Who can connect my apartment to the building's phone box?
May 5, 2010 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Rented a brand-new apartment, but it's not wired for the kind of phone and internet service we already transferred to the address. The result is that our phone line is active in the basement phone room, but someone has to connect that line to our 4th floor apartment. Every party is declining responsibility. Whose responsibility is it, and how much would it cost to get an outside electrician to do it?

- The owner of the apartment thinks our phone provider and ISP, Primus, should be responsible.

- Primus says that we need to get Bell to do it, because Primus (like all smaller phone/net companies in Ontario) rents their lines from Bell.

- Bell says that the superintendent is responsible for any wiring after the demarcation point, i.e. basement phone room. They also say it's not their problem because we're going with Primus anyway (it's unclear to me whether they would have done the wiring if we were Bell customers; the tech guy who I talked to didn't want to engage in hypotheticals).

- Finally, the superintendent says that because the apartment is wired for Rogers phone and internet, that's the extent of his wiring responsibility. The developer must have struck a bargain with Rogers to set up a de facto Rogers monopoly in the building. Unfortunately, all the cheaper resellers like Primus work off Bell lines, and signing up for Rogers service is not an option for us (it's a ripoff).

SO...I'm curious about whether it's anybody's responsibility to set the apartment up for non-Rogers phone and internet. Is one of the above parties unfairly passing the buck? Or am I just on the hook for this?

Assuming, however, that I'll ultimately have to do it myself, I'm wondering if anybody has gotten an electrician unaffiliated with a phone company to connect their phone, and what this is likely to cost me (I'm in Toronto). I believe that there are Bell cables running from the basement demarcation point to my floor, so the cable would only have to be dragged from a phone box on my floor into my suite. However, it's possible that it'd have to go all the way to the basement. Are we talking $200 or $2,000 here? I have no idea.

Thanks for any insight/advice you can offer...
posted by Beardman to Technology (23 answers total)
There's no reason (unless you're seriously unskilled) to hire an electrician for phone line work.

I assume your talking DSL here? I'm not clear why one company's dsl wouldn't work across the same set of 4 wire twisted pair.
posted by TomMelee at 12:14 PM on May 5, 2010

In my experience it's the owner of the apartment building who is responsible for all services past the point that the phone (or other utility) company is responsible. However, if the apartment building offers phone service to your apartment, just not the service you want - they probably don't have to spend the money required to give you the service you want.

That said, if there is already a phone line running to your apartment, there should be no reason to run a new cable, just change how it's set up at the box.
posted by jardinier at 12:18 PM on May 5, 2010

If your apartment already has wired phone jacks, which presumably go the basement incoming phone-line connections, then it's (theoretically) simple to just change the connection in the basement to use your new active line. You could do it yourself or get an inside phoneline person (look in the yellow pages) to do it, which shouldn't cost more than $100 absolute tops.
posted by anadem at 12:21 PM on May 5, 2010

Response by poster: There's no reason (unless you're seriously unskilled) to hire an electrician for phone line work. I assume your talking DSL here? I'm not clear why one company's dsl wouldn't work across the same set of 4 wire twisted pair.

If not knowing what "4 wire twisted pair" means is an indication of serious lack of skills, then I am seriously unskilled!

But re: why one company's lines wouldn't work with another, the problem is that Rogers internet is cable and their phone service digital. Whereas we need a normal analog line to get our phone and DSL service to work. Bell owns all the actual analog lines in the province, but Primus and various other resellers rent the lines from Bell. (I should've made this more clear in the post.)
posted by Beardman at 12:22 PM on May 5, 2010

Response by poster: if the apartment building offers phone service to your apartment, just not the service you want - they probably don't have to spend the money required to give you the service you want.

Yeah, that's what I'm afraid of. But offering Rogers and throwing up obstacles to all other services is kind dastardly, since Rogers wiring precludes going with any of the million cheaper companies out there that use Bell lines.
posted by Beardman at 12:25 PM on May 5, 2010

4 wire twisted pair is a standard phone cord. If you have phone jacks around the apartment, then you have this.
Coax is a Cable TV cord.

