The management of Australia’s national broadband network has been called into question with NBN Co facing growing backlash from fed-up customers, telcos and technicians.
Thousands of NBN customers are currently going without internet due to ongoing delays to repairs and installations caused by NBN Co’s controversial new booking system.
On Thursday, the firm issued an apology to “customers whose technician appointment has been delayed or cancelled in recent weeks”.
“Due to unexpected challenges with a new workforce scheduling program, it may take longer than usual to get an appointment, regardless of the internet provider you choose,” NBN Co said in a statement posted on Twitter.
But the apology did little to to quell growing anger from retail service providers (RSPs) at the firm’s handling of the issue, with fears it will result in reputational and financial damage as customers direct their frustration at telcos rather than the NBN Co.
Under current regulations NBN Co is required to pay compensation for missed and cancelled appointments.
However, telcos told The New Daily the firm is not being held sufficiently accountable for the delays as the booking system is preventing many appointments being made altogether.
The New Daily put questions to NBN Co about its service issues.
The firm provided a statement from chief operating officer Kathrine Dyer conceding that transitioning to the new booking system has “presented challenges” and “resulted in longer-than-usual wait times to connect new customers”.
“We continue to improve our workforce management system and the accompanying mobile application that is used by our field technicians, and we are working collaboratively with our delivery partners and internet retailers to deliver a better experience to our customers,” Ms Dyer said.
‘Very poor consequences for customers’
The New Daily understands that NBN Co will hold an emergency meeting with furious RSPs on Friday, the second emergency meeting this week.
Telcos have publicly vented their frustration at the ongoing service delays and their impact on customers.
“NBN touches almost every household and business in Australia. It’s critical to our economy and social cohesion; it must be best in class on service delivery,” Optus’ vice president of regulatory and public affairs Andrew Sheridan said.
“Currently, NBN issues are resulting in very poor consequences for customers.”
A spokesman for Telstra 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,” the spokesman said.
TPG Telecom group executive of legal and external affairs Trent Czinner said the firm, which also owns Vodafone, was “frustrated and disappointed that an increasing number of customers are being let down by cancelled and rescheduled NBN appointments”.
“As the monopoly fixed broadband network provider, Australians expect NBN to deliver a much higher level of service,” Mr Czinner said.
“We’ve heard this week that NBN is at least aware of the impact its appointment issues are having, but we want to see more detail around their plans to do better for customers.”
Mr Czinner said the issue “highlights why more and more customers are seeking choice and flexibility in how they connect to the internet at home”.
Aussie Broadband said it was “very underwhelmed” by the NBN Co’s handling of the appointments issue.
“We’re extremely disappointed that they would not commit to a timeline for resolution,” Aussie Broadband managing director Phillip Britt said in a statement released on Monday.
“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.”
Mr Britt said Aussie Broadband was seeing “significant numbers of orders that we can’t submit because no appointments are available, even though NBN have assured us there are extra appointments in the system”.
“To be frank, this is totally unacceptable,” he said.
Mr Britt also described the NBN Co’s current pause on installing new HFC connections as “disappointing”.
NBN Co has blamed the pause on global supply issues, but has not given a timeframe for recommencing HFC installation.
“We apologise to new customers that have been waiting to connect to the network. 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,” NBN Co’s chief customer officer Brad Whitcomb said.
NBN technicians protest
Customers and telcos aren’t the only ones unhappy with NBN Co’s new booking system, with hundreds of NBN technicians around the nation walking off the job earlier this month in protest against the problem-plagued appointment system and cuts to their pay.
The union representing the workers called on Communications Minister Paul Fletcher to announce a Senate inquiry into the rollout and management of the NBN.
CEPU national secretary Shane Murphy said NBN technicians could go on strike again in coming weeks if improvements to the booking app and pay rates are not made.
Customers dissatisfied with their NBN service should contact their local MP and Minister Fletcher and “urge the government to intervene in the whole NBN debacle”, Mr Murphy said.