NBN delays HFC rollout until customer experience issues fixed

NBN CEO Bill Morrow has announced that NBN will be delaying its HFC network rollout until it can repair customer experience issues including dropouts.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

National Broadband Network (NBN) CEO Bill Morrow has said the company will delay the rollout of its hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) network until it can repair various customer experience issues.

While Morrow said there are changes already being made to repair issues, he said these changes are "not happening fast enough" for those who are experiencing network dropouts across HFC.

"We're going to delay the rollout of the HFC network until we can adjust issues on the network to give quality services," Morrow told media on Monday.

According to Morrow, the HFC network has seen a faster-paced rollout than any of its other technologies, with NBN unable to correct issues fast enough to keep the impact on customers at a minimum.

With 3.1 million premises in the HFC footprint, Morrow told ZDNet that 370,000 are already connected and an additional 50,000 are queued to be connected. All remaining premises slated to be connected by HFC will see delays of between six and nine months.

The delay will taper down over the next 18 months, he explained, and as a result "will not jeopardise the rollout being complete by 2020".

"We have 1.2 million premises that are already declared ready for service; of that 1.2, 1 million are ready to connect; of that 1 million that's ready to connect, 370,000 have already been activated on the network. We have about 50,000 orders that are in the queue that we will honour and activate those onto the network, and those thereafter are what we're going to suspend or delay," Morrow told ZDNet.

"Not all of these are having those sorts of issues. Many of them, most of them in fact, are satisfied with their service. But the few that are we want to address immediately."

It is too early to tell how much the delays and repairs will cost, he said.

"Effectively, it is just strengthening the integrity of the network medium itself to be sure that we can operate at that frequency band with no interference," he said.

"By the time we open those homes back up to receive orders, this network will have a higher quality of service that we are planning for it, we will see improved processes across the board, as well as the data integrity we are sure will improve their experience."

The rollout of DOCSIS 3.1 in late 2018 will help with the issue, Morrow added.

Morrow's comments follow the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announcing earlier this month that it will be conducting a public inquiry into NBN's wholesale service standard levels to determine whether regulation is required, after saying in its Communications Sector Market Study: Draft report [PDF] that "immediate measures" are needed to address dissatisfaction.

During NBN's financial results announcement earlier this month, Morrow had said the company is NBN is focused on improvements to customer experience, working with retail service providers (RSPs) across solutions for when a consumer is connected; improving their services once connected; and solutions for when a consumer experiences a service fault.

"To support our RSPs and a better experience when end users are getting connected to the network, we are first completing all civil works ahead of declaring a home ready to connect, which will reduce the time between order and install. Second, we're altering the way NBN, the RSP, and our field contractors interface between ourselves and with the end users to better manage home appointments. And third, we are changing the way we case manage the more complex installations and focus on the backlog," Morrow explained during the results call.

"To support our RSPs in a better experience when our end users have already been connected, we are first reviewing our pricing to drive higher speeds with less congestion. Second, we are introducing analytical tools to help NBN and the RSPs isolate causes of speed performance, and third, we are educating end users on how to optimise their home environment.

"And finally, to support our RSPs in delivering a better experience when a service needs repair, we are first introducing new processes and better tools to quicker isolate problems. Second, we are working with our field contractors to be sure they have the adequate tools, training, and resources needed to be able to address the workload. And third, we are improving our service portal performance for the RSPs to gain access to NBN-related information."

Morrow had added that it would "take months" to iron out these issues.

NBN had last month responded to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) annual report revealing that consumer complaints had more than doubled by pointing to its initiatives for improved installation training, advanced fault detection, case management with retailers, and a national awareness campaign on speeds and packages.

It had also added that the TIO's report did not "distinguish between complaints that are the responsibility of NBN to resolve and those that are the responsibility of the retail service provider to resolve".

Speaking during the results call, Morrow said that over the last quarter, complaints about NBN to the TIO have already declined by 26 percent in regards to services, and declined by 33 percent for missed appointments.

For the quarter ended September 30, NBN announced a AU$1.4 billion net loss and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisaition (EBITDA) of negative AU$778 million.

Revenue was up by 124 percent to AU$405 million, with 520,000 end users added during the quarter for 6.4 million premises ready for service and 6.1 million ready to connect.

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