NBN Cable Rollout Delayed As HFC 'False Activations' Leave Homes Offline For Months

Ongoing NBN installation faults have delayed the Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) rollout, while red tape has left hundreds of homes in broadband limbo for months – with relief finally on the way following Fairfax Media investigations.

The move comes as NBN pushes to accelerate the nationwide rollout, recently putting another 90,000 complicated connections on hold amid the growing complexity of the Multi-Technology Mix rollout.

Some homes earmarked for an NBN HFC cable connection, but without an existing lead-in from the street, will now be pushed to the back of the queue – waiting up to an extra six months even if they are in an NBN Ready for Service area.

Stuck In Broadband Limbo

Beginning around December 2016, the NBN HFC cable installation issues have plagued new customers across the cable network signing up with various Retail Service Providers (RSPs) – but appear to predominantly affect TPG and MyRepublic customers migrating from ADSL copper lines to NBN cable.

Regulatory red tape has left homes across Australia without broadband and phone services for months, after NBN HFC cable installations failed to activate. Photo: Glenn Hunt

In many cases NBN's complex migration agreement with Telstra has prevented TPG and other retailers from reconnecting ADSL broadband while the NBN connection issues are resolved, leaving homes without fixed-line internet and often no home phone access for months. NBN, Telstra Wholesale and the Communication Minister's office are still debating which body has the power to cut through this red tape.

Several thousand NBN connections have failed across the HFC network, although not all have left customers cut off from their previous broadband and phone service. Areas affected include Melbourne's Glen Iris, Balwyn, Canterbury and Glen Waverley, along with Sydney's Fairfield and Cabramatta, Brisbane's Ferny Hills and Perth's Atwell. The activation delays are separate from the large backlog of customers still awaiting an NBN cable installation.

Jesse of Glen Iris has been without home internet or dial tone since early February, forcing his partner to run her online business via expensive mobile broadband. A TPG ADSL customer, Jesse signed up for the NBN but the service refused to activate after NBN installers connected his home to the cable network in February.

On the same day TPG disconnected Jesse's ADSL-based broadband service and has refused to reconnect it, with TPG call centre staff insisting that TPG is legally forbidden from reconnecting the ADSL service. After researching the problem online, Jesse convinced TPG's support staff to grant him access to a temporary "raddy" ADSL account but this service was cut off after two weeks.

TPG Telecom's chief operating officer Craig Levy. Photo: Tanya Lake

"The TPG tech support member sounded exhausted, explaining that there are many thousands of customers calling up their service provider complaining of 'false service' activation via HFC NBN," Jesse says.

"Even worse, apparently service providers are also not able to switch you back over to ADSL, I was told that 'legally, due to legislation, we are unable to switch you back to ADSL once you're in an NBN Ready For Service area'."

Many installations have failed due to a 'false activation'. Photo: Glenn Hunt

NBN Confirms HFC Activation Faults And Rollout Delays

Both TPG and NBN have confirmed that blame for the connection issues lies with NBN rather than with the individual RSPs. The NBN cable installation process is still suffering from a number of "teething problems" since the first HFC cable areas were declared NBN Ready For Service in late 2016.

Back in December a batch of NBN HFC cable installations failed due to an issue with traffic routing on the network, yet NBN's systems reported these services as active to the RSPs. This issue was rectified in January.

Meanwhile, some NBN HFC services have failed to connect due to poor signal strength coming from the NBN Point of Interconnection (PoI), typically located at the nearest telephone exchange. Resolving this issue requires engineering work in the field.

Other installations have failed due to a "false activation" – caused when the wrong location ID is allocated to a new NBN NTD cable modem. This LOC ID mismatch causes the modem to attempt to connect to the wrong Point of Interconnection and rectifying the issue requires NBN installers to return to the premises to change the modem's settings.

Mitch Fifield could have the power to break the deadlock. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

NBN Forms Specialist Team To Deal With HFC Connection Issues

All of these connection faults are NBN's responsibility and the RSPs are not to blame, according to an NBN spokesperson. NBN has formed a specialist team to deal with HFC connection issues.

