?”
Sean replied: “It’s a good question because it does happen and there’s a reason for that.
“Lightstream is a wonderful product, but when you get into the house and you consume the internet, you generally consume it using wirelessly – whether that is on your tablet, your TV, your PS4 - and that gap between your router and your device is where the problem can be.
“We’ve recognised that and we have introduced what we call the PRO Team, who will go into people’s homes and sort that out. They will resolve any issues and optimise the in-home experience.”
Sean added that KCOM plan to provide 500 free PRO Team appointments a month and encouraged anyone who thinks they have an in-home Wi-Fi performance issue to get in touch.
WHY DOESN’T KCOM OFFER TV AND SPORTS BUNDLES?
Sean said: “We’ve tried for many years with providers such as Sky and BT Sport to get deals that we can provide to our customers – because our customers want that – but we struggle to get deals that will work, for them as well as for us.
“These providers have paid billions of pounds for content rights – we simply can’t do that.
“So, we have to go to these guys and ask them, nicely, to give us the rights so we can give them to our customers – but they expect huge sums of money in return and we simply can’t afford that.”
Sean added that he expected the TV market to change massively and “fragment” in the years ahead as more and more content providers – such as individual football teams – decided to sell rights to screen their matches, bypassing middle men such providers as BT and Sky. This, he said, would open up opportunities for companies such as KCOM and individual customers as to what services they choose to take.
Investing in an ultrafast fibre broadband network that was capable of carrying services such as Amazon and Netflix and even Facebook, rather than a set-top box that would provide content was the right direction to go, added Sean.
There will also be partnering opportunities with companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook to share premium content in the years ahead.
COULD YOU PROVIDE NEW ROUTERS?
Gareth Moxon asked: “Could you provide routers that aren’t 15 years out of date? The signal on them is shocking.”
Sean responded: “If you have got a 15-year-old router it absolutely needs changing out and please let the team know if that’s the case on 01482 602555.
“Routers make a huge difference and the technology is forever changing. We are right now looking at providing a “super router” and working with some manufacturers to get the best router that is out there – better than BT, better than Talk Talk, better than Sky – and that will be coming out in the new year.”
WHY IS THERE NO KCOM APP?
Steve Mennel, asked: “Why haven’t we got a KCOM app yet so customers can connect to the Free Wi-Fi hotspots via it or pay bills and check usage? There is so much demand for apps to make life easier.”
Sean replied: “I totally agree. One of the first things I saw when I came into the business in April was that we have absolutely got some work to do around our online provisioning of services.
“We have invested so much money, and so much effort and focus, in getting the network right and getting the best broadband in the UK but now we are entering another phase. We will have reached every single home with fibre network by March 2019 and that will put us a long way ahead of the rest of the UK.
“We now need to switch our focus – that’s part of my remit – to the customer service we offer.”
He said products such as an app where customers can be looking at their account, pay bills and check their services will be available within the next six to 12 months.
WHY DO YOU CHARGE LINE RENTAL FOR FIBRE PACKAGES?
Sean, said: “You’ll be pleased to know you don’t have to pay for a landline. The new Pick and Mix packages do not include line rental. You can just take your broadband package and if you want to make calls you can bolt on call bundles if you want – or pay for calls as you go.
“Our customers have wanted that for a long time so we’ve addressed that.”
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR TECHNICAL INNOVATION?
Sean said KCOM already delivers 1Gbps speeds for businesses in Hull and East Yorkshire and expected to be able to offer the same for residential customers in the very near future. The £85m investment in the Lightstream network makes this possible and has future proofed the region against increasing demand for ever broadband higher speeds and data demands.
Sue York asked: “When will Lightstream be available in North Bransholme?”
Sean said: “This is a question we get all the time. We started our journey towards building our fibre network in 2012 so we are six years in. Some people have been really fortunate and been at the front end of that and some people have unfortunately have been at the back end.”
He added that parts of Bransholme have Lightstream live now and the majority of the area will be connected to Lightstream within weeks.
He said it wasn’t true that KCOM had “cherry picked” more affluent areas for Lightstream deployment first, leaving less affluent areas waiting further down the queue.
He said: “We have taken three things into account in the way we’ve deployed the new broadband fibre network. First of all is technical ease – where’s the quickest and easiest way for the engineers to roll the fibre out. It’s a very complex operation.
