CHOICE membership

NBN accountability

As I get batted back and forth between NBN Co and NBN service provider, I am thinking about the bigger question of the accountability pathways when government services are contracted out.

Here’s the story (apologies for the length!): Many months ago an NBN subcontractor came to our street and made the properties serviceable for NBN HFC - i.e. a cable was laid down to street and a box attached to each house - except for ours. I asked the sub-contractor why we were left out - he said “you’re not in my schedule to connect as you have Telstra cable” … but the problem is, we don’t have Telstra cable, we have Optus cable. I explained this to the contractor but he said he doesn’t prepare the schedules and can’t change them.

I contacted NBN Co and explained the problem. They told me additional work was required to make our property serviceable for NBN and it would be completed by April 2020. What was the additional work? They couldn’t tell me as they don’t organise this, Telstra does. They could not tell me who to contact in Telstra and suggested I contact my NBN Service provider.

I received mail from Optus with a warning that NBN to my property was imminent and I should sign up quickly so my internet Service is not disconnected. I contacted Optus. They insisted that my property was due to be connected by June 2019 according to NBN Co. I said that NBN Co had advised me differently. They said to contact NBN Co.

I contacted NBN Co and they denied that they had ever to told me that additional work was required and said that in fact my property is already “serviceable for NBN connection”. Except that it isn’t. Nothing has changed since the first sub-contractor rolled down our street and connected everyone else. I explained the problem. NBN co said to contact the service provider to arrange a connection - the service provider will then come to connect, see that the property is not serviceable for NBN, contact NBN who will then send out a serviceman to confirm the property is not serviceable for NBN and if it’s not, direct a sub-contractor to make the connection! Can’t NBN Co just arrange to send a sub-contractor to finish the work at our premises? Apparently not.

I am sure we will eventually get connected to NBN but my concern is that there seems to be no mechanism in the system to report errors to anybody who has any responsibility to correct them. No-one seems at all concerned to follow up on a phantom connection which I presume has been paid for with taxpayer money, and instead NBN Co will spend many more hours and $$$ on our premises when the initial subcontractor should have been able to call someone to correct the error in his schedule and do the work required to our home.

No wonder NBN costs have blown out! And I wonder how many other examples there are of supply of government services where this sort of inefficiency has occurred because of the long chain of subcontractors and sub-subcontractors. Am I being overly pedantic to think that taxpayers money should be distributed with more accountability than this?

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There has been delays to the roll out of the nbn where fhe connection uses HFC (my understand is to allow addressing of some of the issues associated with earlier HFC rollout). We were told in June 2018, that we would have HFC connectivity to the nbn by October 2018. Our connection box was installed in July 2018. The connectivity date then changed to December 2018 and then to April 2019. The current target date is September 2019.

It is worth checking the nbn website about the target connection date…

https://www.nbnco.com.au/connect-home-or-business/check-your-address

One thing I have noticed is the NBN Co has sent us letters, along with neighbours, every couple of months with an update and also that they need to access our property to install the connection box. Our connection box at the front outside wall was done in July 2018 (first ones in our street), and there possibly has been another 3-4 letters since advising of future works. I anticipate that they do a street wide generic mailout rather than a individual property one. I thought hay this was a little waste of postage, but maybe the labour costs to keep records up to date was more?

If the NBN Co website indicates that your nbn connectivity will occur some time in the future, there is a lot of time before the existing connection is turned off (which is usually 18 months after the nbn goes live in your area.

If you ask for a connection through a onseller/retailer such as Optus, then they arrive to install the final communications box they will notice that the HFC has not been installed, should be not be installed prior to the go live announcement. The HFC connection should then be arranged.

I suggest that you be patient and see what the target go live date is and go from there.

Often existing and new retailers make contact before going live and try and get you to make a commitment to their service before connection is available. We had one from our service provider asking us to prebook a the final connection with them. We haven’t make a decision who our provider will be in the future and will wait patiently until our area goes live.

