ABC Mornings with Geoff Hutchison > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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06-October-2017

 

ABC Mornings with Geoff Hutchison

ABC Studio Perth
5 October 2017

8:35am

 

Text Box: Subject: nbn

E & OE

 

HUTCHISON:

Mitch Fifield is in town connecting with locals over their NBN experiences. And with the rollout of the National Broadband Network he’s got carriage and responsibility for what is one of the great infrastructure challenges and opportunities ever presented in this country.  And I guess how well the project is proceeding depends very much on who you talk to.  And if you would like to put that question to Senator Fifield please do.  Good morning to you.

FIFIELD:

Good morning Geoff.

HUTCHISON:

Who are you meeting with today?

FIFIELD:

Having a couple of NBN forums which Ken Wyatt has organised for me.  I had an NBN forum yesterday with Andrew Hastie and also caught up with Steve Irons.  So looking forward to chatting to people and hearing about their experiences.

HUTCHISON:

And what are they telling you about their experiences.

FIFIELD:

Well look it varies.  When I walk down the street I will have people who will grab me and say that they have had a really good experience with the NBN.  I will be at a community forum and obviously there will be people who will bring to me the experiences that haven’t been all that they should be. 

Overwhelmingly, the experience that people are having on the NBN is a good one.  But when you are migrating the entire Nation to a brand new network, over the space of about five or six years - you are doing what it took the PMG and Telecom about 70 years to do - there will be occasions where people don't have the experiences that we would hope they would.

HUTCHISON:

I wonder, and this is where it is always interesting, and Bill Morrow could be standing on the other side of this desk telling us how good the NBN has been so far.  And will say the experience has been good, and you say overwhelmingly people say it is good.  There is a pretty good chance that when people ring up this morning they will have a counter view.  So I just want to put a couple of things to you.  On Insiders you said, I think last month, that the NBN when they are connecting people get it right first time on about nine out of ten occasions.  Where did you source that conclusion from.

FIFIELD:

Well that's NBN’s data for those things for which they have responsibility. They get it right about nine out of ten times.  It’s important to recognise with the NBN network that it is a wholesale network.  That every Australian will have a relationship, not with NBN as an organisation, but with their retail service provider.  With the Optus’s, the Telstra’s, with the Vocus’, with the TPG’s.  And your retailer has the responsibility for making sure that they purchase from NBN enough capacity to service the products that they are selling you.  Your retailer has the responsibility for billing and accounts.  And your retailer also has responsibility for working with NBN, liaising with NBN, when there is an issue on the NBN side of the fence.

HUTCHISON:

And is that the problem.  Do you think that there has been a great deal of confusion we know that, there has been confusion with government, there has been confusion with NBN.  We have a lot of unhappiness with our retail service providers.  There has been a lot of handballing around of blame and responsibility, certainly in the eyes of the public.  And we are left confused, and is that why we are coming to you.  And if I ask my audience “what do you think of the NBN?” a good many of them are saying, unsatisfactory, hasn’t delivered, overpriced, hasn’t delivered.  Your argument is the NBN is this component, there are other significant components that are influencing our responses.

FIFIELD:

That’s right. And I think there are probably two sorts of issues that people have.  The first is when they have a problem migrating from the old network to the NBN network.  And that really is a shared responsibility of NBN and the retailers. They both have roles to play there.  That is fortunately a transitional issue and once people are on the network...

HUTCHISON:

It will get better.

FIFIELD:

Well once that migration issue is sorted it is a switch you only have to do once. That basically once every 100 years we will have a completely new network which people will transition to.  That’s the first issue.  And a lot of the migration issues have been sorted out. And NBN and retailers are getting much, much better at that. 

The second category of issue, really is the experience that people have once they are properly on the network.  What their expectations were and what their actual experience is.  And usually that relates to speed.  And there are two or three issues which really can affect speed.  One is does someone have the right modem?  You would be surprised the number of times that people have just got the wrong modem. And just changing that can fix things.  The other is people’s in house wiring. Is it fit for purpose for the NBN?  Does it need to be fixed? 

And the third issue relates to whether people are purchasing from retailers the product that is right for them.  And also whether retailers are purchasing from NBN enough capacity to service the customers that they have.

HUTCHISON:

Not surprising that a lot of people would like to ask you a question this morning.  I just ask that you put your headphones on.  When we talk about those retail service providers there is a broad perception that, they particularly, have over promised and under delivered, and the ACCC has promised to go after them hard for it.  They investigated them and found out that nearly one in three of us have been sold low speed plans.  Not been made aware of the fact that speeds are not better than the speeds we are getting now, maybe even worse than the ADSL.  The times we want to browse between seven and eleven, that might not be a good option for it.  Oh and by the way throughout this process you will be coming off your landline.  There is a void into which good information has been falling.  Do you accept that.

