Ah, the joys of ADSL. Tis a wonderous thing to be able to communicate at 256kbps instead of 56kbps (if you are lucky; normally, it is more like 40kbps, or even 28kbps).
I signed up for ADSL service with Telecom New Zealand (TNZ) back in April of this year (2004). Due to an internal screw up with order codes, my first month’s service was a 10GB usage at 256/128kpbs. Excess usage would (supposedly) cause a speed reduction to 64kbps.
After my first month, during which I downloaded Debian for my Motorola Starmax, I reverted to the 3GB package (256/128kbps, 5 cents per MB for excess usage). My usage turned out to be around the 1GB, 1.5GB mark; so I was pretty happy.
Until late September, early October. At that point I started getting very high usage; usage that would push me past the 3GB mark, quite easily.
At the end of my billing period (6 Sep – 5 Oct), my usage was 3258MB; so I got billed for it.
I had a bit of a panic and started investigating what had gone wrong. I have a few computers in the house but my main suspect was my partner’s new laptop, running XP and its use of Skype. In the end it was all my fault. I’d reconfigured my router to belive it had a new top level domain and that encouraged Skype to use the laptop as a domain relay.
At that time, I didn’t know what was wrong so I rang up TNZ and asked them to switch me from my 3GB plan with excess usage charges to the 10GB plan with bandwidth reduction on excess usage. This was on Oct 19.
The guy at TNZ was really helpful. He understood my problem and my concern over excess charges and promised me that as long as I kept my Oct-Nov usage under 5GB, I would be given a rebate on the excess charges.
The one thing he could not do was upgrade me from the 3GB plan to the 10GB plan, then and there. This was what I wanted but it is currently impossible for TNZ to do this due to the nature of the software that they have which manages the ADSL provisioning. All plan changes must occur on the (ADSL) billing anniversary. Plans can be changed during a billing period but such changes do not take effect until the billing anniversary is reached. At that point their ADSL provisioning system kicks off the change process and the plan changes are applied.
Doesn’t sound all that great but, what the hell, I was upgrading from 3GB to 10GB so that I’d avoid excess charges.
And in the background TNZ was planning something bigger for ADSL. They announced these changes on the 24th October and I was really happy with what I heard.
All current plans were being switched from a model where they charged for excess usage to a model where excess usage resulted in a speed reduction. So, if you went over you limit, your speed got reduced to modem speeds. But there would be no excess charges. In addition, the 10GB plan which already had this feature to begin with was getting a speed boost, from 256/128kpbs to 2Mbps/192kbps.
Now that is what I call service. What a big improvement.. I would get 10GB usage AND a huge speed boost. I couldn’t wait until my billing anniversary date rolled over.
The 6th November was a Saturday. I got up, logged on and got very disappointed. My plan didn’t seem to have changed at all. I still appeared to be stuck on the 3GB plan. The online usage meter told me I was on the Surf Flat Rate Plan and that my limit was 3GB.
Now, I had noticed a problem with my upcoming plan switch a few weeks back. The online usage meter that TNZ provides shows your current plan, and your “next period” plan. I had noticed that it hadn’t changed from Xtra Jetstream 3GB Surf to either “Xtra Jetstream Surf Flat Rate” or “Xtra Jetstream Plus” (the new name for the 10GB plan). I send the Jetstream guys an e-mail mnentioning this problem. In return, I received confirmation that the upgrade was going to happen as I had expected and that I didn’t have anything to worry about.
November 6th, 2004
So, I was very annoyed when things did not seem to be right on the 6th November. I called the Jestream guys up and spoke with a very helpful man who told me that my plan change had occurred but whilst they had switched my usage from 3GB to 10GB, they had failed to upgrade my line speed. There was nothing that could be done over the weekend but I was assurred that he would get onto this issue on Monday morning and he’d get the speed change done sometime on the Monday. He seemed confident about this; almost as if it was a no-brainer.
I should have guessed that wasn’t going to work.
November 8th, 2004
Monday the 8th November rolls around and I go off to work fully expecting to return to 2Mbps of download. Unfortunately, that did not happen.
So, I call the jetstream guys up once more. “Why hasn’t my speed problem been fixed”, I ask. Now, I get a nice long-winded story about the screw up on my plan change. The story goes like this:
When I asked for my plan to be changed from the 3GB plan to the 10GB plan, they created a work order which used the product code for the existing 10GB plan.
When TNZ announced their plan changes on October 24th, a new set of product codes were also brought into existence. Customers would be moved from their existing plan (and product code) to the equivalent new plan (and new product code) automatically.
Unfortunately, my order change had already been issued but with the old 10GB product code. Thus, when then order change was processed, I was upgraded to the old 10GB plan, not the new one.
It’s all so simple, really.
Well, as you can imagine, I was not happy. I told the customer support guy that I wasn’t happy and asked what he was going to do. He offered to give me a month’s free service as compensation. Initially, I thought this was ok, until I realised that he was not offering to fix fix the speed problem until the next billing anniversary, the 6th December. I nearly hit the roof. I told him that I considered this unacceptable. I was not happy with his offer and that I would prefer to talk to his superior. I should point out that he had already put me on hold so that he could speak to his superior to confirm the one month’s free credit offer he had made to me. He told me that it might take come time for him to get back in touch with me but his superior would probably call me within the next two hours. I said that was fine by me; I would wait for his call.
