NBN delay to 250,000 house­holds a 'teething prob­lem', min­is­ter says

The Guardian Australia - - News - He­len Davidson

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

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