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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 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.

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Comments and questions

I think you'll find Chorus more expensive. All Chorus does is hand the job onto their service company (Vision Stream or Downers), who then pass it on to another contractor to do the actual work. Try and find out who the actual people are who do the work to save $$ from the others clipping the ticket on the way through.

So what if the customer who has overhead line doesn't actually want the copper line and is perfectly happy using mobile for voice? Will Telecom force them to have this bizarre installation, along with costs, just to have a copper connection they don't even want?

Telecom or the TSO/ CFH hangover... read the relevant legislation

Telecom doesn't offer a naked broadband option (that is, broadband without a homeline) with its copper/DSL service.

It was for that reason I switched to another carrier.

I was perfectly happy with the price and performance of my Telecom broadband, but I wanted to ditch my homeline in favour of mobile-only calling (with a little Skype thrown in).

UPDATE: Telecom spokeswoman Holly Linnell says:

"Under the TSO [Telecommunications Service Obligation], Telecom is obliged to make voice based services available to all households. If we were to ask Chorus to remove the copper lines (even at a customer’s specific request) we would be in breach of this agreement.

"Even if a customer is prepared to forgo the voice based portion of the service, the decision made to remove the copper line from the home may well affect future homeowners or tenants of the property, and Telecom would be deemed liable under the TSO agreement to reinstate the copper line later on. We have chosen to avoid this complication, given our Voice over Fibre product will soon be available which will clear this concern."

There is a good reason for Telecom not to do naked dsl broadband - it costs them the same to sell regardless of whether they have the landline turned on or not so they might as well have it on.

But in the case of UFB, if they restrict it for these customers then they are incurring extra Chorus fees, as well as the extra trenching fee. If the customer really wants landline, then fine. But if they don't, why on earth woudl they do this rather than just offer the customer an option to use their mobile for voice instead of forcing them to take copper when a) they don't want it b) it will cost Telecom a huge amount extra to do it?

"Under the TSO [Telecommunications Service Obligation], Telecom is obliged to make voice-based services available to all households. If we were to ask Chorus to remove the copper lines (even at a customer’s specific request) we would be in breach of this agreement."

So how does that work for houses in subdivisions where the infrastructure is fibre only? That means Telecom voice services are not available to those households and presumably therefore puts Telecom in breach for the exact same reason as above? (Even though it is entirely out of Telecom's control).

Call Orcon... ours was in within days... and free! Couldn't fault them (excuse the pun) 92Mbps/46Mbps... blindingly fast!

Yep, same , with Orcon no install costs and Chorus also did it! All overhead and disconnected all copper services and I'm in Grey Lynn - Orcon service is terrible, but now that the initial problems are sorted it is excellent

Voted "dislike", but only because I am jealous...

Me in Grey Lynn, too - me Orcon, too. I called Telecom a month or so back to connect fibre to our business premises (also in Grey Lynn) so we could get benefits of UFB for downloads. Told "No can do - we don't know if there's fibre there".
I said "I KNOW there's fibre - Telstra cabled Surrey Cr a few years back and Chorus has installed little green boxes".
Still no can do ... so guess what? Orcon got the job and the fibre from the road went in today - and the rates are more than reasonable! So much for Telecom - another customer down the tubes. Not just internet but also phones - and we'll move mobiles, too.

The number of customers who need copper lines for alarm monitoring, Sky TV, etc, is not insignificant and I would suggest Telecom probably has the lion's share of those old-world customers.

Burglar alarms, medical alarms, fax machines and Sky are the four biggest users (yes, fax machines) and, sadly, there are still alarm companies that cannot move to an all-IP fibre world.

Until these companies wake up to the new world order, the need for copper-based circuit-switched services is going to continue. Customers need to put pressure on those providers to move on to the new equipment.

Paul Brislen

That is a factor. And as noted in NBR's original story on Telecom's launch, retaining copper will eliminate potential problems with faxes, burglar alarms, Sky TV etc).