"Unfortunately we have been experiencing technical issues which have left some HFC end users unable to connect to the NBN HFC network for time frames outside NBN's expectations," the spokesperson says.

"NBN has identified these issues and we are implementing engineering solutions in the field and in our internal activations processes. We are treating these end-users as our highest priority and are working with our RSPs to reschedule their installation appointments."

Demand for connections in HFC areas are double NBN's expectations, forcing it to now prioritise homes with existing cable lead-ins when providing Ready For Service lists to RSPs. This could cause delays of up to six months for homes without an existing lead-in, although premises in the HFC footprint without a cable lead-in or those experiencing activation faults are not among the 100,000 "Service Class 0" complex fibre to the node connections which may be delayed until 2020.

"NBN has recently delayed making some HFC premises Ready For Service as additional work is required at these premises before they will be able to connect to the NBN HFC network," the spokesperson says.

"We expect that these premises that have been placed on hold will be able to order an NBN service within the next four to six months. To meet the high level of demand for NBN HFC services we are putting more resources into the field including specialised teams to conduct required civil works, which will help prevent delays in the future for homes requiring a new lead-in."

Telcos' Hands Are Tied On ADSL Reconnections

The decision not to reconnect ADSL customers does not lie with the individual RSPs such as TPG. Instead these homes have been trapped in regulatory limbo, with all parties adamant that their hands are tied on the issue.

TPG and other retailers are barred from reconnecting these ADSL customers due to Telstra Wholesale's "Cease Sale" regulations, introduced as part of Telstra's complex agreement with NBN which was overseen by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. The Cease Sale regulations take effect 10 days after an area is declared NBN Ready For Service, banning Telstra Wholesale from supplying new copper connections to retail providers like TPG.

As a result the RSP's hands are tied, says TPG Telecom's chief operating officer Craig Levy. While the issue is affecting customers of various RSPs, Levy says he is only aware of 77 TPG customers affected by the issue, mostly in the Glen Iris area – with an average disconnection time of seven weeks.

"We have no policy to refuse to permit a customer to go back to ADSL," Levy says. "The problem is that when an area is declared NBN Ready For Service the Cease Sale regulations kick in after 10 business days, which means we are prevented from re-ordering a new service from Telstra Wholesale in those areas.

"We have and will continue to escalate the issue with NBN and Telstra Wholesale, as we want to resolve matters for our customers."

While there are caveats in the Cease Sale regulations which could allow for the temporary restoration of copper services in these circumstances, neither NBN or Telstra Wholesale have invoked them. Neither NBN nor Telstra Wholesale deal directly with end-users, telling those affected to raise their complaints with their RSP.

Telstra has a "regulatory obligation" to disconnect the legacy service at these addresses, says a Telstra spokesperson.

"If a connection issue arises after a customer is migrated to the NBN, Telstra will offer an interim voice service, as per our Universal Service Obligation," the spokesperson says.

"We will also do our best to ensure that Telstra customers who have experienced connection issues are offered assistance, such as temporary mobile broadband devices to get connected to the internet."

Breaking The Deadlock

While Federal Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield, could have the power to break the deadlock and help restore affected ADSL services, when contacted by Fairfax Media the Minister's office initially declared it a matter between NBN, Telstra Wholesale and the ACCC.

At the time of publication, the Minister's office was continuing to investigate the issues surrounding the Cease Sale deadlock and consult with both NBN and Telstra Wholesale.

While the regulatory issue around temporarily restoring ADSL services still remains unresolved, during Fairfax Media's investigations NBN has fast-tracked efforts to rectify HFC installation issues and expects most affected NBN services to be operational by Easter.

"NBN is dealing with these incomplete HFC activations as an urgent priority and is aiming to have these premises connected to NBN services within the next week," says an NBN spokesperson.

"Even if there was an attempt to reconnect these premises to DSL services it would still take time to reconnect them. The fastest way to get these premises back online is to deliver them their scheduled NBN HFC connection."