The NBN Co uses contractors to do the connections from the street HFC to the primary box on the outside of the (usually front wall) house.

This is also the HFC information page at the NBN Co…

https://www.nbnco.com.au/residential/learn/network-technology/hybrid-fibre-coaxial-explained-hfc-3

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I should have also said that during a ‘construction’ phase using contractors, the contractor will have some information as well as the owner. Both won’t have all.

The contractors in the street will also only do the job sheet they are given. One needs to speak to their supervisor or someone senior to find out information about what the contractor is doing as the street guys will only see the picture they are working towards in the near future.

The NBN Co won’t know what the contractors are up to and why one needs to speak to a senior manager/supervisor from the contractor side.

If there has been a mistake in relation to your connection, they may be need to go back to the NBN Co for a change in scope of works approval.

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@judyb23, contact the complaints department at NBN. Your story is similar to mine. There was nobody being responsive and essentially nobody to talk to until the NBN complaints got involved. They assign a ‘trail boss’ to resolve problems.

The first formal response from NBN was much like your story, they asked their contractors who replied to them, all good, and then to us, all good the contractor says so… that had no relationship with reality.

I wrote a rebuttal explaining in detail the situation at my house and had many prior exchanges with NBN with ticket numbers, so I was well ‘armed’ to take them on.

After the second round with NBN complaints they listened to me and they got their act together and the HFC to my wall was completed in a few weeks.

Until you are in the complaints system you are dealing with staff, usually well meaning, whose sole view of NBN are contractor work orders and NBN records that are not always correct. The complaints system will test those records for veracity.

Start here with this form, noting the enquiry type must be set to ‘complaints’.

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@TheBBG has linked to the best place to start with the NBN Co.

Our issues with an HFC install from April 2018, are outlined in another topic in the community. Once it had been escalated resolution was relatively prompt. I was given direct and officially recognised contact with the NBN Contractor and sub-contractor’s staff.

Hope it gets sorted without too much more frustration.

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Thanks PHB, TheBBG and Mark for your replies.

Our street went live for NBN a month ago and whilst I am in no rush to get connected I have been told by a number of people that Optus cuts the cable service to an area long before the official NBN Co disconnection date. I am therefore trying to get the connection resolved ASAP as we don’t want to be left without any internet.

I will try an NBN complaint. I am very impressed that Mark managed to get a direct connection to the contractor - when I asked for this, the sub-contractor and NBN Co acted as if I had requested the personal mobile number of Malcolm Turnbull to abuse him for the whole NBN debacle.

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Use of HFC generally means they use the existing cable if it is the street. HFC is just a tech upgrade plus some newer hardware that uses the same coaxial cable that always ran down the street. My Dad in Law’s place had it happen. Houses that previously didn’t have cable to the house get a new box on the wall and a cable to connect them to the Coax running down the street.

When they switch to HFC that street or area then gets the new HFC signal and this typically is not the 18 month period FTTN, FTTP, Satellite or Fixed Wireless changeover users get. They can remain on a copper connection until the copper from the pillar to the exchange is cut (Wireless and Satellite can keep the copper indefinitely but not FTTP, FTTC or FTTN). Until that HFC switchover Coax users can get the old coax internet signal. Some users who still get Foxtel cable as an example will be provided a splitter so that they can get the Foxtel signals/data as well as the Internet data. This is likely why you are still getting an Optus service as the line can support this and when they switch to the HFC service completely your modem will cease to get the Optus stream and you will require a new HFC compatible modem installed plus a new plan that uses the NBN Co’s infrastructure.

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@judyb23 what a debacle, your comment about cost blow outs is spot on. Services outcourcing to other services relying on third parties who outsource to other services - the people you’re talking to might not even be employed by the NBN or the service provider but another company who acts as an intermediary. I see more and more examples of services wedging themselves between consumers and other services under the guise of efficiency but it simply adds cost (profit to them) and time overheads met by the consumer. Sometimes it’s not even an issue with the people we’re dealing with as they haven’t been well trained or prepared for their roles in the haste to get the money coming in.

