Col
Street furniture 
2013-02-13 (Wed) 10:31
shamrock

Why do BT keep their street cabinet locations such a state secret, anyway?

I work at home, and we're making increasing use of videoconferencing at work. I also live 3km from my exchange just as the crow flies, let alone cable length which I think is more like 4km. If I get 2.5Mbps ADSL I'm lucky, and it's not desperately stable either. I refuse to use Virgin Media for a variety of reasons I won't bore you with. FTTC would be a very useful thing for me, and I've been awaiting it eagerly.

The Cambridge exchange was upgraded some time ago and it's been listed as "accepting orders", but of course this only means that some minimum number of cabinets support it. Several of my friends nearby have been switched on recently, and I've seen some Openreach vans driving around locally, so I've been trying to find out when it might reach me. This is far more work than it ought to be. The various checkers say nothing interesting for my telephone number; but who knows whether a negative result might mean "next week", "next month", "next year", or "never, you sucker"? All I was easily able to determine was that I'm attached to cabinet 83. Peering at the cabinet I frequently pass on the way north from here indicated that it's number 81.

So, with the aid of OSM (which beats Google Maps for this because it has house numbers, at least around here), the Royal Mail's postcode finder, and BT's address checker, I started trying to map out the border of the region covered by my cabinet. I think I've determined that it's roughly bounded by the unnamed path just to our north and east, Northfield Avenue, Roxburgh Road, Woburn Close, the path down to Arbury Road, Albemarle Way, and then the path back up to ours. Not that this has so far helped me find the physical cabinet so that I can see if there's a new FTTC cabinet next to it yet, which is the point of the exercise, but at least now I know roughly where I ought to be looking. I should perhaps figure out how to record my findings on OSM for others. (Oh, and to rub it in, as far as I can tell all the surrounding cabinets are now FTTC-enabled.)

But honestly. What is the point of this being secret in the first place? Broadband forums generally seem to think that BT deliberately keep cabinet locations a closely guarded secret, rather than it just being inaction; I don't know how much to credit that and how much it might be conspiracy theory, but it does seem borne out by reality. It's well-known what the cabinets look like; they're generally right out in broad daylight; you can look up your cabinet number; it's common enough for the number to be stencilled on the cabinet; and cabinet-level information is relevant to a lot of people waiting for FTTC (I found huge numbers of forum threads about the same kind of thing). If the problem were vandalism or what-have-you, even targeted, they really don't raise the bar very much by keeping the information secret; they must already have all the data for maintenance purposes, probably even fairly well-indexed; and BT and Openreach must get vast numbers of trivial queries that they could avoid just by publishing this data.

It all seems like obscurantism for the sake of it.

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Comments 
2013-02-13 (Wed) 14:52 (UTC)
You can look up your cabinet number, but can someone else look up your cabinet number?

By my understanding, anyone with a bit of technical knowledge, a funny-shaped thing like a meter cupboard key and a Fluke TS30 could tap your phone line.

Clearly, that state of affairs is inherently unsatisfactory, but hiding the locations of cabinets, and which of the local ones your line goes through, provides at least a semblance of security through obscurity?
2013-02-13 (Wed) 16:25 (UTC)
If you have an address and postcode, you can look up anyone's cabinet number using the address checker I linked to above.
2013-02-13 (Wed) 21:01 (UTC)
So, to expand: I certainly understand that there's a place for obscurity. However, given that the address-to-cabinet mapping is public, I don't really think that anyone who's gone to the effort of acquiring knowledge and tools to install a phone tap and has it in for me enough to do so would be the slightest bit impeded by having to walk round a bit looking for a cabinet. This is one of those cases where the security-through-obscurity seems to just get in the way of ordinary customers without actually hurting the bad guys in any particularly meaningful way.
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