Chorus hits back at Spark as war of words erupts over network

Spark says it's hiring more people to man its call centres. Vocus says Spark should have been more prepared.

Chorus [NZX: CNU] says it is experiencing the “usual spike” in the number of weather-related winter faults for its copper line network, which delivers ADSL and VDSL internet as well as landline services.

The listed lines provider also says it is dealing with an unusually high number of incidents of damage to its network caused by third parties.

However, Spark [NZX: SPK] is groaning about long wait times for its customers and blaming Chorus’ aging network for an increase in faults.

Vocus (Slingshot, Orcon and Flip) has also entered the fray, saying Spark should be prepared.

Chorus says fault levels have been trending down in the past five years and, on average, it fixes about 34,000 faults per month on its copper network.

Faults received in June were 38,000, about 16% above volumes for summer months, and Chorus says it is managing about 3000 faults.

However, Spark Care general manager Bridgette Dalzell says the Chorus network is decades old and vulnerable to wet weather.

“Only weeks into the winter season, the number of faults that have required a visit by a Chorus technician has almost reached the volume for the entire 2015/2016 summer,” she says.

“Many of our customers find it unacceptable that they have to wait many days or even weeks in today’s connected world to get their services back up and running. We agree with them and we’re urging Chorus to bring on more technicians.”

Spark says fault-related calls into Spark reached 6000 per day this week, 30% higher than previous weeks.

Chorus has warned Spark and other ISPs that customers might have to wait for up to two weeks to get faults fixed over winter, Ms Dalzell says.

Chorus bites back
Chorus rejects suggestions the age of its network is the issue, saying it has invested heavily in it over the past five years.

“Thanks to this investment, about 80% of households can now get VDSL and the average speed across Chorus’ networks has increased from 10Mbps to 28.5Mbps,” Chorus general manager of infrastructure Ed Beattie says.

“Chorus’ copper network is of a high quality and provides a fantastic service to millions of people every day.”

Mr Beattie says the listed lines provider has a plan to deal with the increased workload and it has shared this with ISPs.

He adds that third party contractors who damage the network do not help, such as a property developer cutting through a cable in Auckland last week, leaving 1600 customers without service.

Fibre customers less affected
Spark says the problems haven’t affected fibre customers as much because the UFB network is brand new and built to modern standards so it’s less susceptible to weather issues.

“While we understand the rollout of fibre across the country is a key focus for Chorus, no one should forget that millions of New Zealanders still rely on the old copper network and they deserve a better service,” Ms Dalzell says.

Slingshot responds
Meanwhile, Vocus general manager consumer Taryn Hamilton says it’s true Chorus’ copper network is aging and faults are more common in winter but ISPs need to forecast this.

“With more faults, come more calls and it’s a recurring trend year-on-year.  We have invested in our teams at Slingshot, Orcon and Flip to ensure that we have adequate staff numbers to deal with any issues that do arise,” he says.

“Our customers can rest assured that we are answering calls swiftly – even if it has been raining. Currently, we only have a 2.5 minute wait time in our call centre, which we think is very reasonable. It’s unfortunate that Spark customers aren’t so lucky.”

Ms Dalzell says Spark uses weather forecasts as a factor to determine the number of agents it needs to roster on to help customers.

Not enough hands on deck
Ms Dalzell apologised for long wait times for customers, adding that Spark has “been throwing all available resources” to allay the delays.

However, she admitted high wait times have been going on for a number of months.

“We know we have lots of customers who end up waiting on the phone for too long, and we’re determined to fix things,” she says.

The telco has hired 130 more customer service personnel in the past week but says it will take time for them to be fully trained. Some 200 were hired late last year.

Ms Dalzell says while the company is hiring for its call centres, there’s a long-term effort to build new and better digital service channels to help customers, such as the Spark app and MySpark.

As part of the digital initiatives, Spark is trialling a new system where it will contact customers via text or email to advise them of any faults or maintenance taking place in their area, avoiding the need to call, Ms Dalzell says.

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