It's hard to take NBN's "Ready For Service" numbers seriously when you keep hearing about connection horror stories and the appalling lack of accountability.
NBN boasts that more than 5.7 million homes and businesses are now able to order broadband from a Retail Service Provider, as the nationwide rollout adds up to 100,000 new properties to its footprint each week. Some of these homes certainly aren't celebrating, as the NBN rollout has left them with no home phone or fixed-line broadband for months.
These Australians are caught up in the NBN's brutal Catch 22, which sees NBN, the nation's internet providers, regulators and politicians all pass the blame until it makes the headlines.
Apparently the only escape from this Catch 22 is to take your plight to the media, as Optus customer Scott Moffat did after spending four months with no broadband or home phone. After Fairfax Media took up Moffat's case, the fault was resolved within 48 hours.
It's an ongoing pattern in my coverage of NBN rollout dramas; individual cases are fast-tracked but no meaningful headway is made in breaking the deadlock which continues to leave homes and businesses in broadband limbo.
The NBN Blame Game
So how do you find yourself trapped in NBN's Catch 22? Once your home or business is declared NBN Ready For Service your retailer is forbidden to connect you to their old DSL or cable broadband service. The "Cease Sale" regulations in the NBN rollout deal obligate them to connect you to the NBN, but if some kind of fault or installation backlog delays your NBN connection then you're stuck – especially if NBN still has your home listed as Ready For Service.
That's exactly what happened to Scott Moffat, who lives in a Ready For Service area but spent four months in broadband hell before contacting me, after which the NBN fault in his street was resolved within days.
Optus insists it couldn't connect Moffat's home to the old Optus cable service in his street because NBN failed to acknowledge this fault and reclassify his home as not Ready For Service. Meanwhile NBN insists his home was always Ready for Service, but efforts to fix a fault in the street were "mishandled".
So in other words, the phrase "Ready For Service" means very little. NBN continued to insist Moffat's home was Ready For Service even though it had known for months that he couldn't actually receive that service. Rather than conceding this point, NBN's stubbornness ensured that Moffat couldn't get broadband elsewhere so he was left with nothing.
The Same Old Story
This far from an isolated incident, stories like Moffat's keep landing in my inbox every time I write another article about NBN's Cease Sale Catch 22. The exact circumstances might vary but the basic paradox remains the same; you can't connect to the NBN, but you can't connect to anything else because you're ready to connect to the NBN.
As part of my ongoing investigation of this issue, the ACCC publicly ruled that the Cease Sale regulations can be bypassed in these situations, to reconnect old services while you wait for an NBN fault to be resolved. Yet time and again NBN and the Retail Service Providers have shown they'd rather push forward with the rollout – leaving some homes with no phone or broadband for months – than admit defeat and allow these homes to go back to legacy services.
Only recently did NBN decide to stop declaring homes in NBN HFC cable areas Ready For Service if they lacked a lead-in from the HFC cable in the street.
Trapped In Limbo
Meanwhile Moffat spent four months repeatedly pleading his case to Optus and NBN, along with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. He even took his plight directly to the office of Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield.
All of them failed to get Moffat's home phone and broadband connected, which doesn't surprise me having dealt with them all in the last six months in an effort to break this deadlock. I'm continually told that Cease Sale is not an issue, the people affected are simply the victim of NBN rollout delays which are to be expected on a scheme of this magnitude.
While an NBN fault might be the reason why these homes are not connected to the NBN, the Cease Sale regulations are the reason why they're left with no phone or broadband for months while they wait for the NBN fault to be resolved. These cases might only account for a small fraction of the overall rollout, but such treatment is still unacceptable – abandoning Australians due to bureaucratic red tape and the need to save political face.
No-one will accept responsibility for this farce and step in to break the deadlock, which means Australians will keep finding themselves trapped in Cease Sale's broadband Catch 22 for years to come. It's time for all involved to put politics aside and free these people from broadband limbo.