Optus is ignoring the NBN's 18-month switchover commitment and threatening to cut off cable customers within weeks, using strongarm tactics to sign them up as Optus NBN customers before they can consider changing provider.
Optus is calling its cable broadband customers in newly NBN-ready areas and threatening both telephone and broadband disconnection in 30 days – including the permanent loss of their home phone number – if they don't migrate from Optus cable to the NBN network. The calls come before those customers have received a "Ready For Service" letter from the NBN indicating they can sign up with their internet service provider of choice.
After threatening cable disconnection, the Optus representative then offers to arrange an NBN connection appointment before the 30-day deadline, to transfer the customer to an Optus NBN service – in some cases forcing them onto a new 24-month contract – without explaining that they have a choice of internet service provider. Shutting down the cable network also cuts off the "Optus TV featuring Foxtel" legacy pay TV service which Optus currently delivers via cable.
Some Optus cable customers in the Melbourne suburb of East Keilor received a letter from the NBN in mid-December explaining that NBN installations would commence by May. The letter stated that; "We will notify you by mail when you can order a plan which uses the NBN network".
While these homes were still waiting on that follow-up letter from the NBN, Optus began calling them at the start of March to explain that their cable service would be cut off within 30 days if they did not move across to the NBN. If they missed the cut-off date they would permanently lose their home phone number and need to wait 20 days for their phone and internet access to be reconnected.
Other Optus customers in the area did not receive calls but were told of the 30-day deadline and threatened with disconnection via a letter from Optus. When questioned regarding the impending Ready For Service letter from the NBN, Optus is telling some customers that this NBN letter is not coming and Optus' letters take its place.
Optus' behaviour in East Keilor is not an isolated incident, the revelations come as part of an ongoing feud with the NBN over Optus' heavy-handed customer migration tactics and its refusal to abide by the NBN's public commitment to ensure that premises are granted an 18-month window during which they can switch to an NBN service.
Other suburbs currently reaching NBN Ready for Service which have Optus cable customers include Glen Waverley, Beaumaris and Ferntree Gully in Melbourne, along with Kellyville, Edgecliff, Wetherhill Park, Sefton and Cheltenam in Sydney.
Optus' HFC cable network covers around 2 million premises across the country, with roughly half a million active users before the NBN migration began. There is a significant overlap with the Telstra HFC cable network, and around 1.5 million Australian premises have access to both cables in their street.
Reports that the entire Optus HFC cable footprint area will now receive fibre to the curb are incorrect, this will only occur in areas where Optus cable is available but not Telstra cable. If both Optus and Telstra cable are available in a street, such is in parts of East Keilor, the Telstra cable will become NBN cable and homes will switch to this NBN cable as the Optus cable is switched off.
When the NBN opted to scrap the Optus cable network and only incorporate the Telstra cable network into the new national broadband network, Optus began to shut down its cable network in suburbs as soon as the NBN arrived – ignoring the NBN's objections and pointing to the Optus cable user agreement which permits Optus to terminate the service.
In suburbs such as East Keilor, which have both Optus and Telstra cable, Optus is rushing to shift its cable customers across to the Telstra cable as soon as it is declared an NBN service. It is then taking advantage of this tight deadline to ensure customers stay with Optus when moving to the NBN.
By quickly killing off its broadband and Pay TV services in the suburb, rather than granting customers an 18-month switchover window, Optus can quickly decommission its cable network infrastructure and free up fibre running to the exchange to use as backhaul support for the Optus mobile towers.
When contacted by Fairfax Media, an Optus spokesperson did not deny the telco's efforts to fast-track the HFC cable network shutdown but claimed that affected customers in East Keilor had incorrectly been given a 30-day deadline and actually had 90 days to make the switch to the NBN. Optus says it is in the process of contacting affected customers to clarify the matter, although Fairfax Media understands that the 30-day disconnection threat had been common practice until Fairfax Media raised the issue with Optus this week.
While the NBN is committed to an 18-month switchover window, Optus has made a "business decision" to fast-track this process in its HFC cable areas.
"While the NBN has indicated that copper or HFC networks will be shut down within 18 months of an area becoming serviceable, providers of existing internet services, such as Optus, may make the decision to disconnect services sooner," the Optus spokesperson says.
"Optus has taken a business decision to migrate customers to the NBN as soon as an area becomes serviceable. We're taking every step to assist customers to place an NBN order so they can transition to the NBN as quickly as possible."
On the issue of using strongarm tactics to coerce cable customers to stay with Optus when switching to the NBN – by calling customers before they receive the NBN Ready For Service letter – the spokesperson says Optus is calling in advance to offer customers the opportunity to "pre-order" an NBN service. In light of Fairfax Media's enquiries, Optus is reviewing its customer communications and will be providing "additional support to our front line teams" regarding the closure of the HFC network and migrating customers to the NBN.
"Optus does not condone coercive behaviour towards our customers. Should an existing Optus HFC customer decide that they would like to take an NBN service with another provider, they can do so by placing an order with that provider," the Optus spokesperson says.
"Providers may contact a resident before an area is declared Ready For Service to advise them that the NBN is coming to their area and to pre-order an NBN service. Optus contacts its HFC customers during this period."
The NBN is not responsible for Optus' decision to ignore the standard 18-month migration window, according to an NBN spokesperson.
"NBN provides for a standard migration window of 18-months for all of its access technologies including HFC. This gives consumers ample time to consider their internet plan options and best determine the retail provider that suits their needs," the NBN spokesperson says.
"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."
In response to Optus' NBN aggressive migration tactics, Teresa Corbin – chief executive of consumer advocacy group the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network – says Australians are entitled to sufficient time to consider their options before they shift to the NBN.
"For consistency and to avoid confusion among consumers, it would be better if all networks followed similar transition periods," Corbin says. "Short switch over periods may require consumers to stay with the same provider and prevent them from taking advantage of other providers or better deals over the NBN."
"We understand that Optus incorrectly informed some consumers that they had 30 days to switch, not 90 days. This is a very short timeframe for consumers to switch, which would have put pressure on them to rush their switching decisions. Consumers should not be subjected to undue pressure during this switch over period." This article originally appeared on SMH.