Telco tension rises over copper network
Chorus has written to MPs accusing Spark of creating ‘‘anxiety’’ and confusion about the future of its copper broadband network.
The letter said Chorus had fielded calls from MPs whose constituents thought a Spark mailout meant that the copper network was being switched off, and that they would have to switch to Spark’s 4G wireless technology.
Spark spokesman Andrew Pirie confirmed Spark had sent a mailout to customers headed ‘‘water and wires don’t mix’’. The mail-out said Spark was seeing an increase in copper broadband faults, but Pirie said there was nothing in it to suggest the network was being switched off.
Chorus and Spark were both part of Telecom until the company was split in 2011, but the relationship between the NZX-listed businesses has become increasingly fractious since their economic interests began to diverge.
The companies have been sparring for several months over moves by Spark to encourage customers to switch from Chorus’ copper broadband network, for which Spark is a wholesale customer, to a wireless service provided via Spark’s 4G network.
Chorus spokesman Nathan Beaumont said its letter had been well-received by a number of MPs.
‘‘One MP’s office said they ‘have had a couple of people make comment about the copper network being decommissioned, so it will be good to be able to provide correct information’.’’
Pirie said Spark had been clear ‘‘its preference from a reliability point view is newer technologies – fibre or wireless’’.
‘‘There has been the odd case where perhaps a customer has been misinformed or has misinterpreted something, but we know from our own customer satisfaction figures that those customers we have migrated over to wireless broadband are very happy,’’ he said.
It is also the case that Spark does not have to pay Chorus a monthly rental if customers switch from copper to wireless technology, though it does have to pay a similar rental if customers instead switch to ultrafast broadband (UFB).
Spark forecast at an ‘‘investor day’’ briefing in June that it could expect savings of $45 million a year from shifting customers off Chorus’ copper phone and broadband lines.
Chorus said in its letter to MPs that ‘‘in a very small number of instances, a 4G wireless service might be an acceptable service for some customers’’, but urged people to get independent advice from websites such as Glimp and Broadband Compare.
‘‘Chorus is not involved in Spark’s mail-out campaign, nor does it support it,’’ it said.
The company suggested MPs advise people check if they were on the best copper technology as faster services were ‘‘not always being promoted’’ by internet providers.
Chorus has previously suggested some internet providers have been slow to promote the newest copper technology, VDSL, to customers.
Unlimited data plans are not available on Spark’s Wireless Broadband service, but Spark’s mail-out indicated customers could expect it to be more reliable than copper broadband.
‘‘The copper network is getting older and wet weather often means more faults or outages on those lines. And that’s not always a quick fix,’’ it said.
Chorus said that on average, a copper broadband line experienced a fault once every five years and they usually took less than 24 hours to repair.
Pirie said Spark did not want to get into a dispute with Chorus on that issue.
‘‘All I’d say if you did a poll of customers you’d find a lot would say they didn’t fit that profile,’’ he said.
‘‘I could cite examples of customers with half-a-dozen faults within three or four months.
‘‘Averages don’t necessarily tell the story of the challenges many of our customers have had.’’