If your building is truly only wired for Rogers, you'll only have the latter (which I'd be very surprised at).
posted by schmod at 12:29 PM on May 5, 2010

In my neighborhood (US) the phone company's responsibility ends at the outside wall of the building. The phone company will install wiring inside the building, but that work will not be free / included in the cost of phone service.

I don't see how it could be your landlord's responsibility to wire his building for your service of choice, unless the lease says he will do so.

It sounds like you failed to confirm the existence of necessary hardware before transferring the service to your new address. The responsibility to fix this seems to fall squarely on you. Cost is hard to guess without knowing how far the wires will have to go, and through what obstacles. $200 seems much more likely than $2k.
posted by jon1270 at 12:31 PM on May 5, 2010

Response by poster: schmod: I think the building only has cable TV cord. It's surprising, but apparently Rogers has partnered with other developers in the city to pressure condo owners to sign up with Rogers service.

odinsdream: we have phone jacks with regular cables behind them in the apartment, and they run to a closet in our apartment. There is apparently supposed to be a cable that connects to those and then travels out of our apartment. But that was never there to begin with.
posted by Beardman at 12:32 PM on May 5, 2010

You can call an installer but you might want to clear with the owner what path the new wire and clips are going to take up the side of the building.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:37 PM on May 5, 2010

Response by poster: I don't see how it could be your landlord's responsibility to wire his building for your service of choice

You're probably right, but again, the reason for my curiousity is that (as you can see from schmod's incredulity) the service that is provided in the building is really unusual. There are no regular analog phone lines past the basement, which heavily pressures everyone to sign up with the one company, of all the many options out there. It's like if you moved into a place and the oven was designed to only cook Stouffer's meals...
posted by Beardman at 12:39 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, the cable co's phone service is VoIP (packet data) and the regular old phone line is analog (it carries your voice via a tiny electrical current.)

If there is truly no phone line from your apartment to the basement (generally there's a big ass phone-company-only box in the main service panel that lets the phone co connect your service on one side and the other side runs the wires to your room.), then you're in a bad way....you're saying "province" so "Canada or something non-US", so IDK what your standards are.

How big is this building? 10 units? 500 units? If it's small, you should be able to get permission from the management to let the phone company put a drop in the basement and run a line up the exterior wall into your unit. Of course, that's only gonna get you one plug, more is more $$. You said 4th floor I think, so that's not too bad, I might go that route.

Although, and I have heard that Rogers sucks, and it also depends on how they've split the signal---your throughput on cable versus DSL is generally worth a few more $$ a month, especially if you're gonna have to pay for the drop---which shouldn't be more than about $200 on top of the normal installation fee. If you're nice, the techs often forget to bill you for wire and crimps.
posted by TomMelee at 12:40 PM on May 5, 2010

There was a decision by the CRTC back in 2003, I think, that might be relevant. I'm not sure if it's been superseded by more recent decisions. I am not a lawyer, just someone who at least tries to keep up with some of the relevant rulings.

They ruled on a few points, and my understanding of the relevant ones is:
  • The telco providing physical circuits (in this case, Rogers) has to provide other competitive telcos access to unbundled local loops (that is the wire without any services), including the in-building wiring up to the customer's unit if they own that.
  • If the landlord owns the in-building wiring from the telco demarcation point up to the customer's unit, they also have to let other competitive telcos use it.
  • The landlord has to let competitive telcos install or upgrade in-building wiring, subject to some reasonableness constraints. The telco has to pay for the costs of doing this, including any reasonable costs incurred by the landlord.
Primus is one of the telcos that's set up to take advantage of these sorts of rulings. They don't own the physical wiring, they lease it from other telcos and provide you the service that way. So Rogers would have to let them do that using Rogers wiring to the building and up to your unit. The problem is that Primus isn't set up to do that via Rogers circuits which are VoIP over coax rather than traditional copper wiring.

Primus wants to lease a regular analog line from Bell to provide you with service. Sounds like they can get as far as the basement, and then the wiring does not exist to get up to your unit. Well, it does, but it's coax and not twisted pair, so Bell can't use that. Under the third part of the ruling I mentioned above, Bell could probably install additional wiring to get to your unit.

