71yo asked to stand on hot water cylinder to plug in phone after bizarre UFB install

Some technicians installed UFB equipment where it was convenient for them, not best for customers.
JOHN SELKIRK/FAIRFAX NZ

Some technicians installed UFB equipment where it was convenient for them, not best for customers.

People getting ultrafast broadband are being advised to stick up for their rights after a 71 year-old woman ended up having to stand on top of a hot water cylinder to plug in her phone.

Derek Pullen, manager of the Telecommunications Disputes Resolution (TDR) scheme, said the "bizarre" case in which ultrafast broadband (UFB) equipment was installed in an inaccessible hot water cupboard, was an extreme example of a wider issue.

Some technicians were tending to install UFB equipment where it was convenient for them, not best for customers, he said.

"I think people feel they are obliged to accept where the technicians think the placement should be," Pullen said.

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"The message I want to get out is 'you are the customer' and you should be the one deciding, perhaps with a bit of advice."

More than 250,000 homes are believed to have got UFB, with one estimate suggesting about another 500,000 may sign up by 2020.

TDR highlighted the case of the 71 year-old woman in its annual report, but did not identify her or the UFB company involved.

The installer persuaded the woman to buy materials from a hardware store and let him install her UFB Optical Network Terminal (ONT) in her hot water cupboard, despite advice from other technicians that was not ideal, TDR reported.

She was told to put a blanket on the cylinder for the modem.

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TDR said the woman's landline stopped working after UFB was installed and in the course of troubleshooting the problem with her internet provider, she was asked to climb into the hot water cupboard and onto the cylinder so that she could plug in her landline.

"The customer contacted the TDR service. She considered that she had been mistreated by her provider. She felt that the ONT was in the wrong place, especially if she had to plug her phone directly into it to get it to work."

Pullen said the case was one that stood out among the 2619 customers complaints the TDR handled in the year to June.

"It was an unusual one – a little bit bizarre."

But TDR had also dealt with cases where ONTs had been installed in people's garages – again probably for the convenience of installers – "which obviously turned out not to be the best place", he said.

A more common problem was equipment being installed in places that made it harder to get a good wi-fi connection in the parts of the house where customers needed the fastest speeds.

UFB installers are generally paid for the job, rather than their time.

Chorus is the country's largest UFB network company but spokesman Nathan Beaumont said he was confident the hot-water cupboard job hadn't been one of its installs.

Chief executive Mark Ratcliffe downplayed the number of complaints Chorus had received and said it required installers to reach an agreement with householders about where equipment would be placed.

"Yes, we have had instances where people have failed, which is why we now get people to sign off prior to the installation about exactly where the equipment is going to be."

He likened that process to a negotiation. If customers wanted ONTs installed in a place that was logical for them for but difficult for the installer, then the installer would "just work that through with the customer", he said.

If installers didn't reach an agreement they wouldn't get paid, he said. "Sometimes it is better to do a long job than walk off site and discover you are getting no revenue for the day."   

 - Stuff

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