NBN Putting the Consumer In Charge

Undoubtedly, the NBN is a hot political potato right at the moment, with many different views entering into the current debate. Debate or otherwise, the state of play at the moment sees the project going ahead – including the recent announcement of the location and schedule of the next seven rollout locations.

Many of you will already understand the technical and the potential financial models of the operation of the NBN, but in coming days I aim to cover some of the end user advantages of just having the NBN in place. I have already discussed economic benefits, so I will keep away from that aspect of the project for the time being.

For as long as I have been ordering, installing and using DSL services throughout my career – (both for professional and personal use since 2000, when the Telstra DSL network first appeared) – one truly frustrating administrative aspect to the technology has been prevalent.

That aspect is churning.

In terms of DSL connectivity, churning is the process by which a customer moves from a DSL connection with one ISP, to a DSL connection of another ISP. Because DSL services are based on a single addressable POTS phone line, and most premises – (particularly homes) – have only one such line, moving from one ISP to another can be a complicated process.

Before you can move to your new ISP, you have to cancel your service with your existing provider, ensure that the DSL line codes have been removed from your line, and then have your new ISP initiate the provisioning process for a new DSL service on that same line. The codes have to be gone before the new service can be successfully provisioned.

You will be without internet services from the moment your existing ISP cancels your service, until the moment your new ISP has completed provisioning the new service. You will commonly be quoted that this will take between 7 and 21 days.

That’s right, between one week and three weeks. This is a constraint imposed by Telstra Wholesale – (who own almost all the copper into homes and businesses) – and which necessarily passes down the provisioning chain.

Some people will be able to cope with a single week, others will not. Businesses could be crippled by even an outage of a single day, and often choose to go to the trouble and expense of ordering a completely new phone line for the new service, to eliminate the gap.

This might not be possible if there are no spare lines nearby, destining some to having to wait without connectivity if they want or need to change providers.

However, it is with the line codes that the biggest problem lies. In lay terms, line codes are a set of information about your line to identify to the DSL network, exactly which ISP your line is to be connected to.

In my experience, many ISPs fail to clear their codes from the line when you cancel your service with them, making the initiation of a new service with another ISP impossible until those codes are cleared. It has improved somewhat in the last couple of years, but it does still happen.

Every single extra day that it takes to have the old codes removed from your line is another extra day before work on your new connection can begin, after which it will take the standard 7 to 21 days.

If it takes a week to sort out a problem with the removal of old line codes, and the provisioning of the new service takes the full 21 days, you could be down for a month – or longer if other problems arise.

Even in perfect circumstances, you can expect to be down for at least a week – so let us now flash forward to an NBN connected world and see the difference.

As I discussed some time ago, each NBN Co network termination unit (NTU), has six separate and distinct customer ports, four of which are dedicated to data connections.

When you first get connected up to the NBN with an ISP, it is quite likely that your connection will be provisioned on the first data port on your NTU. You’ll plug your router into this first port, pop your username and password into it, and away you go.

If after a few years you decide to change to a different ISP for whatever reason, you can have the new connection provisioned up with your new ISP – (most likely on the second data port) – and when it is ready, unplug your router from the first data port, plug it into the second one, update the username and password, and you’re done.

With just a minute or two of downtime, and then you can call your old ISP and tell them to cancel your old service.

Down from at least a week of downtime, to just a few minutes of downtime. This is a massive consumer win – whether that consumer be a private or business customer.

In my experience there has been plenty of evidence to suggest that many ISPs have deliberately held up the removal of DSL line codes to actively discourage customers from churning away.

Now that everyone will effectively have four data lines available at all times, that grip that some ISPs exercise on a customer with line codes is now gone, and the consumer is in the driver’s seat where they belong.

About time too.