Bell, rather than the landlord, would have to pay for that additional wiring, and there's nothing that says they can't then turn around and bill you (or Primus, who would then bill you) for those costs. However you look at it, the landlord doesn't have to pay anything. It's an issue between you, your desired telco (Primus), and their provider of circuits (Bell). The landlord's only involvement is to grant permission and access for the circuit provider if they want to install new wiring, which my reading of the ruling says they have to do if the circuit provider asks.
posted by FishBike at 1:28 PM on May 5, 2010

It depends where the line is actually cut. Here in the US, the local phone company's responsibility ends at the "Network Interface Jack" which sounds like it's in the basement phone room in your case. I'm not sure if that's the same as it is in Canada.

When cable companies install VoIP phone service they will cut the line to the phone company, as it interferes with the ability to use the VoIP service (even if the phone company has it turned off with no dial tone).

I had a similar situation in 2003 moving into an apartment in a duplex house. The previous tenant had had VoIP service through the cable company, and I wanted to get a land line instead. In my case, the line had been cut before the Network Interface Jack, so the phone company sent a tech out, who spliced the line for free.

I've had VoIP for several years now (Vonage, though, not the cable company), and I can't use the existing phone jacks in my apartment because I have no access to the room where I'd be able to cut that line, and I'd rather not ask the landlord to do it. (When I owned a house, I cut the line myself, after the Network Interface Device, so if the new owner wants a land line they will be responsible to re-splice it).
posted by tckma at 1:38 PM on May 5, 2010

I see you are in Canada so my US advice may or may not help too much. Generally, unless the lease specifies, the landlord is not required to provide any special services. It's usually up to the tenant to see what is available before moving in and living with it or changing it within the limits of the lease.
posted by JJ86 at 1:43 PM on May 5, 2010

I dealt with a similar situation, although at a business location in the US. We (the business) was responsible for paying the carrier to bring the lines up from the telephone room.
posted by jrichards at 2:50 PM on May 5, 2010

I had this issue in Mississauga. I presumed that the inside wiring would be the landlord's issue, but it was Bell's. Bell owns the wires, right up to the jack. They didn't do a very good job fixing them in my case either, and I *was* a Bell customer. (NEVER AGAIN.)
posted by Hildegarde at 3:39 PM on May 5, 2010

Though I suppose if the wiring was never there in the first place...

Yeah, you're in a weird situation. Normally every house and apartment has Bell wires because that's always how it was done. Your landlord screwed you by not getting Bell to do the wires. Presumably you could hire Bell to do the wires, but that's going to cost a mint.

How committed are you to Primus? They shouldn't charge you for service they are incapable of delivering. You might need to get a cellphone and get a rogers cable modem.
posted by Hildegarde at 3:45 PM on May 5, 2010

Best answer: Many of the answers people have kindly offered are correct for some areas/situations, but I can see you might be confused by what looks like conflicting advice. My diagnosis here is that you either got a green Primus agent who didn't know what to tell you, or that they didn't have all the information you put forward here.

Okay, first off, you can simplify your problem by cutting your list of people to call.

- You don't need to talk to Rogers at all, as their facilities in the building are completely separate from anything you plan to use.
- Leave Bell alone, too. Yeah, they own the wires, but PRIMUS is their customer in this case, not you.
- If wiring is in place inside your unit (i.e. you have plenty of jacks and they are in places convenient to you) you don't need to order inside wiring.

It would be kind of short-sighted on the part of the builders to omit any inside wiring for telephony except non-traditional coax cable connections provided by one specific company, so the only disconnect inside your building is probably in the Bell phone box downstairs. There are two ways you can deal with this.

- One is to look up a jack installer/inside wiring tech to come and do this for you. You shouldn't have to pay more than $100/hr for this kind of work, and you can probably find a much better deal. You'd tell him all you need is to be connected to the demarc. It's literally a ten minute job, including going down the stairs.
- The other, and the one I'd recommend you try, would be to contact Primus, and advise them that you'll be switching your service to Rogers unless they solve your wiring issue. Their customer service should be in a position to order this for you from Bell (you don't call Bell, they do). They might charge you for this, but again, it won't be more than $100/hr. If you sound like you know what you're talking about and that you're serious, they may do it for you at no charge. The magic words here are "cancel service", "building prewired for Rogers", "connect me in the building phone room", and "please". This situation is a huge area of revenue loss for any telco, when their customer is lost and confused and angry and living out of a box with the battery on their cell dying from being on hold. I guarantee you they will have some kind of official policy in place to give you everything they can to hold on to your business.