But why, with more than a year's build-up to the launch, are the third of customers with overhead lines being presented with such a messy, vague,  expensive and unattractive proposition? (And I use the word unattractive in the context that, by Telecom's account, the installation pricing has appealed to a grand total of zero customers, bar the tenacious Richard Ram).
Presumably, it's because 12-months wasn't enough. The launch was rushed to meet the Crown Fibre Holdings April 1 deadline. 
A few years back, we were promised gateways that would be able to deal with copper line devices like burglar and panic alarms. Hopefully that's on the way.
Regardless, Telecom seems to be indicating it's ready to go all-fibre once its VoIP product is ready. It's promised by Christmas, so fingers crossed


The Post Office hasn't really changed.

What a shambles. It boggled the mind that Telecom launched with this bungled offering, so thanks for explaining why Telecom felt it had to rush.
Lest there be any doubt, this is firmly Telecom's fault - every other ISP offering UFB doesn't have this problem.

Paul, I don't see why sky boxes, burglar alarms, etc, are going to stop working because of UFB. My experience with VoIP is it works fine, especially in a low-latency low-jitter QoS environment like UFB VoIP will be.

Fax/sky, etc, use a modem to communicate and this is more sensitive when transmitted over a packet network, Not like voice. You need to identify and mark all the traffic going into the UFB network via your modem and ensure the honouring is kept all the way to the desination. It's not an easy process, especially for gran with her My sky and medical alert system. If they converted the systems to IP then no problem...

Fairly obviously SkyTV continues to install old Pace boxes to new subscribers without even HDMI, as an extra encouragement to get people to upgrade to MySky.

Disappointing thing to me was that when I finally upgraded to MySky, it came with HDMI... but a dial up modem. We only retain a land line for the benefit of some elderly relatives who won't ring cells or use Skype. The Sky installer certainly never bothered to run a cable to the phone jack which is about 30 cm from the sky box.

Given Sky are charging $180 per year for a MySky box, would like to see some pressure put on them to upgrade there boxes to drop dial up and move to WiFi, ethernet or even 3G for back channel communication to Sky, if not simply moving entirely to delivering HD content via fibre.

Can't see it happening soon, but Sky have to know that increasingly people just won't have a copper phone line to connect to.

The four listed devices all require a circuit-switched connection and won't work on an IP-based network.

That's my understanding - there are alarm companies that will do IP-based alarms but most of them have yet to make the switch. Ultimately they'll have to but the conversations I've had with several indicate an alarming level of a (for want of a better term) head in the sand attitude.

Had a good chat with a Chorus rep this morning, very helpful.

1/ Seems that Chorus can tunnel on private property (although the Chorus rep is confirming that).

2/ Overhead copper and underground UFB can be accommodated by Chorus (although the Chorus rep is confirming that).

3/ Overhead copper and UFB is a no go at this stage.

4/ Was impressed the Chorus rep used Google street view check out the antiquated power and phone services into my house

We tried getting our house connected up through Orcon last year. The UFB installers apparently found it very confusing when we were one of the few houses on the street not connected by overhead lines. Apparently they had great difficulty working out how the phone line got from the street to the house, and they couldn't locate the External Termination Point. After several hours they gave up and put our installation in the "too hard" basket - despite the fact the house was all of about 5 metres from the street.

And I thought trenching was the preferred method of laying out the fibre to the house? UFB is *only* going to rise from its current rather pathetic level of uptake if the installation is free. The moment potential customers have to fork out several hundred dollars of their own money for installations, uptake is going to be limited to enthusiastic early-adopters like Mr Ram, and the billions spent laying out the fibre will be wasted.

That's strange... there is a hybrid copper & fibre single cable available from Maser Communications in Auckland. They also have the fibre ducting if people want to install their own underground or overhead.

Chorus also use a hybrid cable within the premise, allowing for (among other things) voice services delivered by the Chorus supplied ONT to be fed back along that cable to hook into the building wiring at the original ETP.