In the end, I did not have to wait long. Thirty minutes later, the superior called. He reiterated to me the offer that had been made earlier that evening. I told him that I didn’t really consider that a resolution of my problem. I would still be without the 2Mbps service until 6th December. I asked why it was not possible to fix this problem for me now, or at least within a working day or so. He told me that their provisioning system for Jetstream was very restrictive and that changes could only be made on billing anniversaries. Now this sounded to me as if their billing system was restrictive, not their provisioning system but I let that go. He told me that work was underway to have a more flexible system in place for early 2005 but that it was not available now and that it I would have to wait until my next billing anniversary.
I had a brief flash of inspiration and suggested terminating my current ADSL service and starting a new one with the proper 10GB plan on the same day. However, it was explained to me that my simple idea would not work as I thought. The provisioning service did not work as my simple mental model did. If I chose this option I ran the quite high risk of being without ADSL for a day or so between account termination and new account setup. I was not prepared to take this risk.
I asked him is he felt that it was acceptable for me, as a customer, to put up with this kind of poor service. I had given TNZ plenty of advance knowledge of my plan change. It was TNZ who chose to announce the universal upgrade of all Jetstream plans. That announcement raised my expectations of my plan upgrade. The 10GB usage limit was no longer the be all and end all of my upgrade; the 2Mbps was very attractive to me. All the more so since I considered 69.95NZD a lot of money for a 10GB usage limit; however, with a speed upgrade thrown in, it struck me as a good bargain.
Anyway, when I asked him if he felt that I had received acceptable service on this issue he just remained silent. I suspect that this was a ploy to give me time to calm down. However, I did not, I ploughed on.
I asked him whether he thought Theresa Gattung would receive the same level of service as I did if she had had the same problem. Wouldn’t the various technicians at TNZ work hard to fix such a problem for her? So why not me?
I apologised and said that I was being a but pushy. I could not really expect him to answer such a question.
So we moved on. I acquiesced and accepted the offer of a month’s credit on the 10GB plan.
“After all”, as I said, “there is nothing else I can do, is there”?
Clearly I was getting annoyed again.
“I mean, it’s not as if I can just ring up some other ADSL provider and get a similar deal. The problem is that there’s no competition in the market. I don’t live in a cable area so I can’t ring up Telstra-Saturn for a competitive deal. So I’m stuck with whatever Telecom feels like giving me”.
He didn’t answer me again. So, I apologised and accepted their offer as the only way of moving forward. I was told that my plan would be would be upgraded to the new 10GB/2Mbps plan and that it would take effect from my next billing anniversary, the 6th December.
That was that. I hadn’t got what I wanted but at least it was going to happen next month. At least that is what I assumed.
December 1st, 2004
I called TNZ up to get a new figure for my phone bill once my excess usage above 3Gb had been rebated back to me. I spoke with a helpful woman called Moana. She looked back at my records and saw the note about the excess usage and worked out the new bill amount for me. I thanked her and was about to hang up when I got a nagging feeling.
“Can you confirm that my Jetstream plan is going to be changed on my next billing anniversary please”, I asked.
I told here a very short version of what had happened previously with my upgrade and she diligently went off , looked through my records and told me that there was no plan change scheduled for me on my next billing anniversary.
“Are your sure”, I said.
“Yes, I am”, she replied.
We chatted politely for a bit. I confirmed to her that I was expecting to move to the 10GB/2Mbps plan without excess usage charges, just reduced download speed. We confirmed this quite a few times. It was late in the evening and I was concerned that another mistake might creep in along the way. However, she reassured me that the plan change would happen on the next billing anniversary and that I would have my speed upgrade.
I asked if this was a common kind of problem and she told me that I was only the second person she had spoken to about this kind of planning change problem. I had laboured under the illusion that my problem was far more widespread. It was not, I was just one of the unfortunate few.
She said, however, that she could understand why I might be annoyed at the inability of the correct product being provided to me.
Finally, I asked “now, if I hadn’t phoned about my bill tonight, would I have still been on the 256kbps speed after the 6th December”? “Yes”, she replied. I thanked her for sorting this confusion out for me and wished her a pleasant evening before hanging the phone up.
In the end, TNZ managed to get it right, but only because I, their customer, continually completed the feedback loop to ensure that things got done properly. I should not have to apply this level of effort to get a simple service upgrade done.
The time line of this catalog of errors is as follows:
- 19 October
- Request upgrade to 10GB plan.
- 24 October
- TNZ announce new Jetstream services and migration of existing customers
- 28 October
- Ask Jetstream support (via e-mail) to confirm that my plan is being upgraded from 3GB to 10GB because the online usage meter is still showing my next period plan as the 3GB one.
- 29 October
- Jetstream Online Provisioning respond to my e-mail and confirm that “everything is in the system for the change to go ahead. The plan change will be effective from 06/11/04. At this stage our system is just waiting for the date to roll around before actioning the change.”