FIFIELD:

Look I think information can certainly be better. And there's an onus on retail service providers, in particular, to provide that information to consumers so that they know what are the range of products that are available, what are the different price points.  You mentioned the ACCC.  I think part of what has been happening with the switch to a new network is that retailers are essentially going after market share.  It is a bit of a land grab if you like.  And they haven’t always been providing good information and good product advertising for consumers.  So what the ACCC has done…

HUTCHISON:

They have done worse than that.  They now face prosecution if they continue to advertise that which they can't deliver.

FIFIELD:

The ACCC have given a very clear guidance to retailers as to how they should be advertising their products. And while it is referred to as guidance, the ACCC expects it to be followed.  And if it’s not, then they will come down on retailers like a tonne of bricks.  The other thing that we have done is we have asked the ACCC, and we have given them money to do this, to embed 4000 probes, in the nicest possible way, into people’s premises.  So they can measure the speeds that people are actually getting by retailer. Those will be made public. And people will be able to look.  They will be able to assess and shop around.

HUTCHISON:

Let’s go to your calls, good morning Michael.

CALLER:

Morning Geoff, morning Minister. The problem we’ve got.  I am from Gabbadah and there is another area there called Woodridge. They went through and installed all these micronodes.  Now they have been installing in this place and we were supposed to be switched on June 30.  However they kept saying oh no there is more work to be done, more work to be done.  When you try and pin them down to what the work is they cannot tell you.  They become very patronising, and I have found out since that they have got no idea how these micronodes, as they are called, how to work them.  Now they have all these cabinets throughout both States and throughout Australia. And they can’t get them to work.  We have no idea when we are going to get it, and as far as I’m concerned if that is the way these things are, I don’t want to move from the old ADSL.

FIFIELD:

Well thanks for that.  There is some good news, and obviously I understand your frustration, and I never want to diminish the experience that someone has, if it’s not all that it should be.  But the good news is that the NBN is now available to more than half the Nation.  By the middle of next year it will be available to three quarters of the Nation.  And everyone, including yourself, will have the NBN by 2020.  That’s the good news.  I am disappointed if anyone has not treated you with respect. You always should be.  And you should be provided good information.  With a project of this size there will be occasions where there is a target date for a particular month, but that will move a bit, depending on circumstance.  As I said earlier to Geoff, we are transitioning essentially the entire Nation, the best part of eleven million premises to the NBN.  Everyone will be there by 2020. But if you are happy to leave your details with the producer for the show, I will certainly make sure that we get you advice as to when you can expect to be connected.

HUTCHISON:

Michael I will put you back to Annie and we will get those details from you, thank you very much.  This is Jason, who is having a fairly frustrating week I think. Good morning Jason.

CALLER:

Good morning thanks for taking my call.  Just a question for you if I could Minister.  We moved our primary residence, which I run my business from, and we stayed with our same provider.  They were rally great that’s why we stayed with them.  We were happy with their fees, although not fantastic we were aware well of those.  My question is, we had an issue with our NBN, at one point after we were happily settled in and we were using it, we were offline for seven days.  I spent in total almost eight hours with my provider to find out why we were offline for nearly a week. We had overseas people staying with us at the time, they had to go out and buy new data plans for their phones while they were here.  My business was put out for that period of time.  And finally after eight hours and after going down to my provider with my modem, and that was fine.  NBN came out to our house, checked the connections at our house.  Left with their gear in our house for about half an hour and then came back, and I asked my parents to call me when they arrived back.  When the guy came back he said everything was fine and working perfectly, they put him on the phone and I asked him what was the problem.  I want to know what the problem was.  We have been put out for a whole week.  He simply said that someone had disconnected us from the node and now it was back on and everything was fine.  My next question to him was who do I seek to redress for compensation?  He said to me back on the phone, he got really taken aback by it, and he said you know what mate most people are very happy when we reconnect them.  And he had no answer for me.  So I am asking you who do I seek to redress for such an incompetent situation having arisen from NBN.

FIFIELD:

Well your first port of call should be the retail service provider.  They liaise with NBN. They are the interface with NBN.  If you don’t reach satisfaction with your retail service provider you can then go to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

CALLER:

Sorry to interrupt you, but I have just clearly stated that there was no issue with the retailer.  The retailer did everything they could.   I spent countless hours with them on the phone.  They did everything they could. NBN were at clear fault.  How do I get redress from NBN?

FIFIELD:

The relationship that customers have is with their retailer. And retailers are the liaison point with NBN.