I've been on fibre with NOW (based in Hawke's Bay) with them delivering all my calling services, including Sky, over the fibre! It was totally easy to get hooked up and I've had nothing but good support and service since.

Just to clarify, my install may end up being free. Just waiting to hear back about who does what...

And yes, would happily ditch the copper but as Mr Brislen points out there are some services which rely on the current copper services... trying to keep things as simple as possible.

If it is the Resource Management Act that stops us having overhead telephone lines and overhead fibre, it is high time it was reformed. This is stupid beyond belief.

There is existing product that combines copper and fibre for an aerial drop. Therefore no issue with RMA.... I just dont know why Chorus won't use it.

Why not just use Vodafone 4G network and forget about UFB and cables altogether.
Much cheaper and no trench digging

Dare you to use 300GB in a month on 4G, and then report back when you get your bill.

Yup, what he said. See also:Vodafone launches "4G but doesn't recommend it for big downloads"

Get Orcon UFB!!! I've had it installed since last Sept and it's perfect. The VOIP works fine for our alarm monitoring, but I can't vouch for Sky and other services. Ours was also an overhead install so Chorus took out the old copper telephone cable. Then all I had to do was connect the VOIP port on the modem into the nearest phone socket. Now the copper telephone loop within the whole house has a dial tone just like before. I'm not an expert but I would have thought Sky and most sevices could work with that?

If our largest Telco can' get their act together to deliver UFB and VOIP to consumers with years of warning, then I think we should be supporting Orcon and other providers who have delivered! The Gov't is picking up most of the UFB bill and Telecom can't even get a billing system sorted? Bring on more companies like Orcon and 2degrees!!!

Okay. I'm confused. Assuming that the old Auckland City District Plan still applies for Mr Ram adding another aerial connection is actually a permitted activity. Am I missing something?

Under section paragraph l) it say the following is permitted: Above ground telecommunication lines being only connections to or from buildings and sites. Where the proposed telecommunication line is to be an overhead line it will only be permitted where there are existing overhead telecommunication lines and existing electric power or telephone poles.

Join the club, Confused. Telecom says there are resource consent issues with trenching in some council areas, but not others.

Chorus sees a "visual pollution" problem under the Resource Management Act, which of course covers all areas.

Is see Comments have already included the usual call for RMA reform.

Good luck with that one.

Most people want the RMA knobbled in one area or another, but I suspect few of the chattering classes will want it liberalised so more overhead cables can appear in their back yard.

I don't get how people keep blaming the RMA. The RMA was enacted in 1991 and from my bush lawyer perspective lays out what is expected to be covered in district plans. It does not generally take precedence over a district plan. Furthermore, if you word search words like "overhead" and "visual amenity" in the RMA they don't exist.

The Auckland City District Plan I referred to was effected in 2005 and presumably has been structured in such a way that it implements the requirements of the RMA. Hence my confusion. The RMA doesn't appear to not allow it. The Auckland City District Plan permits it. What's the problem?

The whole fibre project is a 'make work' scheme to stop our economy from going down the gurgler and the govt doesn't care how long it takes to make it actually useful. By the time it is all installed it will be obsolete.

12 FTE team in Taupo all on Unison Fibre & VoIP NOW and all goodbye copper or landline.

OK, so don't forget that when the power goes off so does your fibre ONT so unless you also have a UPS solution that would otherwise run on copper POTS for next to nothing ...

Or you could just use your cellphone. When the power goes off today all my gear powers down (including phones - they're cordless) so this isn't the game stopper old people think it is.

Or you could pull out the old-style phone that runs off the POTs line that is packed with your beans and marmite in your emergency kit box...

Everyone is hyperventilating about fibre - yet the reality is most of us will barely notice the difference it delivers - that is, until the bill arrives.

Here's a novel idea Hhorus, why not to overhead fibre to this poor bugger's house???

