NBN customers forced to use phones to access internet
Australia's National Broadband Network has become a tale of haves and have-nots, with the company announcing speed upgrades for some while confirming others will have to wait months to connect at all.
NBN Co unveiled details about both groups at its half-yearly financial announcement on Wednesday, revealing another 100,000 households had been identified for upgrades from copper to speedier fibre technology, while others would have to manage without any fixed broadband connection due to hardware shortages.
One Sydney man hit by the NBN problem said he'd been forced to hold up his smartphone to a window to get any internet access at all.
However, chief executive Stephen Rue said while "clearly frustrating for them," those impacted by the delays were "not a large number" and the company was working to pause disconnections in affected areas.
NBN Co revealed the $57 billion project had connected another 660,000 households and businesses in the last six months of 2020, with more than 7.9 million now actively using NBN services.
The company also named the locations of the next 100,000 premises that could qualify for an upgrade from copper to fibre technology, doubling the total previously announced.
Residents in parts of the 30 towns and suburbs in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia may qualify for the speed boost if they register interest in a faster NBN plan, though the process has yet to be established.
Mr Rue told News Corp the first of the upgrades, announced late last year at a cost of $4.5 billion, were now "months" away.
"At this stage those 200,000 (premises) are in design and in some cases … the delivery partners have started to build in the areas," he said.
"There will be a lot more clarity for customers in the coming months."
But other Australian broadband users have been shut out of the NBN after the company announced a halt on new HFC (pay-TV cable) installations, citing a shortage of modems and global supply issues.
Mr Rue said the number of Australians affected by the halt was not "significant" but it was unclear when hardware would become available again.
"That's not to say I'm not disappointed for those customers and I wish they were able to be connected when they wanted to, but it does not impact the 1.9 million already connected (to the NBN using HFC)."
But the freeze has been devastating for retiree Gary Robinson, from the inner Sydney suburb of Earlwood, who said three internet providers told him he had no chance of connecting to a broadband service for at least six months.
The former IT worker moved back to Sydney with his wife for medical treatment and was shocked he could not connect to a fixed broadband service.
Mr Robinson said he had been given no option but to use his smartphone to access the internet, which he said was difficult due to poor mobile coverage and made it challenging to access essential government services.
"I have to use my telephone so when we want to get on the internet I put it up near a window where I'll get some connection and do that for as long as I can," he said.
"There's no reliable internet connection where I am and it's the centre of Sydney. It's not as though we're in the bush here."
Melbourne IT worker Toby Wintermute said he faced similar problems after ordering an NBN service for his new home in January.
Working remotely, Mr Wintermute said he needed reliable broadband to work but previous residents removed the NBN modem and he couldn't get a replacement until mid-March at the earliest.
"It's a bit of a nightmare because while I can tether my Telstra mobile phone okay, I don't get anywhere near enough data on that plan," he said.
Mr Rue said no one should remove an NBN modem from their premises, and the company was working with retailers to "ensure those people can reconnect as soon as possible".
NBN Co was also working to pause disconnections in areas affected by the HFC freeze, he said, and a spokesman for Telstra said the company would help customers "stay on their existing cable services" and would offer new customers alternative solutions, including 5G modems where possible.
But Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said "the latest HFC pause (was) yet another indictment" of the network, which had become one of "the most expensive and least reliable" to use HFC technology.
SUBURBS EARMARKED FOR AN NBN FIBRE UPGRADE
New South Wales
Bathurst, Belmont North, Campbelltown, Carramar, Castle Hill, Charlestown, Elderslie, Holsworthy, Liverpool, Maitland, Narellan, New Lambton, Orange, Singleton, Tarro, Toronto, Wetherill Park.
Acacia Ridge, Albany Creek, Ashgrove, Bald Hills, Browns Plains, Burleigh Heads, Eight Mile Plains, Ferny Hills, Oxenford, Robina, Townsville.
Berwick South, Cranbourne, Deer Park, Lyndhurst, Narre Warren, Sydenham.
Elizabeth, Gepps Cross, Golden Grove, Osborne, Salisbury.
Canning Vale, Cannington, Double View, Girrawheen, Jandakot South, Kingsley, Wanneroo
Originally published as NBN customers forced to use phones to access internet