- Scroll down...for the expert’s opinion, to take the poll and a nasty 1990s flashback
Stuck in the slow lane
By AMY DELORE
When Mark Jackson saw the green National Broadband Network (NBN) box being installed in his Merewether street last year, he couldn't wait to join the fast-internet revolution.
He snapped up an NBN package soon after they became available through iinet, his internet provider of the past 10 years. But the promised super-fast speeds are yet to materialise. In fact, since connecting to the NBN two months ago, Mr Jackson's internet has been substantially worse than on his old ADSL2+ connection.
"As soon as we connected, our speeds went down really badly, to the point where I can't even use Facebook," Mr Jackson said.
The ukelele teacher runs a small business from home, but has been unable to use his bookkeeping program at night, when the internet is at its slowest, or post on social media.
Having done all the tests the provider suggested to see if there was aproblem with his set-up at home, Mr Jackson turned in exasperation to the Whirlpool online forum, where he found kindred spirits from his local area complaining about internet speeds on their iinet NBN packages.
"The most ironic one was from one guy who said he couldn't even download the provider's speed test," he said.
Mr Jackson is one of about 500 iinet customers who have been affected by what is described on the company website as a backhaul problem at the Hamilton exchange. Internet forums and the iinet Facebook page have been flooded by complaints from people in inner-city suburbs who, far from getting the fast internet service promised, have seen their internet speeds and dowload capacity plummet since connecting to the NBN.
A spokesperson from NBN Co said the backhaul problem was "definitely a provider problem" rather than one associated with the network. She said it was likely related to the provider not having bought enough capacity to service its customers.
After pursuing the company for an explanation for the past two weeks, the Herald was contacted late last week by Craig Levy, chief operating officer for iinet's parent company TPG.
Mr Levy said the problem had been caused by the restricted capacity of ageing infrastructure at the Hamilton exchange and a marked increase in data consumption by users, although variations in customer experience could also be related to problems within the NBN network.
"In relation to Hamilton, speeds have not been what we would like them to be . . . but we are not talking about an enormous percentage of the Newcastle customer base or population," he said.
To relieve congestion and increase internet performance for all customers, the company had moved its ADSL2+ customers from third-party infrastructure to tpg group's fibre optic cable last Wednesday.
"What that has done is immediately made available to the ADSL2+ customer base on that exchange, a massive amount of bandwidth available to them with no limitations," he said.
NBN consumers would have noticed an improvement as a result, Mr Levy said, particularly during peak periods. The company was working to transfer its NBN customers over to new fibre optic cable within the next week.
Mr Levy said customers who had been inconvenienced by slow internet speeds could lodge an application for compensation through the company's help desk. Typically, that would take the form of a period of free service.
"When an internet service is not running at optimal and customers go through a frustrating period, we always apologise ... I would like to give them an assurance that the future is optimistic and promising."
Mr Jackson said while he was relieved the company was addressing the problem, he was disappointed it had taken so long to respond to customer complaints.
Network under extreme pressure: expert
Independent communications expert Paul Budde expects to see many more instances of NBN customers frustrated by poor internet speeds before the rollout of the network is complete.
"The underlying problem is that they are trying to patch a new network onto an old network," he said.
"In an exchange like Hamilton you have copper cables that are 50 or 60 years old and other infrastructure that is maybe 10 or 20 years old. It's impossible to know the quality of the network so it is inevitable that when they start up an upgrade like the NBN, they are going to run into problems.
"That is the whole problem with the multi-mix technology the government has chosen."
Federal Member for Newcastle Sharon Claydon said she had been inundated by complaints from NBN customers since the rollout began.
"The fact that complaints are not isolated to a single service provider suggests the issue sits squarely with the NBN rollout strategy itself," she said.
"In addition, you have service providers and the NBN continuing to blame each other for the issues, which simply adds to the frustration and distress being experienced by those trying to connect."
Months waiting in NBN free fall
By BRODIE OWEN
A NEWCASTLE photographer struck down by delays connecting to the National Broadband Network (NBN) has emerged from a “black hole” – and is finally back on the grid just this week.
Marianne Fowler was told by her telco before Christmas she would be connected “within a week or two” after switching off her old ADSL line.
Instead, the Windale woman spent four months defending her reputation as a photographer, working furiously – even in free WiFi zones – to get back on top of her workload.
“Everything about this process has been stressful – you feel so helpless,” Ms Fowler said.
“I’m a wedding photographer – it’s a job that needs the internet – there’s not one part of my job that doesn’t require it.
“So I’m months behind in my workload and still trying to catch up.”
Ms Fowler “tried everything” to work out her issues with her telco TPG, and said she “got nowhere” with the company. A complaint to the telecommunications ombudsman also produced no results.
Enraging her even more was the fact overseas call centres were “out of touch” with her situation.
“You had to explain it over and over and over again with them,” Ms Fowler said.
Fed up, she made the switch to iiNet.
And while giving the telco credit for being more sympathetic to her situation, Ms Fowler said she shouldn’t have gone through the ordeal in the first place.
She is still counting the cost of the excess mobile phone data she used.
“People should be compensated for what they have lost,” Ms Fowler said.
Asked who she thought was to blame, she nominated NBN Co as being “at the root of all problems”.
A Newcastle Herald reader poll conducted last month overwhelmingly revealed Ms Fowler is not alone in her plight. Fifty-two per cent of respondents said they had experienced connection delays, while 20 per cent said they would not sign up.
‘My NBN is a flashback to 1999 dial-up’
By BRODIE OWEN
FOR Hamilton man Hamish Jones, connecting to the National Broadband Network (NBN) is like living in 1999 with painful internet dial-up.
Mr Jones signed up to the NBN with iiNet last month and has since been receiving speeds “about a tenth” of what he was promised.
His experience stands in contrast to those who have grappled just to connect to the “information superhighway”.
“They are quick to sign you up but once you’re on it, they just leave you to your own devices,” Mr Jones said.
"We basically have dial-up of about 0.3 to 2.8 megabytes per second – that’s what you’d be getting in 1999. You basically can’t use it.”
Mr Jones said he had tried to resolve the issues with iiNet but has not had any success.
“I’m still waiting for my first bill,” he said. “That’s about the only thing you can count on.”
Depending on line quality and distance from the exchange, a fibre-to-the-node NBN connection is supposed to download a Game of Thrones episode in just 11 minutes.
Know your rights: watchdog
By BRODIE OWEN
PEOPLE experiencing difficulties using the National Broadband Network (NBN) have rights under law, the consumer watchdog says.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission warns that customers considering making the switch to the NBN need to be mindful of the speed claims made by internet service providers.
It says actual speeds may vary widely from what is advertised. For instance, services that promote “peak speed”, “maximum speed” or “up to” a certain speed are not what customers may experience.
The ACCC says internet providers must advertise the speeds actually achievable by their customers.
It also says customers are able to wait a maximum of 18 months from the date an area has been declared “NBN ready” to disconnect from existing services. This would allow time to consider the plans available and to determine if there are any issues with a particular provider.
A complaint to the telecommunications watchdog is available if issues with service providers cannot be resolved.
Tips for moving to the NBN
- Keep informed: know when NBN is coming to your area
- Prepare early: check with your provider to see if landline and internet services will need to be connected to the NBN, know your disconnection date
- Shop around: find the best plan to suit your needs
- Ask the right questions about fees and equipment
- Call for help: make a complaint to the ombudsman