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Comments

    Wow. I knew there had been some issues with HFC connections in some areas in the early days, but this really makes me feel very fortunate that not only is my HFC connection speed as advertised, but also that I was even able to get it installed successfully!
    That said, I've had more disconnections in the 2-3 months I've been on it, than I did in my 10+ years on TPG ADSL. Thankfully they've only been short, self resolving disconnections, but annoying none the less. Only time i had a significant issue, was during the storm from cyclone Debbie. I lost my internet for 3 hours that day, but again, that resolved itself, though I did actually report that one to my ISP, as it was the first time my cable NTD had actually lost its downstream light. Most of the other disconnections, all the lights stay lit, but the "modem"/router loses its connection briefly.

      I've been having the same sort of issues with mine but mines just fttn, random disconnects generally self resolving but frequent as clockwork, rang up telstra and was told its because im on an unstable connection but hold on and we'll put you on a stable one, itll take 48 hours. Havent had a good chance to test it but its still dropping out now and then, noticably

        I'm sort of suspecting mine might have something to do with the fact I'm on a DHCP connection. It's hard to tell cos the logs are pretty shitty in the router they supplied, but my connection is rock solid apart from that, and in general, I tend to only get disconnected once per day. Only reason I'm not 100% sure it's just DHCP, is cos it never seems to happen at the same time every day. I'm fairly certain they'd be using 24 hour lease times, but sometimes I get disconnected early in the morning, and other times it'll be mid-late afternoon.
        I'm almost tempted to try paying the extra $10 to get a static IP just to see if that stops it. I used to have a static IP with TPG, so that could be part of the reason why I never got disconnected, but again, not certain. I just know that in 10+ yrs of being with them, I think I was unexpectedly disconnected about 3 times in total!

      I'm due to get HFC so I hope this gets sorted!

    Thanks Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party for politicising our NBN. This is just the start of YEARS & YEARS of problems for a mixed network that you were told many many times would cost more in the long run and would be out of date by the time it was finished.

      It was always political. Labor's original plan prioritised rollout for the seats of the independents they needed the allegiance of to form government. The thing has always been a political football and both parties have put the boot to it.

        I think you have been drinking the Murdoch Cool Aid again!?
        The LNP politicised what should have been a purely economic decision to which there was only one rational solution. Do it once, do it fiber.
        NBN Co always has always been and still is this one that decided.
        https://delimiter.com.au/2015/10/20/three-year-nbn-plan-shows-no-politically-motivated-pattern/

          Oh please, don't resort to pointless rhetoric. I don't read or watch anything owned by Murdoch, you'll have to find a different faulty excuse for why I disagree with you.

          I worked in infrastructure IT for four years, I learned what deployment best practices were and I was critical of the way the NBN rollout was designed from the outset. A correctly managed, 'purely economic' rollout as you put it doesn't deploy major infrastructure by building the leaves before the branches and trunk, and it doesn't deploy a long-term phased development to low density regional areas before high density urban areas that bring a much higher ROI. You're right, there was only one rational solution, and neither the Labor nor LNP plans were it.

          Both parties politicised the NBN for their own purposes. Labor made the right choice of technology but grossly understated the project cost because it never ran a proper analysis, and made economically terrible decisions to prioritise rollouts to the divisions of Rob Oakeshotte, Tony Windsor and Andrew Wilkie to purchase their support for the minority government. The Coalition was right to question the cost and planning but their alternative solution was driven by Tony Abbott's desire to can the project altogether or offer any perceived alternative (ie. FTTN/MTM) when it realised killing the project altogether was politically unviable.

          The link you provided does nothing to support your argument, it describes the three-year plan released in 2015, Labor hadn't been in power since 2013. The LNP never had political bias within the rollout regions, that was Labor's problem. The LNP's problem was the incorrect choice of technology.

          Last edited 08/04/17 11:33 pm

            Lee is one of the many here that believe the oft disproven conspiracy that the NBN was killed to protect Keith Murdoch Jr's Foxtel monopoly.

            Lee, like others, is beyond any sense of rational, mature discussion.

            I don't read or watch anything owned by Murdoch

            Not to get too far off topic, but by that you mean "news" wise right? Or do you also avoid movies made and/or published by 21st Century Fox and books by Harper Collins?

            If the latter, then damn - talk about hard core!

