Telco ten­sion rises over cop­per net­work

The Press - - Business - TOM PULLAR-STRECKER

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.’’

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