HUTCHISON:

Do you accept though and there is nothing here that you haven’t already heard before travelling around the country.  That when we talk about customer complaints, like Jason, one of the biggest issues so far has been a lack of accountability.  And how you go to one retail service provider, and some of those retail service providers may have been playing pretty fast and loose with the truth here and saying oh well that is an NBN problem, and handballing it that way.  And customers, we have high expectations of what this thing will be because it is very expensive, and it was certainly promised to us as something very sophisticated and fantastic.  Maybe our expectations are now too high.   But a lot of us are also not very technologically sophisticated. And we are having to arm ourselves with the skills to ask certain kinds of questions that we never thought we would have to.  Do you accept that has been part of the problem here that ends up with people like Jason just not knowing who he talks to next.

FIFIELD:

Well in a sense the NBN is analogous to the pre NBN network in terms of who you have your relationship with.  On the pre NBN network, let’s assume someone was with Telstra, customers would deal with Telstra retail.  Customers would never deal with Telstra wholesale.  They would talk to someone at Telstra retail and then Telstra retail would deal with Telstra wholesale if and as they needed to.  So that relationship is essentially the same.  The difference is that NBN as an organisation, as a wholesaler, has a public identity of its own.  And because this is a new network, understandably people think well it’s the new NBN network, there is an issue, I should go to NBN.  What people should do is go to their retail service provider, just as they did in the pre NBN world. 

HUTCHISON:

And aren’t there a lot of subcontractors working for those retail service providers who are unable to answer the questions because back at head office they are unable answer to give them the information to answer the questions because there is this void into which specific answers to problems are hard to get.  You don’t accept that, I think?

FIFIELD:

I accept that people have a varying range of experiences. Absolutely. And I never want to diminish anyone’s experience that isn’t what it should be.  But what I encourage people to do is to talk to their retail service provider.  The retail service provider, they have your account details. They have your billing details. They have the relationship with you. They have the relationship with NBN.  So I encourage people to go to their retail service providers.   Obviously if you want to know when NBN is likely to come to your neck of the woods, then talk to NBN.  If you want to, or need to, register for something like the medical alarms register, where someone may have a monitored medical alarm. And NBN want to make very very certain that those people are transitioned seamlessly to the NBN.  Then call NBN to make sure that you are registered for that.  But otherwise the port of call should be the retail service provider.

HUTCHISON:

This is David.  Morning David.

CALLER:

Hi how are you today.

HUTCHISON:

Good thank you, what is your question for the Senator.

CALLER:

Well we are IT consultants so we are pretty up on the technology.  And we work out of a business incubator, so there are thirty odd businesses in our building, and we moved across to the NBN a few months ago.  And we get a speed that is actually slower than what we were getting on our ADSL connection.  And we have been talking to the service provider and the service provider have been giving us lots of information but basically their hands are tied.  We understand that we are in what is called and area that is in co-existence.  That means that they are running both the normal telephone service as well as the NBN service.  So the NBN is not ramped up to its full speed.  But we get around 13 mbps when we ordered a 100mbps connection.  So 13 mbps on brand new flashy new technology is pretty average.  The problem that we have as well is we don’t know when this is going to get sorted out.  Are we going to have to wait until 2021 when the whole thing has been completed for them to come back and rectify the areas that are having slow performance.  And also we are talking to our customers and we can say to them we don't know if you are going to have a better performance when moving to the NBN that you are currently getting from your ADSL service.

HUTCHISON:

Which is a very important question.  What is the answer to that, can you give the assurances that say of course it will be better, it will be significantly better.  Why would we spend tens of billions of dollars if it is not going to be significantly better.

FIFIELD:

Absolutely. And the commitment is that 90% of the fixed line network will be able to get speeds of 50 mbps.  That there is a minimum across the entire network, regardless of technology, of 25 mbps.  And lots of people will be able to get higher speeds again, will be able to get 100 mbps.  But I just want to come to one important point that was raised here, and that is what is known as the coexistence period.  For eighteen months after NBN comes to your neighbourhood you have the opportunity, in that eighteen months, to transfer across to the NBN network.  During that period you have got both the NBN and ADSL operating and that does have an effect on speeds.  This isn't the technical explanation, but in a sense things are powered down during that coexistence period.  It is just a function of having both technologies going at once.  But after the coexistence period that issue is resolved.

HUTCHISON:

 I would love to be able to ask do you really believe in this project question.  And the reason I put it to you like that is that there is a perception that the previous Labor government didn't have to deliver it, but they promised it.  Promised fibre to the home technology which has a much higher, much greater reputation than what you have offered, which is fibre to the node.  And we have seen people talk about the installation of the NBN and say to themselves, how far am I from the node.  What's the node, I think it's that green box a couple of streets down.  Now it would seem to me that Labor has been able to capitalise on the problems that you had by saying, you have made a mess of this.  Your response has been that our NBN will arrive earlier and be more affordable than anything put forward by Labor.  Who's winning the political argument?

