Send complainers to the end of the queue, says NBN director
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Send complainers to the end of the queue, says NBN director

People who complain to media about not being able to get connected to the national broadband network should be sent to the back of the connection queue, according to NBN Co non-executive director Michael Malone.

Mr Malone — founder of internet service provider iiNet, which was acquired by TPG in 2015 — was referring to "NBN Service Class 0" customers. Thousands of them, who live in NBN-ready areas but are unable to be connected, are stuck in limbo and often left without internet.

"If I was running NBN and they [complaining Service Class 0 customers] went to the media, I would put them to the back of the queue. Personally, that's what I would do," Malone said in an exclusive interview, adding that Service Class 0 issues would all get resolved and that people should be patient.

"iiNet used to get 20,000 support calls a day and very few ended up on the front page," Mr Malone said.

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"NBN is installing 45,000 customers per week and that will double in the next 12 months": Michael Malone.

"NBN is installing 45,000 customers per week and that will double in the next 12 months": Michael Malone.

"NBN is installing 45,000 customers per week and that will double in the next 12 months," he added, noting that the NBN was always going to suffer from "faults along the way".

"Think about how you would roll out the network if you needed to hit 10 million households," he said. "What are you going to do first? You do all the easy ones first and then the others."

According to Labor MP Stephen Jones, there are 318,089 premises in NBN service areas that don't have functional service.

Malone also hit out at ISPs who lazily lodged support request tickets with NBN Co to address "faults", while 90 per cent of the time the fault was because of a customer's equipment, in-home wiring fault or an ISP-level issue.

Malone said this was costing NBN a lot of money because "NBN Co doesn't [yet] charge [consumers or retail service providers] for incorrect callout fees".

This was because "we are only really at the start of the process" of fault-fixing the NBN, he said.

"If you can get the customer to start with the idea of, 'Let's rule out all the stuff in my house as causing the problem', then you will fix 80 to 90 per cent of the faults before even calling NBN Co."

But all too often, Australians were telling their ISP that they were not going to go through basic troubleshooting because they were convinced all issues were NBN's problem, Malone said.

"It is a blocker to getting this thing rolled out quicker," he said. "It's like going to your doctor. It has to be a joint exercise of troubleshooting between ISPs, consumers and the NBN Co."

While he said Telstra and NBN needed to resolve the Service Class 0 problem soon, Mr Malone agreed that people should be able to connect to existing ADSL while problems remained.

"I don't understand why they [Telstra] can't connect you to the DSL they had yesterday," he said. "There's no reason why they can't."

Malone also lashed out at internet service providers (ISPs) who under-provision internet traffic for their users, and while he wouldn't name and shame them he said they existed and that customers should walk if they had issues with their internet.

Malone said speed testing being rolled out by the ACCC, in conjunction with the NBN, should start to give consumers more power in order for them to determine which internet or phone service provider to select. He added cautiously that speed tests "can be gamed pretty easily ... but it is a step in the right direction".

He also slammed a 2010 Australian Competition and Consumer Commission decision that made it near-impossible for small- to mid-sized internet and phone providers to service the entire country.

The decision — which meant NBN needed to install 121 points of interconnect (POI) instead of a much smaller amount — has meant smaller providers have suffered from having to invest a lot more money in getting to each POI instead of only a select few.

Two former iiNet staff told Fairfax Media it was highly unusual for Malone to speak the way he did about customers who complain to media, because at iiNet he was, they said, "all about the customer" and "putting the customer first".

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They said it was likely that Malone had become frustrated with the NBN rollout and the PR nightmare associated with it, and that he now feels comfortable being transparent about the role he plays in it. Further, they said, the board seat he occupies is the typical "rebel" seat. Prior to him, ISP Internode founder Simon Hackett occupied Malone's seat. iiNet acquired Internode before iiNet itself sold to TPG. Both Malone and Hackett have been vocal opponents of the NBN business model in the past.

Malone was paid $117,000 in 2015-16 for his NBN Co board duties, which include attending board meetings and sub-committees. He is due to serve until 2019.

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