Score one for badgering Richard - breakthrough on overhead lines will save thousands of Telecom UFB customers hundreds of dollars
UPDATE / June 15: In the end a technical glitch with a modem meant our hero was not connected by the end of Wednesday, as hoped.
But Friday, a replacement modem arrived.
Now, finally, he's hooked up and just sent NBR this Speedtest.net screen grab:
UPDATE / June 11: Score one for Richard.
Telecom tells NBR ONLINE that UFB fibre installs for the third of customers with overhead lines will now be classed as standard installs - and thus free. Until now, customer with overhead lines have faced a bill running into hundreds of dollars to trench fibre into their property.
The issue first came to light a couple of months ago as Auckland man Richard Ram - a happy, longtime Telecom customer - tried to order UFB fibre from the company.
A $20 million deal brokered between the government and majority UFB contract holder Chorus was supposed to ensure free standard installations for nearly all households until the end of 2015.
But Telecom's rush to meet an end-of-March UFB launch date mandated by its Crown Fibre Holdings contract meant it launched without any voice-over-fibre service (one is due by year's end).
That meant a fibre customer's existing copper cable had to be maintained for voice calls.
And if the copper cable was overhead (as in roughly a third of cases, including Mr Ram's Grey Lynn house), fibre couldn't be slung overhead as well, Chorus maintained, citing consent issues.
Chorus said the the overhead copper element meant it was not a standard install. Fibre would have to be trenched into the property at the cost of several hundred dollars. Phoning Telecom and Chorus' respective helplines, Mr Ram was baffled which party would be responsible for the trenching - the only certainty seemed to be he would have to pick up the tab.
Another solution was to bundle copper and fibre into a single overhead cable. Back in April, Chorus told NBR, " “We’re not anywhere near a hybrid solution as of yet.”
Happily, things have now been resolved - thanks in part to the peristant Mr Ram being allowed to take his case to the top at Telecom, discussing his situation with Retail CEO Chris Quin and head of consumer marketing Chris Thompson.
All going well, Mr Ram should have fibre running into his Grey Lynn home by the of today.
Telecom would not immediately confirm the install arrangement, but NBR understands he is the guinea pig for a solution bundling fibre and copper into a single overhead cable.
It seems Telecom and Chorus have worked through their financial and/or logistical differences.
Mr Quin said the terrier-like Mr Ram's case had helped the two companies work through the issues.
Good to hear - though it would have been better if resolved before the commercial UFB launch back in March.
Telecom UFB looking like a rush job; third of customers facing high install costs
April 3: The experience of Auckland man Richard Ram has highlighted problems with Telecom’s UFB fibre service, launched March 28.
Issues seem to stem from the fact Telecom’s UFB contract required it to launch a fibre service in Chorus areas by the start of this month (Chorus is handling around 70% of the government-backed fibre rollout by premise).
And as the mandatory April 1 launch date loomed, key services like billing and voice-over-fibre were not ready, and key installation issues unresolved – leaving around a third of Telecom customers in UFB areas facing high install costs if they want to install fibre straight away.
For Grey Lynn resident Mr Ram, Telecom launching UFB without the ability to properly bill him is all good news.
Telecom head of home marketing Chris Thompson earlier told NBR Online the billing software wouldn’t be ready for months.
In the meantime, Mr Ram can be like a pig in muck, using unlimited data, even on Telecom’s cheapest ($95/month) UFB plan.
Once he’s got fibre installed, that is.
And here, Telecom’s problems become his problems.
The lack of voice-over-fibre at launch means Telecom has to keep your old copper line for voice calls (other UFB retailers already have a VoIP or internet calling product, meaning they can go fibre-only; Telecom hopes to have such a “VoIP” service ready by the end of this year, Telecom Retail CEO Chris Quin said at the March 28 launch).
Problem: Mr Ram’s home has an overhead copper line.
Chorus' legal opinion is you can't have two overhead lines (fibre + copper) running into a home.
That means the fibre has to be laid underground - and at Mr Ram's expense. (Telecom will come to the party in terms of the hardware side of the installation. Like other customers he'll get a free fibre modem other necessary electronics, with the quid pro quo that you sign up for a minimum 12-month contract.)
