Unless you ve been boycotting all forms of media in the past fiveyears, you ll be aware that the National Broadband Network (NBN) is well and truly on its way. For some of us the NBN is already here, and for others it will hopefully arrivein a year or two. But for most Australians, the NBN will not arrivefor five to ten years. The NBN rollout map provides an estimated guide to where and when the NBN will berolled out. The coming of the NBN provides significant opportunities to addressconsumers' concerns about the conduct of internet and phoneproviders but it also presents a range of significant challenges. |
Let me start by discussing what happens if there s a change ingovernment during the NBN rollout not unlikely given recent polls suggesting this will happen in the next 18 months. The Coalition has been scathing of the Fibre to the Home (FTTH) solution for the cabled portion of the NBN. In his recent Budget reply speech the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, said: Why spend A$50bn on a National Broadband Network so customers can subsequentlyspend almost three times their current monthly fee for speeds theymight not need? . He gave a clear indication of the preferred Coalition option whenhe stated: Why dig up every street when fibre to the node (FTTN)could more swiftly and more affordably deliver 21st centurybroadband?.
Simply put, a fibre to the node approach would see fibre opticcable routed to neighbourhood cabinets with the final stretch, from neighbourhood cabinets to homes andbusinesses, being covered by existing copper cable. If the Coalition forms a government at the next election (late nextyear) and changes direction with the NBN rollout, it s possiblethat built-up areas, already delayed into the later stage of thecurrent NBN rollout plans, will not be serviced by FTTH. It s possible the current goal of providing FTTH to 93% ofAustralians will change to include a mix of FTTH and FTTN for about80% of Australians and the other 13% will be moved on to the NBNwireless network. One of the potential opportunities provided by the NBN rollout willbe a chance to improve consumer experience of phone and internetproviders.
In 2009/10 167,955 complaints were made to the telecommunications ombudsman and 197,682 complaints in 2010/11. A complaint I hear during discussions about service providers isthe lack of transparency that customers find for nearly everyaspect of their interaction with service providers, their use ofservices and network performance. Transparency related to the network performance and the customer sinteraction with service providers can be introduced usingtechnology available today. The status of individual network connections including all backhaul links ) (the connections from the exchanges or points where customersenter the network to the carrier core networks) should be madeavailable in real-time through the internet.
This would allow internet users to check whether their serviceprovider s networks are down or whether they ve encountered alocalised problem or other performance issue. Also, the capacity of all aggregation (the bundling of customertraffic onto larger capacity links) and backhaul links should bemade available so that customers can see in real-time what theperformance is. Included in this need for transparency is the real-time performanceof the international links through which most of Australia sonline content is delivered. Customer service requests, including adding services, movingservices and changing services, should be possible online and withgreater transparency and tracking capability. After a customer service request has been made the customer shouldbe able to use the service provider reference number to see theservice request on the internet and to track the steps taken tosatisfy the service request.
This is not done currently. Why is this important? This gem by Fairfax writer, Adam Turner, might give you a bit of an idea.His piece highlights the frustration of dealing with the Telstrasand Optuses of this world. Thousands of similar stories are available online and chances areyou or someone close to you has had a similar experience. Recently I moved home and tried to move my Telstra landline andBusiness ADSL on the day of the move.
I have services on the ADSL that must remain online 24/7 so thiswas a critical part of my move to a new home and I thought it wasall ready to go. Unfortunately, when I first spoke with Telstra about the move, Iwas told that it would take up to 10 days to move the ADSL afterthe Telstra landline was moved. I explained how important it was for the phone and ADSL to move atthe same time, and was told that it could be done within four hoursif a technician was available at the exchange. Several days later, after initially accepting this explanation andputting in the service request, I had second thoughts and arrangedfor a new landline service to be connected at my new home so thatthe old landline could remain connected until the ADSL was moved tothe new home.
Sure enough, on the night before the move my landline at the oldplace was disconnected thus also disconnecting the Telstra BusinessADSL. I called Telstra immediately (at midnight) to see if the landlinehad been connected at my new home and that the ADSL would be movedthat morning and was prompty told it would take up to ten days forthe ADSL to be connected, even though it was a business service andthat no guarantees should have been given. I explained that the old landline should not have been disconnecteduntil the ADSL had been moved and that an earlier service requestto move the landline and ADSL from the old home to the new home hadbeen processed. When I mentioned this service request had been cancelled and I hadplaced a new service request for a new landline at the new home andfor the ADSL to be moved whilst both landlines were to remainoperational the Telstra representative looked at the records andsaid: it appears a mistake has occurred at our end.
Panic set in and I then spent about eight hours on my mobile toTelstra, talking to about 20 different people while they worked outwhat went wrong.
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