A Wentworth Falls resident spent six weeks without home internet after a garbage truck took out overhead copper cabling, and no one could be roused to reconnect his ADSL2+ service.
Andy Foster said a new council garbage truck came down the lane where his – and other – homes sit in the Blue Mountains town, west of Sydney.
The lane is criss-crossed by copper cabling that is strung overhead on power poles. When the garbage truck caught the cable on January 2 this year, it cut services to Foster and two neighbours.
However, Foster was forced to watch as his neighbours – both of whom had switched to fibre-to-the-node NBN services – were reconnected with temporary cables after two-to-three weeks.
Foster – who was yet to switch to the NBN – was told by his ISP iiNet that he would have to wait until March 2 to be reconnected: a full two months without internet.
“One neighbour who was with Telstra was back on [the NBN] after two weeks and then my other neighbour [who is with Dodo for NBN] was back on about another four or five days later,” Foster told iTnews.
“What happened was an NBN technician came out and actually restrung a single line realising that it would take a bigger crew to come out and put up the full copper line to the correct code height so it wouldn’t get knocked down again.
“But I couldn’t persuade the technician or iiNet to do [the same]. They said yours is a completely different situation to your neighbours.”
Foster said he received a mobile phone from iiNet under the customer service guarantee while his phone line remained disconnected.
He had an old iPad with a prepaid Optus 3G service for back-up, but could “only get one bar in one corner of one room in the house”, despite maps showing he was well within a coverage area.
“Because I am an English football fan I ended up having to go down to Wentworth Falls railway station on a Sunday to actually watch my game … because I had no home internet and the 3G didn’t work at home either,” Foster said.
He tried to bring in the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) but said things “slowed down as soon as they escalated the complaint”.
Dragged to the NBN
Facing an extended period without fixed internet, Foster began looking at alternatives. In the end, he was persuaded to switch his service over to an NBN connection via Optus because they offered to fix the cable on February 10 – three weeks’ earlier than if he had insisted using the same cable to continue with ADSL.
It took an extra week – and four missed appointments – but an NBN technician finally arrived on February 18, and Foster convinced him to put up a temporary copper line.
“The guy turned up, looked and said, ‘I can’t do anything much about it, I’ll have to get a remediation team in to put the [original] cable to the right height’,” Foster said.
“I pleaded with him just to do what the other [NBN technicians] had done for the neighbours and after he talked to his supervisor he put a single cable line up and I was back online.”
About a week later, two technicians turned up with a cherry picker and finally restored the original cable back to its 4.9m code height.
Foster’s early experiences with FTTN are less than ideal.
He’d hoped to watch the English Premier League on a Fetch set top box but his 25/5Mbps service produced only “2-3 Mbps” at night, making recordings unwatchable.
Optus has since moved him onto a higher speed tier at no cost, and he is hopeful of seeing further improvements in the service.
Where the responsibility lies
Foster’s case highlights the growing incidence of problems faced by internet users in trying to work out who is responsible to repair or remediate a problem with their service.
iTnews was unable by the time of publication to confirm who was responsible for repairing a copper cable in an FTTN area that serviced a mix of FTTN and ADSL users.
Recent senate hearings have highlighted the “run-around” experienced by NBN users trying to get answers on why their services do not work as sold, or who to contact for repairs or remediation.
Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) CEO Teresa Corbin said the switchover to NBN had been "less than seamless" for some customers.
"Consumers have reported confusion and encountered problems at every stage of the process, from understanding how and when they will be affected to choosing providers and plans, arranging connections, overcoming difficulties of complex connections, using services once they are connected, and finding causes and solutions to faults and outages," she said.
"The span of the issues is vast."
ACCAN policy officer Rachel Thomas said part of the problem was the number of companies involved in the make-up of the end-to-end NBN service.
"There’s a lot of fingerpointing on who’s to blame and a lot of gaps; the different [companies] give information related to their level of service and there isn’t an overview or very good clarity on what the role of each ... is," she said.
The run-around could get worse before it gets better, if NBN Co is allowed by regulators to muddy the delineation of where its network responsibilities start and stop.
NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow told a recent senate estimates hearing he was "quite conscious ... that the end users are frustrated that they do not know who to talk to and who is responsible for what".
He said there was "no one single company that can solve [some of] the problems" associated with NBN services.
NBN Co had recently written to the heads of the most active "10-15" ISPs asking for cooperation to fix issues, and the response had so far been positive, according to Morrow.
Foster noted the inefficiency of having separate NBN technicians attend the same problem in his lane, stringing up temporary connections for three different homes before a remediation crew could restring the original cable.
“They could have had one person do the same job for all three of us,” he said.
“There’s an obvious saving right there.”
Internet users like Foster could also benefit from a proposal by ACCAN to have the customer service guarantee extended to cover broadband services - not just home phone services - in the event of a fixed line outage.
While Foster's ISP provided an interim mobile telephony service, it still left him without fixed internet for an extended period of time.
"Guaranteed access to the standard telephone service no longer ensures access to all services that consumers require or need," Corbin said.
"Additionally there is no standards or connection reliability and repair timeframes on broadband services – only on the standard telephone service.
"This needs to change."