“Secondly, what are existing take-up level of broadband in different areas? We feed that into the equation. That’s not necessarily the more affluent areas.
“The third part of that recipe is ‘where are the low speeds on the old copper network?’ which is mainly due to distance to the network.
“We put those three things into the equation and that’s what drove the rollout.”
WHY DON’T YOU OFFER CUSTOMER LOYALTY DISCOUNTS?
Sean said that was something his team would be looking into as part of its post-Lightstream rollout focus on improving customer service.
“That’s a great question. Customer loyalty schemes are something we should be looking at – and we are doing precisely that. We are in a very privileged position here and we have got customers who have been with us for many years.
“I want to make sure that they’re with us because they want to be with us, not because they have to be with us - and that is the next part of our journey. We’ve done the technology. Our focus and investment and all our team’s resources now need to be around making sure our customers want to be with us.”
SHOULD ADSL CUSTOMERS GET A DISCOUNT?
Axel Billingsley asked: “Lightstream has only just become available to me, do you think I should have been given a discount on standard broadband until Lightstream became available given the performance difference but lack of price difference?”
Sean said: “It’s a good question. There was a difference in pricing. The fibre prices were more expensive than the copper prices. Recently, there’s more parity to the price points between the two.
“For us, and more importantly for our customers, the best experience they are going to get is on fibre.
“So, we’ve taken the decision to make the prices on fibre similar to that on copper because the vast majority of our customers – and by March 2019 every single one of our customer – will be able to get fibre. We don’t want people to see price as a barrier to moving to that better service on fibre.”
In a question submitted before the event David Minns asked: "Once the conversion to fibre has been completed will you be moving to a voip platform? If so what are the timescales."
KCOM's responded: "That's certainly the plan in the long term. VOIP, or Voice Over Internet Protocol, is a call service that runs over the internet and thus a fibre network as opposed to the old copper network.
"Earlier this year Chancellor Philip Hammond announced the Government was considering turning off the UK's copper network in a bid to speed up the roll out of a nationwide fibre network.
"Luckily for Hull and East Yorkshire, we are just six months away from having 100 per cent full fibre coverage that's compared to just four per cent of the rest of the UK, so we are more than ready to take advantage of the next evolution in the way we communicate through things such as Voip services.
"The Government wants full fibre coverage by 2033, so we are at least 14 years ahead of the rest of the nation."
Andrew Stamp asked: "What do you offer local community groups in terms of internet access? As we all know the world is going digital and a lot of services are going online with a lot a savings made been online.
KCOM replied: "We're proud to be from Hull and work very hard to support our local community.
"As well as supporting local groups, charities and events we also hold drop-in sessions and digital inclusion events at our own Learning Zone in Carr Lane and at venues across the region.
"We help hundreds of children learn about the internet and technology by taking our Simnet and KCOM Key Skills events out on the road â€“ last year we visited 65 schools across Hull and East Yorkshire.
"And we provide more mentors to Ron Dearing UTC than any other local employer.
"We are active partners in internet safety groups including Internet Matters and are members of the Internet Watch Foundation which helps to keep children safe online.
"And recently we've provided IT suites at St Stephen's Neighbourhood Centre, in East Hull, and at the Humber All Nation's Alliance centre in Hull city centre, to help local communities get on line."
WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY RECONNECTION FEES?
KCOM replied said: "Since the end of September we no longer apply reconnection fees to the accounts of customers who are disconnected for non-payment."
Stuart Woodmansey asked: Can you tell me how many bonuses were paid on the back of the staggered Lightstream launch and the extra funds gained by doing so from government grants for small businesses? Not exactly treating your customers fairly to make excessive gains is it?
KCOM replied: "No bonuses have been paid in relation to our Lightstream deployment or in relation to KCOM's participation in the Government's broadband voucher schemes."
James Hall asked: "Why is KCOM's London building this lovely modern building in-front of a square whereas all their Hull offices in the city their providing to look like they were built in the 1970s? Clearly shows even KCOM funnels its money into London.
KCOM replied: "In London we rent a relatively small office in a much larger building, while in Hull we own both of our main office sites. While we have a regular programme of refurbishment for our Hull offices our primary investment focus in the region is the deployment of full fibre broadband."