Your suspicions that Rogers and the developer of your property are in bed together are correct, but this means the property has no obligation to pay for, provide, or order wiring service for you, as they've already provided an alternative. Since you are a renter, when you make an appointment for someone to come and fix this, make sure you've got previous permission from your building management. This should include arrangement for access to the phone room, either in the form of a key or having the super on site. If you are going to order some jacks, or think you might need to make any holes or pull off baseboards, get your permission in writing.

I hope you can sort this out. It's a giant pain in the ass. Don't let a situation engineered by Rogers marketing enrage you to the point where you give up and let them have their way with you, because that's what they count on in buildings like this.
posted by Sallyfur at 5:29 PM on May 5, 2010

Bell is correct when they say that they are not responsible for anything past the demarc. (That's why they call it that. It's the demarcation between their stuff and yours.) It's really the property owner's problem after the demarc, but unless your lease specifies copper phone service, good luck getting the landlord to do anything about it.

What you could do is call Bell and say that you need wiring work done inside your house. They'll send a technician out and you'll get charged. Exorbitantly.

I was talking to an ex-Bell linesman recently,* and his story was that they ('they' being the ILECs, the Bell descendants) are charging ridiculous amounts for customer premises work because that's not a business they really want to be in. At the same time, they're laying off a lot of their linesmen and techs.

The upshot of all this to you is that if you go on Craigslist or a similar service, you can probably find a very-qualified person to do the work in the building for far less than Bell would charge. So if you want the copper-based internet service, it shouldn't cost you that much to have the wires run. A few hours, max, at whatever the going rate is for a skilled tradesman, basically.

* If anyone reading this is in the DC / NOVA area and has a similar situation, let me know and I'll get you in touch.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:50 PM on May 5, 2010

The telco has zero responsibility past the demarc (the little box mounted on the side of your building). If the internal wiring is a bad/messed up/cut then you or your landlord need to pay for it to be corrected. You can hire a phone guy to fix this. I'd ask for a qoute upfront and if they want more than $150 I'd tell them to take a walk.

I'd also consider going with the local cable provider for internet and phone. They usually do full installs (run line, do internal line work) as part of a free or cheap first install.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:44 PM on May 5, 2010

Best answer: Wow... I find this absolutely appalling! I refuse to replace my copper phone line with rogers phone/voip, since the analog phone is the only one I could rely on in an emergency if the power was out. (I have a cordless phone, but still keep an old wired phone around, just in case...) I can't believe that it's legal to rent out an apartment that isn't wired for phone service!

In any case... try posting your question on the Canadian forum on dslreports.com, or even the telco-specific forum. There are a bunch of really knowledgeable phone techies that hang out there who would probably be able to explain more and give you an idea of the cost and feasibility of running a phone line to your apartment.
posted by kaudio at 10:50 PM on May 5, 2010

Beardman, you've already dealt with this in Toronto, remember? No phone or internet for a month because Rogers/Bell gave us the fuck-around about who was responsible to actually connect the lines necessary to give us a phone/internet. Same demarcation line in the basement, blah blah blah. If memory serves, I did exactly as Sallyfur suggested and the magical telephone fairies showed up and wired us (and didn't even charge us, though they said they would).

I don't blame you for forgetting that you've already gone through this exact experience. I've tried to block that month from my brain, as well.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 8:40 PM on May 6, 2010

Response by poster: Update for anyone who finds this thread and is in a similar situation:

Primus, threatened with cancellation, said they'd pay for a third party contractor out to do the needed internal wiring (and I would not be charged for it). That person called me, confirmed some specifics, and then called Primus back to confirm that they'd pay for the installation. Then I heard nothing. So, at the end of the day, I called Primus and they said that either I or the building's management had to pay for it. I cancelled and signed up with TekSavvy, who offer cable internet at a better price than Rogers (note: only in certain areas, but Toronto is one of them). We're switching to cell phones to replace the landline, since I don't dig the VoIP scene.

Thanks for all the advice. And my similar thread on dslreports, suggested by kaudio, is here for anyone to whom it might be of any use.
posted by Beardman at 2:29 PM on May 13, 2010

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