NBN permanently cuts off landlines

On 23 May 2014 NBN Co. will be switching off copper wire services in a number of suburbs, towns and rural centres in Australia. This is the first in a list of scheduled copper decommissions. The decommissions only occur after the new fibre optic network has been in place in an area for at least 18 months. But there is growing concern that many Australians do not realise that, when the final switch is made to the fibre optic network and the copper service is switched off, they will also lose their telephone lines if they haven’t made the switch to the NBN.

When the NBN is installed in an area, households are not automatically connected. They have to call up their service provider and make a deliberate switch, a fact not all Australians are aware of. Many are also unaware that the new NBN cables will not just carry internet services – they will also be used to operate telephone lines going forward.

According to consumer groups it is regional and elderly residents who will be the most affected by this switch-off. Many rural towns in Tasmania will have their copper wire service switched off on 23 May and, if they haven’t signed up to make the switch by 23 April, NBN Co. cannot guarantee that their phone services won’t be cut off. Digital Tasmania told an NBN senate committee hearing in Perth earlier this month that only about half of premises which could be connected to the NBN service in Tasmania had done so.

A spokesperson from NBN Co. has said that next month’s copper switch off applies to 19,000 homes and businesses around the country which currently have an active copper connection.

Some of the suburbs which will be affected are:

  • Deloraine in Tasmania
  • Armidale in New South Wales
  • Brunswick in Victoria
  • Townsville in Queensland
  • Willunga in South Australia

To find out if you are likely to lose your copper service next month, visit the NBN Switch-off website

Craig Perkins, the Mayor of Meander Valley Council, which includes Deloraine, one of the affected suburbs, is concerned that not all the residents in his area understand the switch-over.

“The NBN has been promoted – and rightly so – as a technology system for internet access and downloads; it’s all about speed; it’s about downloads.

So, people who don’t have access or don’t use the internet, and particularly when you’re talking about older people in the community, quite possibly don’t understand that, when they get a letter from NBN Co. it’s just not necessarily about internet, it’s also about their telephone services.”

The services which will be switched off include:

  • Telstra landline phone services (except some Telstra Velocity lines)
  • Landlines phone services from all other phone companies, where the service is provided over Telstra’s copper phone lines
  • All ADSL, ADSL2 and ADSL2+ internet services from all providers
  • Telstra BigPond cable internet services
  • Optus cable internet and cable phone services (switch-off date yet to be determined)

If you are not sure how your phone or internet is provided, the best way to find out is to contact your service provider.

Read a transcript of the full interview with Craig Perkins

Opinion: Disaster waiting to happen

Hearing about this latest NBN debacle is like watching a car accident, where a man walks out into the middle of the road, has a minor heart attack, collapses, and the driver racing towards him turns to his passenger and says, “Don’t worry, he’ll get out of the way in time.” (In case it wasn’t clear, homeowners are the hapless sod about to be run over and NBN Co. is in the driver’s seat. The passenger is the incredulous public laughing nervously because of course he’s going to slow down, right? Right?)

Digital Tasmania has already made public the fact that only half of those who could connect to the NBN in Tasmania have done so. That means half haven’t and, even if they all sign up in a flurry before 23 April (which they won’t), we all know how well Telstra and Optus deal with sudden high demand. The system collapses. So what happens to all those Tasmanians who can’t, won’t, or don’t even know they need to switch to the NBN?

Come 23 May they lose their internet connection. They also lose their landline services. So we’ve got elderly Tasmanian residents living in relative isolation who no longer have a line to the outside world. They may have a mobile phone, but what if it only works when they go into town? Getting coverage in rural areas can be tricky at the best of times. So they’re completely cut off. With that many people the chances of someone getting sick or having a fall is a very real possibility, and they’ll have no way to call for help. Or, on the other end, you’ve got grown-up children who suddenly find they can’t contact their parents to check-in. They don’t know that their parent’s phone line has been shut down, so they go into a panic and race up to make sure their mum or dad is okay.

If NBN Co. goes ahead and switches off the copper cables on 23 May there will be unnecessary panic and possibly some very real emergency situations which could have been avoided as a result. It has been made clear to NBN Co. that information about the need to switch over to the NBN, or the fact that it will affect phone lines, is not reaching residents. Too many people are still far too unaware.

NBN Co. knows these facts. It knows that people are going to be left with no phone service if they go ahead with the switch-off. It’s impossible to expect that every single person can be contacted, but the number of residents who appear to be unaware of the situation is still far too high. This is a potential car-wreck of a situation, but one which we’ve been given plenty of notice about. If the switch-off does go ahead, there’s no way NBN Co. will be able to say it didn’t know the disaster was coming. And, unfortunately, it’s Australia’s most vulnerable residents who will get hurt.

What do you think? Has NBN Co. done a good enough job of informing residents about the switch-off? Or is it up to residents to inform themselves? Should the switch-off be postponed in order to ensure the safety of those in remote areas, or have there been far too many delays with the NBN already?