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Retail Resistance Frustrates Fibre

Is UFB – a visionary, nation-building programme that taxpayers have funded - being undermined by the retail telecommunications companies? From my recent experience, yes - the moment a customer in a shop or call centre uses the “F” word – fibre - your typical telco sales person scuttles off like a scared rabbit.

Last year I helped a client connect to the UFB and found the process cumbersome, with RSP staff not merely uninformed but outright resistant. I hoped this was a teething issue, but now it seems endemic.

In recent days I’ve been trying to get my home office upgraded from naked DSL (on the old WorldxChange network, more recently taken over by Vodafone) to fibre. A breeze, I thought – Chorus had mailed me to say that work in my street is complete and to start enjoying UFB I should get in touch with my service provider.

Last week I rang 0800 123456 to start the process. - I was about to leave Auckland at the time and decided I’d use the downtime in the car to organise the deal. Before joining the Southern at Tamaki I dialed and typed in my landline number, after which I was put in the queue.

Near Takanini I got a real person – Jonathan. He asked for my home number – never mind that I had already typed it in. I explained my request. Jonathan went quiet – he seemed quite stumped that someone was asking to be connected to fibre. He put me on hold. Eventually he came back and said he would need to pass me to the sales team. Ok – back on hold again,

Near Drury I was answered by a lady whose name I forget. Once again she asked me for my home phone number and once again I explained my request. Once again there was a silence in which it was clear that she was out of her depth with such a request. She put me on hold.

Coming up to the Bombays, a third Vodafone person answered – how can I help you? She had not had any handover from the two previous operators. For the fourth time I gave my landline number.

I must admit to getting a bit tetchy at that point. “I’m only trying to do my job”, she retorted – and within a second the call was disconnected. Coincidence?

But it gets worse.This morning I started again ringing the same call centre number. They eventually answered but the moment I mentioned the “F” word they couldn’t wait to transfer me to another department. Unfortunately this department had their phones on nightswitch despite being 10am on a weekday, so I was asked to leave a recorded message which I did.

Later this morning I got a call back.“Sorry but we don’t offer fibre in Whakatane” I was told. “What” – I said – “I have a letter from Chorus saying it is available. Are you serious that Vodafone does not offer it”

“Your account is not with Vodafone” I was told. “You are a customer of Vodafone Next Generation Services - and we don’t offer fibre in Whakatane.”

(Next Generation Services but nix fibre? Yeah right!)

“Well then,” I asked, “does Vodafone (parent company) offer fibre in Whakatane?” “I don’t know,” they said – “you’ll have to ask Vodafone.”

I gave up. I drove to my nearest Spark shop.Nice people. Yes they said – we can get fibre for you.But there’s a crunch. I first have to convert to Spark DSL which potentially means replacing my IP phones with PSTN ones and will take two weeks. Then and only then can the process start to get fibre to me – that will take up to 3 months.

Despite all that, I agreed. Until, that is, it became clear that the whole process is so complex that it is beyond the normal salespeople. I need to deal the branch manager, who was busy out the back .So I gave up.

My thesis is this:

  • The reason UFB takeup is slow is that no matter which RSP you deal with the staff run like scared rabbits the moment the “F” word is mentioned

  • The underlying cause might be incompetence, or woefully poor training

  • However it is plausible that the RSPs, or a business partner, have a perverse incentive to keep customers on the copper rather than convert them to fibre – in which case that is really bad news for the consumer and for the taxpayer’s substantial investment.

Whatever the reason, it seems that customers wanting to take advantage of the UFB for which they as taxpayers have picked up the tab, are being seriously frustrated.I would love to be proved wrong. Please somebody tell me if I am.

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