Here's another suggeestion, grow a pair and get the TSO revisited so that you can offer a naked product. Your competitors are all doing doing it so there really isn't a reason for you not to (the TSO argument smells of BS, if you ask me).

Update: No call back from Chorus as to the approach (with Telecom as the provider). In theory there should be Chorus tech folk arriving tomorrow to scope what they need to do...

Chorus did call, no conclusion as yet to approach. Tech still booked, an on the ground discussion might be what's needed.

Orcon and Chorus installed UFB at our place in September. Fibre has replaced copper line and all is well. Would recommend moving to Orcon if Telecom can't get it's act together after all this time.

OK. So we're getting to the nub of the issue. Here's what I understand:

1/ I've got overhead power and copper in the street

2/ When the fibre was laid (designed) in the street they took this into account

3/ As a result it seems the street isn’t yet provisioned for underground UFB, only aerial UFB (we don’t have the little green boxes for every second house). Question here is, if I was the first person in the street to request underground UFB would that happen? Not sure.

4/ I can’t have a separate UFB / copper line overhead (the replacement, addition has to be “like for like”) I can only have combo UFB / copper line overhead and it seems I can’t spilt and have overhead copper and underground UFB (I will ask about this again, and again). But, again, it seems the UFB rollout in my street wasn't designed this way - I have to go aerial.

5/ If I want UFB now I have to ditch copper, which means I have to ditch Telecom

6/ Telecom customers with overhead copper aren’t choosing to wait until Telecom offers their VoIP solution - they have to wait.

I’m no Telecom fanboy but I’ve been on their broadband plan for over 15yrs and had a total of 1hr downtime.

I've had Orcon UFB for many months, and I can't wait to get off it. The supplied router will only provide 50% of what the plan offers, and the internet and VoIP is very unreliable, requiring multiple reboots per week. Useless! Once i'm off contract, I'll be changing.

Right, to bring this sorry tale to a conclusion.

Telecom needs to add some questions to their pre validation questionnaire. Do you have overhead copper, can you see little green boxes in the street?

If these questions had been asked up front this sorry saga wouldn’t have developed, Telecom folks could have said we can’t give you UFB.

Telecom should have a better idea of which streets have UFB AND which have been cabled underground to the property boundary.

Folks asking about UFB should be told upfront which existing services would cease to work if they switch off copper.

Now considering a different provider, but hearing mixed reports about all.

No surprise UFB uptake is dismal.

Let's talk about the real elephant in the room.

With Orcon and SNAP offering UFB for well over a year wouldn't you think everyone would be flocking to it?

The real problem will be in 2 years time when there will be less than 10% uptake. Will John Key be blaming Telecom for under delivering?

The main issue the national government has is most people don't want or need UFB.

I would have much preferred my taxpayer money being spent on further extending the cabinetisation so that VDSL could be available to more people which is far more realistic and cheaper to deliver than digging up the streets.

Plus growing a pair and taking on the true monopoly of Sky Tv which will continue to inhibit uptake of UFB due to lack of tv options.

That and the comcom should have said that Vodafone must wholesale their cable at UFB rates and hey presto you have UFB for all RSPs in Wellington and Christchurch without needing to dig up the roads.

Orcon offered fibre to me with free install. I grabbed it, and the install was done on time and well, with 2 months free usage thrown in. My telecoms bill, which had been with Telecom for 12 years, halved. The speed went up by a factor of 4. Sky is unaffected, but I presume that's because the cables are underground here in Avondale.

Orcon's phone support is OK, but the waits for people to answer are *terrible*. I've never had less than half an hour on hold. They do, however, respond to annoyed tweets quite rapidly. What I had to call them about was not technical, it was a billing issue. I probably could have used email for that. The service itself has never missed a beat.

TelstraClear (and Saturn before them) have always sold wholesale access to the network with a number of providers still offering service over this network.

Why should Vodafone have to wholesale their HFC network at UFB pricing? It's not an equivilant service and is incapable of the same product offerings without significant upgrades.