You might want to drop a short line to ACMA, the relevant Federal Minister and your local Federal MP so they’re kept aware of your issues, this can sometimes work and you never know what’s being reported to them by the NBN. Unfortunately we live in an age where our dependency on telco services is such that it largely outweighs the need for service providers to deliver them properly, and they know it. This gives them huge latitude to do as they wish and not worry too much, like banks, and is reflected in the rate of complaints that’s published by Government every so often where telcos consistently lead the pack.

IMHO @The BBG provides great advice. In situations where the term ‘…no relationship with reality’ applies it usually signals the point at which nothing is going anywhere fast. Don’t stand for it, register a formal complaint as the process often has some form of regulation and often some slightly more switched on people are involved. I tend to default to this quite quickly if I find myself in situations like yours, but make sure your complaint is formally registered. I’ve had situations arise where a rep will listen to my complaint but not register it as one even though I’ve said I want to make a complaint; sometimes even when an issue is resolved a complaint needs to be registered so it issue doesn’t arise again and any losses you’ve sustained can be addressed.

Good luck!

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This is not new, not even slightly. Back in the day when Telstra was still connecting copper wire I went through a farce that went on for months to get a new line installed in a rural area. It was under the flat rate ($200 IIRC) that subsidised all but the most trivial connection in a built up area. I had to pay to have the wire cross my own property but the flat rate covered all the rest.

It was the same deal, Telstra installation department (the real one), a head contractor and subcontractors who I was not allowed to talk to who did the work or told somebody to do it and a ‘customer experience manager’ who I was allowed to talk to who knew nothing about the problems of rural installation or even what the others had, or had not, done at any time.

If you want to ensure that nothing much happens or that it is done the wrong way separate all the roles and forbid communication.

I had wires strung along barb wire fences, I had teams turn up looking for wires in the ground in the wrong place because their map was totally wrong, I had two trucks turn up with an excavator on the back of one of them, take a look and then turn around and go many kilometres back to where they came from without unloading the excavator. I knew where the wires were and which ones were connected and which were not but I couldn’t tell them. At one stage the Telstra installation people declared the job done, I said to the sweet lady on the phone (who was immensely patient) they should go ahead and connect me at the exchange. She said sheepishly that the exchange couldn’t as the line wasn’t working.

All this took many weeks. I lost count of how many times a team came out to ostensibly do something or just to see what was done, my guess is that it was 6-8 visits before the wire was buried and working. The way I figure it two trips would have done the job, one to find the existing wires and scope the job and one to bring the right gear and do it. All this for $200. The taxpayer was up for thousands more than it should have cost.

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Could not agree more with you, Judy. The nightmare of ‘connection’ to my property was also extremely tedious (being polite). The original personnel told me my internal box and phone has to be in the garage (wall nearest the box) which obviously was not going to happen. Turned out it was to prevent the installers having to put in cable to a point in the house (which made them money). Then the internal fittings required their own power point - my only ‘convenient’ spare was in a spare bedroom. Later, when laying down a path, discovered the cable to the house was only 4" under ground when it should have been 30cm - again a short cut that meant the entire trench had to be redug and the cable relaid. Reflects the poor quality of management and direction of NBN. I would personally love to kick some bums!!

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Did this get documented and reported as a formal complaint, or just resolved? The former might result in some bums being kicked, the latter would not.

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Remain on current for as long as possible. NBN is a failure to me. Cnostatnt outages. And then that annoying digital lady who comes on 4 times in 2 hrs to change over - a month after we changed

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As @TheBBG suggested the opportunities are limited.

Our ability to see inside the workings of the NBN Co is very limited. It was set up using public funding as a Government owned corporation. Commercial in confidence protects the contracts and businesses from closer public scrutiny.

One way to pry open the door a little is by relating our individual experiences here in the Choice Community.

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Dorothy, which connection service do you have that has constant outages? By sharing our problems we help each other.

Is the digital lady coming on every half hour on the phone, TV or somewhere else?