            Last edited 09/04/17 3:32 pm

              To be more clear: I don't read newspapers except for the occasional glance at SMH, generally I read the BBC or newswire services like Reuters. I don't watch television at all and rarely go to the cinema, all my media consumption is digital and either streamed or torrented. I haven't seen a video ad I haven't specifically chosen to watch in years (the Samsung ostrich ad was the last one).

              I have no idea what Murdoch's political views are or what he wants the public to think, his empire is the definition of traditional media and I'm anything but a traditional media consumer.

                Murdoch is of the right but his outlets of yellow gossip are often shoe-horned into the term propaganda to make others feel better in voting for parties that are even worse than the majors.

                At least, that is the conclusion I've come to when I last read the in Herald Sun in the late 90s.

                I still get my movies on BluRay so according the likes mentioned above I'm brainwashed because I watch movies from 21st Century Fox.

                Anyhow, I'm letting this topic go before the desperate few start hijacking the thread.

                Again, as I pointed out; Lee is among the "elite" few who take conspiracy as fact and have made themselves beyond ration discussion.

                  Eh, you're fine. I don't see anything productive coming out of the original conversation anyway.

            I don't see a problem with the regional rollout first approach. Smaller impact to "test" a new Telco doing installations. The rollout of wireless also meant a far easier to deploy footprint than digging up the ground in the cities.

        There's political and then there's idealogical. Labor's original plan was for "everyone" to have FTTH while the LNP have never wanted Australia to have an NBN.

        As for building the trunk before the leaves idea this often fails as the money typically runs out before the smaller branches and leaves get added. By building the leaves first you guarantee that all the infrastructure will be built and not just the bit (the trunk and main branches) that makes the most money.

          Your argument contradicts itself. You say building the trunk first would run out of money before the branches (it doesn't), then acknowledge the reality that building the trunk first brings in the most money.

          This is how every infrastructure project in Australia and most of the world has been built. You always build the trunk and initial rollout targeting high density areas first because getting the easy 75% of the population on fast also brings in 75% of the long-term revenue needed to complete the project. Building to low density regional areas first is one of the reasons why Labor's cost estimates rose 16% even within their own term of government before the LNP took over.

    The Cease Sale clause should be null and void, due to the number of connection failures is substantial proof the area is NOT NBN Ready. Prematurely triggering the clause with a false claim makes them liable. Ask for an immediate resolution or Sue the Whole Lot... judges are usually pretty quick on false triggers of clauses in regulations and contract law.

    I'm in the midst of this issue right now. After buying a house in a supposedly "NBN-ready" HFC area of Brisbane I signed up for the NBN only to find out the underground phone conduit between the street and the house was too small for a HFC cable and a new underground conduit would need to be installed to connect the NBN. Even though the house has an existing phone line, the "Cease Sale" regulations have prevented me from getting ADSL while I wait for NBN. Almost 3 months later I'm still waiting for the issue to be fixed.

    IMO the "Cease Sale" regulations are the root cause of this issue and need to change. While NBNCo blasts the country with marketing campaigns about the 'big city job without the big city', real people who actually DO need the internet to make a living are left in limbo and are worse off than they were before the NBN.

    I also work in IT, have for the past 30 years and I can tell you I'm no labour or liberal supporter. However, labour had it right with this, do it once, do it right. No matter this cost, it is nothing compared to what liberals have gotten us into long term cost wise. This will cost us tech wise and future generations will be paying for this mistake for a very long time. It is the most pathetic thing I have seen a government do to its country just to disagree with the other side in my whole entire life.

    I moved to an HFC area last week, can't get ADSL so have to wait for NBN.
    Technician is due to arrive in 4 weeks, really hoping I don't run into all these issues. A month without internet is bad enough.

    3 business days with no phone line, how are we supposed to run a business.
    What compensation is being offered for this service that we did not want. We were quite happy with the old system!!!!

    And how do we even know all these 'false activations' could just be scammers...? Since this is also going round as well..

    Talk about inept NBN service.Ive been officially accepted to the HFC thru Telstra since April '17 n connection was to be SOON.Well,they ,NBN have installed my BLACK BOX,in the wrong location, on 3 different occasions and im in limbo too.

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