FIFIELD:

I will leave it to your listeners to form a judgement on that.

HUTCHISON:

No tell me I am interested in what you think.

FIFIELD:

My job is to get the NBN delivered.  I am focussed on delivery.  The Labor Party are focussed on politics. That's the difference.  And you are right, what we are doing will see the NBN delivered in full by 2020, which is six to eight years sooner than would have been the case under the approach of our predecessors.  It will also be delivered for about $30 billion less than would have been the case under our predecessors.

HUTCHISON:

For those people who say its second rate, it's compromised, it's nowhere near good enough.  And when you talk about those satisfaction levels it's almost by definition on talk back radio you are not going to hear lots and lots of people ring up and say, you know what my experience has been nothing short of fantastic, I am getting 100 mbps.  Do you remember that speed we were told about at some point, that's not anyone's reality, and is it going to be anyone's reality.

FIFIELD:

Look the reality for most people on the NBN is a good one.  What we hear from our political opponents time and again is that the multi technology mix that we are pursuing - which is where NBN can choose the technology that makes sense in a given area, to see it rolled out fastest and at lowest cost whether that is fibre to the node, using the HFC pay tv cable, fixed wireless, satellite, that's our approach.  What we hear from our opponents is, no one else in the world is doing that.  The rest of the world is going fibre to the premise everywhere.  That is just not right.  Europe. America. It's a multi technology mix.  Often we will hear cited Google fibre, who were looking to fibre up cities in the US, fibre to every premise.  Google have given that up because it was too expensive and it was taking too long.  What we are doing in Australia, using a range of different technologies, is exactly what happens in the United States.  It is exactly what happens in Europe.  Which is you do that which makes sense. You do that which sees it rolled out fastest and at least cost.

HUTCHISON:

This is Steve, morning Steve.

CALLER:

Good morning Senator.

FIFIELD:

Good morning.

CALLER:

Senator in your intro you mentioned three primary factors for low speeds.  You said that it might be the modem, it could be the internal wiring of the house, or it could be selecting a slower than optimum provider plan.  You didn't mention the distance from the node.  Because that it seems is one of the most significant factors in the speed that people will be able to get from the NBN.  And one that the provider is unable to do anything about, or the retailer is unable to do anything about.  

FIFIELD:

Distance from the node is a factor for a relatively small percentage of people.  What the guarantee of NBN at full rollout will be is that everyone, regardless of technology type, regardless of distance from the node, will be able to get 25mbps.  NBNs guarantee for everyone at the end of the rollout regardless of...

HUTCHISON:

How will they do that when Tim in Claremont says that it is 10 to 12.  And when I have asked people about their NBN experiences Lyndsey says we've got it on its fantastic and the next person says, we've got it on, we've got the proper NBN fibre to the premises smooth installation, reliable fast operation, the problem is dumbing the system down to fibre to the node or worse, says Ellen and Barry.  And that is a criticism that you are going to face all the time.  Steve sorry would you like to say something.

CALLER:

I certainly would.  I approached the NBN about this and they told me to talk to my retailer.  I talked to the retailer and they said they can't do anything until it is connected, that I should talk back to NBN.  So I went back to NBN and they came back saying that once the connection has been made I can then apply to have a switch of technologies.  I can go from fibre to the node to fibre to the premises, but I can't do that until it is connected, and if I do it, it will be at my expense.  Now that seems crazy because they should be able to plan, based on the networks typology and the known degradation rates, what the speed of any given premises should be.

HUTCHISON:

Steve if you don't mind we are close to nine o'clock let me give the Minister a chance to answer some of your questions.  My apologies for that.

FIFIELD:

Sure, thanks for that.  As I mentioned the guarantee of NBN is everyone will be able to get at least 25mbps. Ninety percent of people on the fixed line network will be able to get at least 50 mbps.  On the fibre to the node networks speeds are averaging about 70 mbps.  You mentioned an option that NBN provides called technology choice, whereby if someone doesn't like the technology they have, and they would like to have something else, then they will quote, they will cost it, and if someone wants to pay that they can.

HUTCHISON: 

Senator Mitch Fifield thank you very much for coming in today.  He is the Minister for Communications.  And I talked about this huge infrastructure project and what it will represent by 2020 the whole country will have the NBN.  What kind of an NBN will it be, that well that will depend on many things including those retail service providers, the nature of the business, but I certainty know that many customers will be hoping that the ACCC will be looking at everyone's behaviour and watching very closely to see that it's not a case of over promising and under delivering.

[ENDS]