NBN Co pushes back HFC sales restart as workforce system bugs bite

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NBN Co pushes back HFC sales restart as workforce system bugs bite

Customers left waiting for connections.

NBN Co has delayed the restart of new hybrid-fibre coaxial (HFC) orders, this time due to problems with a backend system used to assign new connection and assurance jobs to contractors.

The company initiated a pause on new HFC orders at the start of February due to the global chip shortage, which left the company without an adequate supply of network termination devices (NTDs) that are installed at customers’ homes.

NBN Co had anticipated restarting orders as early as the end of May, however this has now been retracted, with no ETA for resumption.

The further delay is due to well-publicised problems with a new workforce scheduling system and mobile app introduced by NBN Co uses to assign connection and assurance - repair - jobs to its contractor workforce.

Unions have called the system “shambolic” and have held nationwide protests over it, as well as more broadly over conditions including pay.

NBN Co has been promising to fix the scheduling system, and today met with retail service providers (RSPs) over the issue, which is impacting new orders, connections and repairs for a range of customers, not just those in the HFC footprint.

Subscription news site CommsDay reported late last week that tens of thousands of work orders are being held up by the scheduling system problems.

NBN Co said in a statement that a "new recommencement date [for HFC orders] will be determined by NBN Co’s readiness to support internet retailers and new customers."

“We apologise to new customers that have been waiting to connect to the network," chief customer officer Brad Whitcomb said.

"We have worked hard to resolve the supply chain issues that were affecting the delivery of new HFC modems, and we are sorry for these matters that have created a new delay."

Workforce scheduling system bugs

NBN Co used the online meeting with retail service providers (RSPs) today to apologise for the ongoing problems with the new workforce scheduling system.

It had previously suggested the technical issues would be fixed as early as last week; however, that timeline has since expired, and it now appears there is no timeframe for resolution, angering RSPs including Aussie Broadband and others.

Aussie Broadband managing director Phillip Britt said in a statement that while NBN Co had apologised for the ongoing scheduling issues, he left today's meeting “very underwhelmed”.

In particular, Britt said that NBN Co "would not commit to a timeline for resolution" of the technical issues.

“It’s taken weeks for us to get to this point and without any guideline, we’ve got to assume that this is going to take weeks to fix," Britt said.

“We’re still seeing significant numbers of orders that we can’t submit because no appointments are available, even though NBN Co have assured us there are extra appointments in the system. 

“To be frank, this is totally unacceptable. We need a realistic timeline.”

A Vocus spokesperson said that "a number of Dodo, iPrimus and Commander NBN customers, both connected and scheduled to connect, have been impacted by NBN Co’s transition to its new workforce model."

"NBN Co has informed RSPs that it is currently prioritising assurance (fault rectification) appointments over new activations," Vocus' spokesperson said.

"There has been a significant increase in appointment cancellations as well as delays to both assurance and activation requests.

"Dodo, iPrimus and Commander are proactively reaching out to impacted customers to inform them about changes and or delays to their appointments, and to keep them informed of our progress as we work through the backlog of cases with NBN Co".

Vocus added that it had raised the issue with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman in anticipation of "an increase in TIO complaints" in the next reporting period owing to the system issues.

A Telstra spokesperson said NBN Co "is clearly struggling with some service issues and this is having a severe impact on our customers’ experience, leading to long connection delays and missed appointments.

"It’s an absolute priority for them to fix this quickly, and in the meantime we’re working closely with them to get our customers connected as quickly as possible.”

Other RSPs were also contacted by iTnews for comment.

NBN Co's chief operating officer Kathrine Dyer claimed "the first phase of the rollout of the workforce scheduling system went well in South Australia and Tasmania, however the company encountered a number of issues with phase two of the rollout of in NSW and Victoria."

"It paused the rollout in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory until it resolves the outstanding issues," she said.

“Transitioning to this new system has presented challenges and was initially impacted by platform stability and some functionality issues which impacted appointment capacity and scheduling. 

"This resulted has resulted in longer than usual wait times to connect new customers."

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