AS THE rollout of our national broadband network moves past the halfway point, the company is embarking on a charm offensive to address customer confusion and growing complaints.

In particular, two issues are continually being raised: poor speeds and dropouts.

"We feel we just can't stay back in our offices and let things happen, we want get out there and explain what we think are the root causes (of problems), explain that we have some things that need to be better and that we're gonna work on that and fix it," NBN Co. chief executive Bill Morrow told

According to research done by the company, more than a third of Australians are unaware they have a choice in picking a speed tier when buying a retail plan on the NBN.

Many readers have expressed disappointment after experiencing issues when moving onto the network, but the man in charge says problems like dropouts are part of the teething process of the rollout.

"Networks are prone to fail, and they will," he said. "When you see 45,000 new homes being connected every week, the volume of people that have a poor experience or are seeing these speed reductions during the busy hours are more than ever, even though from a percentage point of view, it's reasonable."

He believes at times expectations have not matched reality, and called on retail service provides like Telstra, Optus and TPG to have "a fair discussion" about what consumers are getting when they sign up to the network.

"If a retailer is sitting down with a consumer they need to be really clear what they can expect from their service," he said.

Neither the retailers today, nor the NBN, offer guarantees on peak speeds.

As a wholesaler the NBN charges ISPs like Telstra a fee to access the network and another fee depending on how much bandwidth they want to purchase for their customers, or end users. The amount of bandwidth purchased, known as the Connectivity Virtual Circuit (CVC) charge, plays a major roll in determining speeds. If an ISP skimps on the cost it can mean users will experience congestion and slower speeds, particularly at peak times.

While the NBN can't reveal how much CVC telcos buy, Mr Morrow would like to see a more transparent discussion around the packages being sold over the NBN.

"If I'm buying a 25Mbps product is that really a 15Mbps to 25Mbps range that you're talking about?" he said.

"And am I going to spend a majority of the time down at the 15Mbps level? Which could very well be the case and for many people that's okay as long as they know that."

For Mr Morrow, the message to customers is simple: try to do as much research as you can before signing up to an NBN plan.

Once your home has access to the network, you have 18 months to sign up before your old connection is shut off, so you'll have plenty of time to look around for deals.

The national consumer watchdog, the ACCC, is currently establishing a national broadband monitoring program which will compare speeds and performance across all the major providers.

Meanwhile Telstra is also set to take its NBN speeds public this year. "This will include information on what speeds they can expect from the network in busy periods and what applications they can run at those speeds," a Telstra spokesperson told in February.

If you're not getting the speeds and performance you want from your internet connection, then speak to your ISP about upgrading to a higher speed tier or, where possible, swap to a different provider.

"There's a whole different issue going on with what I'll call a price war," Mr Morrow said.

Because there are so many home internet providers, retailers are racing for market share on price but "no one's talking about quality."

"You've got this land grab mentality that's producing a price war," which is overshadowing concerns about quality and adding to the mismanagement of expectations, he said.

The NBN boss also took a shot at tech-obsessed critics who continue to lament the multi-technology strategy backed by the Coalition government in favour of a full fibre rollout.

Most notably in recent weeks, Emeritus professor at Melbourne University Rod Tucker who was an early consultant on the project under Labor has continued to promote full fibre, pointing to countries like New Zealand as an example of better practice.

"For crying out loud, if they can do it better than what we're doing, we'll copy what they're doing," Mr Morrow said.

"It's just such a ridiculous comparison, when you start peeling back the layers of the onion that I'm not sure academics would understand.

"We've got some very smart engineers and finance people working on this that don't have ulterior motives," he said. "No one should think for a moment that if there's a better way of doing something then we're not gonna do it."

The NBN has connected nearly 2.6 million homes and businesses, with half of Australians now having access to the network.


The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) lists the following tips for choosing an NBN plan:

• Check ISP quality

If there are lots of people in your house and you want to use more data intensive applications such as streaming high definition video, you will want to pick a high quality provider. Make sure you speak with the ISP about what they can confidently deliver and then do your homework on public forum sites like Whirlpool.

• Get enough data

Choose a plan that suits your data needs. Look at your previous monthly usage to help guide you in how much data you need.

• Compare cost

Typically avoid offers that split data into "peak and off-peak". These plans may not offer good value. And make sure to balance large set-up costs against the monthly fee. Some telcos have no set-up costs and low monthly fees, so it pays to shop around.

• Added extras

Some plans throw in a few months free subscription to services like Stan and Netflix or zero rate any data you use on these applications. If you are on the NBN, your provider can supply you with a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service.

• Watch out

If you have medical and/or security alarms you should check with your service provider to see if all your services will continue to work.

News Corp Australia

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