ISPs and me - the cut-off point

HENRY COOKE
Last updated 05:00 22/06/2014

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The internet isn't a human right yet, but it can sure feel like one. Many of us need it to do our jobs, to study, to do basically anything. Really - the UN are actually working on whether we should consider internet access a human right, as it is pretty essential to free expression in 2014. Of course - it isn't one yet, and broadband access still costs a little bit of money.

A month or so ago I changed my flat's broadband plan, upping the cap and lowering the price. The Sales guy who helped me ensured the transition would be painless, with no pesky cancellation fees since we had been on our plan longer than twelve months. Easy! Of course it didn't work out that way and we were pinged with a $200 cancellation charge the next cycle. Having gone through the "we don't owe you this, trust me" process with Vodafone before, I put off calling them up about this, which was fairly stupid, but didn't quite prepare me for coming home to a dead internet connection.

I hadn't seen any emails, I hadn't received any calls, but boom, no internet. My flatmates weren't exactly ecstatic. After scanning Twitter (on 3G!) to find out if it was a technical problem, I spent an hour or so on hold before being getting the $200 charge wiped, paying the rest of our bill, and having our internet reconnected "within 24 hours". It only took till the next morning, but a whole day without internet remains a pretty terrifying concept - a friend of mine who forgot to pay their bill and went a whole week without connection.

To be clear - broadband ain't free. It costs to deliver it; it costs to receive it. This isn't ideal. The free market kind of sucks at delivering decent internet, as they have no incentive to keep connections 'neutral' or deliver a low-cost competitive product when they are the only shop in your town, but I digress. Of course you get kicked off your connection when you don't pay - but how long does it take? What kind of notice do you get? I called up some of New Zealand's major ISPs to find out.

Telecom replied first, detailing a process where they note any overdue payment on the following bill, a month (ish) after the payment was due, then attempt to call, email, and mail people reminders for a week or longer, "depending on their payment history". If that doesn't work, they will temporarily cut off service and issue a final written reminder, then go on to permanently disconnect the customer's service. Seems fairly delicate.

Vodafone replied with a very similar system - pointing out that they subscribe to a voluntary disconnection code from the New Zealand Telecommunications Forum that Telecom and Orcon are also signatories of. Notably, a provision for 'vulnerable customers' who require the internet (and phone) to maintain their wellbeing are accorded special privileges. Orcon, Snap, and Slingshot didn't respond in time for this piece.

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But I'm on Vodafone, and we didn't have any notice of our disconnection other than the overdue amount on the bill - I presume I would have opened my letterbox the day after our internet was cut off to find a letter, but an email or phonecall would have been nice.

Then, I'm not a vulnerable customer. I may feel slightly anxious without a connection, but I don't order my food online or anything. It's great to know that ISPs already recognise how important the internet is to those with mobility issues, and from now on I'll never putting off waiting on hold for two hours to sort out a billing problem. Promise.

Henry Cooke believes the internet is mankind's crowning achievement. Read more of him on his blog at rectangles.cc

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