- 6 November
- My plan is changed from the old 3GB plan to the old 10GB plan. I call Jetstream support. They acknowledge the failure to increase my speed and say they’ll get it fixed on Monday 8 November.
- 8 November
- The speed problem has not been resolved so I call Jetstream support once more. I speak with two different people. The second person I speak with is the supervisor of the first person I speak with. I have a lively discussion with the supervisor but the problem is not resolved. I accept the single month’s credit for my Jetstream service as the only way of progressing forward. There is nothing I can do. There is nothing TNZ is prepared to do for me that will solve the speed problem for me now. I will have to wait until my next billing anniversary.
- 1 December
- I speak with Moana about my telephone bill and discover that my plan change from 10GB/256kbps to 10GB/2Mbps has not been set up. Moana ensures that the plan change is set up for me.
- 6 December
- I’m on holiday in Australia so I have no idea whether the plan change has been activated as per my conversation with Moana. I’m on holiday so I don’t really care all that much.
- 9 December
- I fly back from Brisbane and arrive home at 23:35. I put the kettle one, fire up the ADSL router and my computer and wait. The router connects to Jetstream and I run a quick speed test. Instead of 31KB/s, I now get 231KB/s. My 2Mpbs service is now provisioned.
So, what do you think? Don’t you think this is pretty shoddy service. If it wasn’t for Moana, I’d be waiting another month for the final upgrade to 10GB/2Mbps.
Unfortunately, I think that this is an all too common problem with incumbent telcos. TNZ pretty much has the market to itself since it owns the local loop and can, therefore, lock competitors out. Wholesaling is being forced upon it and it is clearly dragging its feet on the matter. The UBS plans are out now but are at the previous data rates of 256kbps, not the new 2Mbps. If one were cynical, and I am on this matter, you could say that TNZ deliberately undermined the wholesaling business and made it commercially unviable when it announced its new ADSL plans on October 24th. Who, in their right mind, is going to want to buy a wholesale plan with a top speed of 256kbps when an end-user plan of 2Mbps is available, at the same price?
If one were really, really cynical, one might see the new plans announced on October 24th as a land grab designed to vacuum up all the easy ADSL sales out there and further deny competitors any kind of market share.
It is truly brilliant.
You give people (like me) a great offer, which is hard to refuse and, as a side effect, you pretty much wipe competitors out of the residential market.
Nice one Theresa, nice one TNZ. You make it look like Kiwis win but, in reality, you are squashing any kind of competition in the residential market which is TNZ’s cash cow.
Unfortunately, to stop this kind of thing is hard. The Competition Regulator needs to take a good long look at this kind of behaviour. The Telecomunications Minister needs to get a very firm grip on this too. This behaviour is anti-competitive and just plain unacceptable. It is very difficult to argue for a UK, or even Australian, kind of regulatory model when the nation’s population is only 4 million people. However, TNZ’s historical position gives it far too much power to control the market. Most other countries have decided that the incumbent needs controlling. It took the UK’s telecoms regulator a good 10 years to get a firm grip of BT and that was only for basic telephony. At least when it came to broadband, the UK regulator knew how to deal with the large incumbent. What will New Zealand do with TNZ? Is the government capable of standing up to them? Can they find someone with sufficient technical nous to tackle TNZ? Someone who can fight today’s battle (ADLS speeds in the Mbps range) rather than yesterday’s one (ADSL speeds in the kbps range).
I wish I knew the answer.
I hope the answer is “yes it can and here’s the guy [or gal] to do it”.
Please comment. I’m interested to hear what everyone out there things on this topic. I expect a deluge.
BTW, I am sending Theresa Gattung, Rosemary Howard and Paul Swain links (and paper copies) of this topic for their perusal.
From Ms. Gattung, I would like to hear that this kind of thing won’t be happening again. This level of customer service is truly poor and reflects very badly on TNZ. Whilst ADSL is a relatively new service for TNZ, I find it hard to believe that they lack the technical competency to get simple things right. I would like to hear that TNZ appreciate my honest feedback and that they will strive to offer myself, and their other customers, an improved service in the future. If they wish to improve on their previous compensation offer of one month’s Jetstream credit then I think that would reflect well upon them.
From Ms Howard, I would like to hear that you will use stories of poor customer service from TNZ as further drive to deliver competitive products into the New Zealand market. The competition is sorely needed and if competition does not appear I fear that the New Zealand economy will suffer. I wish you well in your efforts to open up the New Zealand market; even whilst your parent company in Australia does its level best to emulate TNZ in its native market.
From Mr Swain, I would like to hear that you understand that this is more than a simple customer complaint. TNZ is clearly attempting to dominate the ADSL market though its ownership of the local loop. They are able to stall wholesaling or, even worse, ensure that wholesaling becomes an academic exercise by making the wholesaling approach commercially unworkable. What company can make money on reselling 256kbps commercially when TNZ offers 2Mbps to the end user at the same price? The New Zealand government make a great decision when it privatised TNZ. It can make another great decision by opening up the local loop so that competition can thrive, drive down prices, and ensure the success of the communications market for the benefit of the New Zealand economy.