Does she say what organisation she is from? I wonder if her name is Nicole.

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My issue is, a NBN contracter (unmarked vehicle) with roll/rolls of green cable working opposite my house. Half a hour after he leaves the site NBN is down. According to the rules laid down I must contact my supplier (who had nothing to do with the issue). A NBN vehicle and tech were at the box later in the evening. 24 hrs later, I ring Telstra and receive a estimated 50 apologies which turned a 5 minute call into 15. “NBN are upgrading”. Doesn’t help me as I enquiring about a time when it will be online again. Telstra ring and let me know about 1 hour after it is back in service still pushing the fact NBN have upgraded my service. Wow I am running at about half pace! 2 days later all was well.

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Another case of NBN in Fantasyland:

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Where to put this - ‘accountability’ has a nice ring even though it is a different level of accountability than the topic.

A nice history and some perspective. It appears we owe the Telstra board and Sol Trujllo a lot. He came, did Australian communications over, took his money, and ran. I wonder if any boards learnt anything from the Telstra experience on bringing in carpetbaggers.

Agree with every point made or not, a good read.

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Even if it was a pineapple, there are numerous choices. The most alarming is that the outcome is also a reflection of electoral preferences.

The report by the ABC appears a useful synopsis in a non techie way of how we have arrived at the current NBN destination.

The reporter seems to share the opportunities around, before suggesting:

There is almost no debate now about how to fix the problem. Everyone from ratings agency S&P to the telcos themselves are demanding the Government write down the value of the NBN by around $20 billion.

If it did this, the NBN wouldn’t need to charge as much and everyone would be better off.

There’s just one problem. Given it represents a loss, that $20 billion write-off would be very much on-budget, which essentially means taxpayers rather than NBN users would foot the bill.

The ‘sting is in the tail’!

Tax payers or NBN users, pineapples can be very acidic and sour.

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From the article it says “In the meantime, it remains a high-cost monument to the pitfalls of government-run infrastructure projects”. While I can agree it is the result of being a political owned football (thus a Govt Infrastructure project), it would not have been built if left to private enterprise. Parts that were profitable, easy to do, easy to maintain would have been privately built for sure. You only need to look at the Tesltra Velocity, Optus etc dark fibre networks to see that playing out. I don’t see Telstra rolling out fibre to some obscure destination out back of the black stump as the money isn’t in it for them to do so.

Then the LNP muck came around to stuff up any hope of a decent “fit for purpose” network. Telstra or whomever that buys the NBN Co in the future will not bother to upgrade what they buy, they will just use what is in place and stuff the consumer. The buyer will also probably get paid to provide the “Universal Service” part of the obligations like Telstra currently does for Telephone services…a money pot at the end of the rainbow.

No politician is really being made accountable for the mess they placed this project in, none have a vision to really fix it, it is in a way the poisoned chalice. Fix it and you will be damned for spending the money, don’t fix it and the country will be damned by the lack of decent networking but the other party (both sides will be having a go at the other) will be blamed for the problem. Once it is sold for far less than it cost to build recriminations will abound on both sides of that political divide and within each side as well. Worse we will pay vast pensions to the pollies regardless of the likely pitiful outcome we will be left with, I guess no different to when big wigs in Business got paid bonuses when they caused the GFC. Reward failure and when it fails really badly reward them even more, seems perverse to me but there it is.

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I cannot think of anyone whose voting was driven by the prospects of the NBN. Similarly, it has not been an election driver in terms of policy. Abbott’s policy was simply “not them”, Turnbull and now what’s-his-name have been pretty much lacking in policies except “we’ll save the economy!” (with very little evidence to support the assertion).

Yes, I read that and thought the ABC was seriously grabbing the wrong end of the pineapple. The NBN remains a high-cost monument to political expediency and deliberate ignoring of reality. It will be interesting to see which politicians retire from that place and end up consulting with Telstra; I cannot imagine any of them working (or rather, lobbying) for NBN Co.

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