Telecom spokeswoman Holly Linnell tells NBR the company is up-front with overhead line customers about a $150 installation fee in the event a property has an existing trench (Mr Ram's property doesn't)
If a property doesn't have a trench, the cost is "determined by Chorus." That amount is open-ended, depending on ground conditions, whether resource consent is required and other factors, but Telecom has pledged to pass it on to the customer without markup - a moot point since the company confirmed to NBR this morning that every single customer with overhead lines who has inquired about UFB has taken fright and decided to wait once this arrangement is explained to them.
All that is, except Mr Ram.
And the Grey Lynner is, in his polite way, miffed that he's had to approach Chorus himself to arrange the trenching (a process he's still grappling with). He's having to jump through hoops to get Telecom fibre.
Third of customers affected
Mr Ram's situation is far from unusual.
Chorus spokeswoman Melanie Marshall tells NBR that around 30% of homes are in the same situation, especially in Wellington and some established areas of Auckland. Even when phone lines are underground in a street, they often run up a power pole then over-head into a property.
And in Chorus view, running both overhead fibre and overhead copper lines into a home would be a breach of the Resource Management Act’s visual pollution provisions, Ms Marshall says.
Chorus (one of four companies rolling fibre around the country under the UFB), has a stated policy of removing copper as fibre goes in, preserving the one over-headline status quo. But with Telecom’s UFB service requiring a the copper line be kept – for an unspecified period of time – that’s a no-go.
One obvious option is to combine fibre and copper into a single cable.
But Ms Marshall says while Chorus is in talks with Telecom, “We’re not anywhere near a hybrid solution as of yet.”
It boggles the mind that Telecom didn’t resolve this issue ahead of its UFB launch – which, that mandatory launch deadline notwithstanding, comes a year into the general rollout.
Another option is to bring the fibre into your home from the kerb.
Chorus doesn’t want to create a precedent for paying for this (at least in Mr Ram’s situation of being a Telecom customer situation where an existing overhead copper line that prevents a cheaper aerial installation).
What happened to free UFB installation for all?
Crown Fibre Holdings strategy director Rohan MacMahan (who confirmed the April 1 launch date provision) tells NBR that Chorus has committed to free UFB installation fore residential customers until 2015 – “And that’s standard or non-standard installation. It’s black and white.”
But there’s a wrinkle: copper is an existing service, so how Telecom and Chorus deal with it is outside the scope of the recently-negotiated free residential installation deal. As with so many things UFB, we're back to shades of grey.
Mr Ram tries to push ahead regardless
The equable Mr Ram accepts all of the above.
The Grey Lynn resident tells NBR he wants to push ahead with his UFB installation, trenching at his own expense.
He’s a loyal customer, and he wants fibre now.
“I’ve been with Telecom for 15 years and they’ve been very reliable. And I’m happy to pay a little bit more for reliability,” he says.
Yet even though he’s a reasonably intelligent chap, and technology literate (as a former NetGuide contributor and telco staffer and current web development professional at Reactive Media), Mr Ram is confused about what happens next.
But a day on the phone left him scratching his head. Telecom helpdesk staff here helpful on a series of calls , “but everyone had a slightly different story.” A call to Chorus, curiously, led him through a phone tree back to Telecom support.
At one point, he was told he had to get council permission for a trench – information corrected on a later call (Chorus has a blanket approval covering most jobs).
$350 for trench
Today, Mr Ram is going to try calling Chorus again, but is curious why he has to do so himself to clarify matters.
In the meantime, he has got his own quote for hiring someone on a drilling machine to dig a trench – it works out to about $350 for the 5m from his boundary to his home (the pole is about 10m away). He’s now looking at conduit costs. Today he’ll also try and work out if Chorus can take care of the whole job, and whether that would be a cheaper option.
Ms Marshall says Chorus can trench fibre into a property for someone in Mr Ram’s situation. But she was wary of giving any indicative costs, as ground and surface conditions varied so much.
“We’re really looking forward to the launch of the launch of Telecom’s VoIP product,” she adds.
She’s not the only one.
Telecom's Ms Linnell says to date, no customers with overhead lines have decided to proceed with the installation of UFB [once underground installation costs have been have been explained to them], preferring to wait until there is voice-over-fibre product available.