NBN delay to 250,000 households a 'teething problem', minister says
The government and Telstra have defended NBN Co’s suspension of its rollout of the HFC network. About 250,000 households that were to receive the NBN over the next six months will now have to wait after the company halted the rollout of services through pay TV cables.
The news sparked complaints from Australians who were scheduled to get the new service, and commiserations from people who already had it but weren’t that impressed anyway.
On Monday the company said it was suspending the rollout of the hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) network, to “improve customer service”, conceding that “too many were not having the experience they deserve when connected”.
Five paragraphs into the press release, headed “NBN Co takes customer experience improvement program to new levels”, the company said all new orders for NBN over the HFC network would be paused while incremental field work was done to improve the service for current users.
Labor claimed the delay would cost between $240m and $790m, loosely based on figures from NBN Co’s 2016 corporate plan.
Telstra welcomed the announcement, despite it appearing to send its share price to a five-year low on Tuesday, the Australian reported. There is also a yet-to-be-calculated impact on Telstra’s compensation receipts for customers who transfer to the NBN.
“The NBN are putting the customer experience ahead of the rollout schedule,” Telstra’s chief executive, Andrew Penn, said. “And that is the most important thing because clearly there has been some pain with the HFC technology.”
About 370,000 of the 1m households ready to receive the NBN through HFC connections have done so.
The HFC cables were laid in the 1990s for pay TV services, and formed a key part of Malcolm Turnbull’s reworked NBN plan, to replace that of the Labor government.
The federal communications minister, Mitch Fifield, defended the NBN Co delay as a “teething problem”. On Sky News this week he conceded there were issues to work through in the early rollout period of any NBN technology, but they were “very fixable”.
Fifield said customers could still get 100Mbps on current services, and could “potentially” get gigabits per second on the HFC.
Earlier this month, Telstra announced it would refund up to 42,000 customers who had signed up for extra-speedy services the company conceded it was never able to deliver.
Telstra had self-reported to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which confirmed the undeliverable service promise through its own investigation.
When asked about recent complaints of slow speeds, Fifield said there were issues with interference on the spectrum shared by Telstra and Foxtel, but NBN had a fix for it, and that some joints between the street and house cables needed to be replaced.
Fifield told the ABC people affected by the delay were still able to get fast non-NBN broadband through HFC cables.
He joined the NBN Co chief executive, Bill Morrow, in maintaining the NBN network would be completed and 8 million Australians connected by 2020 – 3 million of which are expected to be through HFC.
Those who were scheduled to receive the NBN through HFC will now have to wait until the NBN Co updates its map. They have been assured that other services will not be withdrawn in the interim.
In response to the news many noted NBN Co’s attempt at spinning the delay as “new … rollout initiatives”. A number of people said the delay would affect their business or personal finances as they were forced to rely on 4G because of a lack of local service. Some who already had NBN took the chance to reiterate their complaints.
“What do you expect when you try and roll out HFC NBN on 20year-old cable technology purchased from Optus/Telstra?” said Rob Nicol on the NBN Co’s Facebook page.
“The lack of emergency NBN has for its customers is beyond me,” wrote Maree Giust, who said she’d had four appointments cancelled by the NBN provider.
Even before the HFC-related delay, complaints about the NBN had skyrocketed and were expected to increase further.
The most recent annual report form the telecommunications ombudsman revealed complaints about the service had risen to more than 27,100 from 10,400.
On Monday a technical glitch reportedly caused an NBN outage for Optus customers in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia.
‘The NBN are putting the customer experience ahead of the rollout schedule,’ Telstra chief says. Photograph: Brendan Esposito/AAP