Independent telecommunications analyst Paul Budde says Australia’s “second-rate” broadband network will continue to inflict pain on residents like Marks Point’s Gail Henderson.
The Newcastle Herald reported last week that Ms Henderson had been without a phone and internet connection for 11 days after also suffering from slow download speeds since switching to the NBN in February.
Her time without a connection has now stretched to 16 days after an NBN technician spent two hours inside and outside her Haddon Crescent house on Thursday only to conclude the problem lay with her modem.
She said on Tuesday that she was “back on the Optus merry-go-round” of the company’s customer-service line, although she was expecting to receive a new modem some time this week.
“I’m still not connected. It’s just too hard [for them]. I’m still working on this stupid damn dongle. I’ve still got no streaming, no nothing,” she said.
“I think it’s important that someone has to be held accountable for this. Who’s going to fix this shambles we’re in?”
The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman recorded a sharp rise in NBN-related complaints in the 2016-17 financial year, a jump exceeding the increase in the number of homes being connected to the network.
Ms Henderson’s plight struck a chord with other customers in the Hunter, including some who complained on the Herald’s Facebook page about waiting months for their house to be connected to the network, being brought to tears by “hopeless” customer service and struggling to watch television streaming services due to repeated internet dropouts.
Several said they had been without an internet connection for months, and one woman said she worked for a business which had been without phones and internet since February.
Mr Budde said customers across Australia would continue to encounter problems if their houses had old copper phone wires.
“The underlying problem is the network is a second-rate network,” he said.
“If you start mixing old technologies with new technologies, then you’re asking for trouble, and that’s what’s happening.”
He said about 30 per cent of people trying to connect to the NBN were encountering problems.
The majority of problems is the underlying network, particularly people who are disconnected for weeks and months.Paul Budde
“If you are lucky and you live in an area with good-quality copper, then you are better off than if you are in an area where you have copper networks that are 30, 40, 50 years old.
“The second part of the problem is that if you had the previous internet connection, ADSL, then quite often you don’t notice any positive difference if you get the NBN.
“So people are disappointed once they get the NBN that it’s not much better than what they had before.”
Mr Budde said a “minority” of connection issues could be linked to outdated equipment inside houses.
“If you’ve got a super-duper sort of connection and you have old modems or routers in your house, then that could cause a problem, too.
“That is a possibility, that the inside modem becomes the weakest link. But I think that would be the minority of problems.
“The majority is the underlying network, particularly people you talk about who are disconnected for weeks and months.
“That has nothing to do with your side of the network. That has everything to do with the fact NBN Co faces the problems they get with old networks that have been waterlogged or been cut into a million pieces over the 30, 40 years and repaired. That all brings the quality of the network down.
“Then you need to put in more new copper network, and that’s the 30 per cent of the population that’s facing that sort of problem.”
NBN has placed more than 300,000 “not ready to connect” houses on a to-do list – some will have to wait until 2020 to join the network – and it will have to decide whether to swap their old wires with new copper or fibre.
“In one street you can have one house with a terrible connection and another with a perfect connection,” Mr Budde said.
“Of course, some areas you can say the network is so old that the whole street is bad. But equally there are lots of situations that are on a house-by-house basis.
“That’s when the problem occurs and you’ve got weeks and months without a connection, because it’s not a quick fix in the exchange. It’s then physically looking at the network and finding a solution.”
Mr Budde said NBN Co’s decision to cut wholesale prices for faster broadband by up to a quarter would deliver a better NBN experience for customers when it came into effect this year.
“That’s a huge improvement, because then you start seeing the difference between the old network and the new. You start seeing a much better-quality network for an affordable price.”
Some telcos were already offering discounted prices, and he urged customers to ask for a better deal.