Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Optus cutting off customers without warning, blaming NBN

Optus is cutting off cable customers' phones and broadband without warning, sometimes blaming NBN, as part of Optus' rush to shut down its HFC cable network in NBN-ready areas.

Investigations by Fairfax Media have uncovered a pattern of misinformation and heavy-handed tactics as Optus rushes to migrate its HFC cable users to the NBN network, while coercing them into remaining Optus customers and sometimes insisting they sign a new 24-month contract.

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Optus representatives are telling customers that NBN or "the government" are to blame for the tight migration deadline, inflaming an ongoing feud with NBN over Optus' threats to cut off customers within weeks rather than abiding by the NBN's public 18-month switchover commitment.

While currently threatening to cut off cable services within as little as 30 days in several suburbs across Melbourne and Sydney, Optus has already cut off some home and business customers with little or no warning – leaving them without a phone or broadband service for weeks and perhaps unable to recover their old phone number once services are restored.

Auburn NSW business owner Glenn arrived at work last week to discover his Optus phone and cable broadband lines had been cut off without warning. The area was declared NBN-ready last year, but the NBN rollout map indicates Glenn's business has more than two months left to switch across. When he called Optus, Glenn was told that his business was disconnected because he had missed the cable cutoff deadline.

"We have suffered considerable inconvenience, damage and cost to our business," Glenn says. "I was told Optus was simply complying with government policy by shutting down the cable network."

Meanwhile, Burwood NSW resident Gino discovered his Optus home phone had been disconnected last week after the district nurse who cares for his invalid wife could not call his home. While Gino had received two letters from Optus regarding the cable shutdown, he had been assured over the telephone that his service would not be cut without warning.

Gino is still without a home phone service as he negotiates with Optus to retain his old phone number of 33 years, and has lodged a complaint with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO)

Prasanna of Wheelers Hill, Victoria, had his Optus phone and broadband disconnected earlier this month – only one week after receiving notification via SMS of the cable shutdown. Optus says he has permanently lost his home phone number – used as the RSVP number for 700 guests invited to a family wedding – and that his services won't be reconnected until April 4.

"We were told that if we wanted to continue with the internet we have to sign up with Optus otherwise they cannot guarantee when an NBN technician could come out to us," says Prasanna, who is also lodging a TIO complaint.

"We were told numerous times it was NBN's actions that led to our disconnection. That it wasn't Optus' fault, it was compulsory."

Other Optus customers across Sydney and Melbourne have reported similar experiences, some caught in disputes with Optus for months, culminating in phone and broadband being cut without warning as part of a botched migration process.

Behind the scenes, Optus has ignored NBN's objections to the rapid cable shutdown, pointing to the Optus cable user agreement that permits Optus to terminate the service. Last week, Optus began granting customers 90 days to switch rather than 30, after Fairfax Media raised the issue.

While Optus has not explained why customers were told that NBN or the government were to blame, it concedes responsibility for the rapid cable switchoff.

"Optus acknowledges that it is not the government or NBN that is driving Optus' decision to quickly migrate customers to the national broadband network," says a spokesperson. "Our intention is always to ensure customers are able to transition to the NBN in a seamless way, however, we have identified that some customers were recently disconnected and left without service."

"Optus will provide customers with compensation for the loss of their telephone and/or broadband services, and will continue to work with our front line teams to ensure we provide information to customers as they transition to the NBN."

While Optus says it has "reconnected these customers and is contacting them to apologise for the inconvenience and distress this has caused", at the time of publication Fairfax Media was still aware of affected services yet to be restored. Optus says it is "reviewing disconnection records".

NBN declined to comment on Optus' disconnection tactics, instead referring to last week's comment that "any actions resulting in earlier disconnection of end users is solely at the discretion and responsibility of the Retail Service Provider – it is not an action being taken by NBN nor is NBN involved in any way".

As pressure mounts on Optus to change its heavy-handed NBN migration tactics, there are calls to grant the NBN greater power to settle such feuds and pull internet service providers into line.

NBN should be ultimately responsible for ensuring end users are treated fairly, and granted the power to force internet service providers to comply, says Laurie Patton – Internet Australia board member and former CEO.

"Broadband customers are stuck in this nightmare game of pass the parcel and the buck must stop somewhere," Patton says.

"NBN should be ultimately responsible for ensuring end user delivery and I have proposed the creation of a universal service delivery obligation, which would grant NBN the power and the responsibility for ensuring that its broadband resellers act appropriately and deliver on their promises."

Federal Minister for Communications Senator Mitch Fifield has confronted Optus over its behaviour and instructed the Department of Communications to work with Optus and NBN to address the issue.

"Optus' approach is unacceptable and the Minister has conveyed this directly to the company," says a spokesperson for the Minister. "Optus' actions are a departure from the NBN transition framework which the industry has been operating under and the deadline Optus is imposing on its customers is not a result of government policy nor NBN action."

"We understand that Optus is writing to apologise to customers and correct some of the information provided. The Minister has asked the Department of Communications to work with Optus and NBN to minimise further service disruptions for affected customers."

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