Broadband is important. We rely on it. So why do broadband service providers still treat outages as if it didn’t matter?
Back in the late ‘90s, the internet was still in its infancy. People were increasingly drawn to it, but dial-up was frustratingly slow and unreliable, so no one in their right mind used it for important stuff, like staying in touch with people or mailorder transactions or you know, business.
As with desktop computers before it, the internet was at first mostly a fun thing, something to play with. Fast forward 20 years and we’ve got ultra-fast broadband (or in my case, something rather peculiarly called VDSL-plus), with speeds of 50 megabits and up, and we use it for just about every facet of our lives, from ordering food boxes to making doctor appointments. It is ubiquitous, and only a peculiar type of laggard has rejected its charms.
So why do service providers still treat outages as if they didn’t matter?
In its infancy, I paid next to nothing to have dial-up internet, but now, with an all-you-can-eat plan, the cost bites into my bottom line each month. And the reason for subscribing to an all-you-can-eat plan is obvious: as a writer who is constantly researching on the web and messaging people through social media and emailing, I need internet access 24/7, or everything collapses. And that’s only my work. The whole house relies on it, from the streaming of movies to our home security system.
In a nutshell, we now rely totally on the internet, just like big companies have come to rely completely on computerisation. But it’s like service providers, while happy to take the fistfuls of cash we throw at them, haven’t moved on from the attitude they held when the internet was new: that it’s simply a frivolity, and it doesn’t really matter if a consumer can’t access it for hours, days, weeks at a time.
I’ve been incredibly lucky. I’ve been with Spark for some years now, having defected from Vodafone, where I had a pretty appalling all-round experience. I’ve always found it relatively easy to access the Spark help-desk, get answers to technological conundrums, and to set into motion the process that leads to connection being restored after an outage.
Clearly, this isn’t the case for quite a few of my friends. I’m thinking of two who have recently vented long and loud on Facebook, both of them living in rural Auckland, both of whom had an endless string of promises that turned to dust, and both of whom had to wait weeks to get their broadband working.
I’ve got a bigger beef with power companies than I have with internet service providers, generally. It seems that New Zealanders are doomed to live with regular power outages for the foreseeable future simply because the infrastructure (that is, money spent on good gear rather than profits returned to shareholders) has simply not been put into place over a very long period of time. It’s a national scandal, but that’s another story.
But this year, I’ve been disconnected from broadband services enough times to start to get a bit peeved about it; four times since January, to be exact. Each time, it’s the box up the road, the local hub, to blame. But each time, I have to go through the same boring ritual: 1) Ring Spark. 2) Try to remember account details but can’t because the internet is down. 3) Explain the situation. 4) Instructed to go through a set procedure to check the modem even though I know the modem is fine. 5) Listen to a message telling me that if it’s not their fault, and the fault is on my property, I’ll have to shell out $150-plus. 6) Agree to pay should that happen. 7) Instructed that within a few days a Chorus technician will be out our way to check.
Of course it is great to have extra smartphone data, because then I can pair my iPhone up to my MacBook Pro, creating a mobile hot spot, and still access the internet on my computer… although the speed shrinks from around 50 megabits to a sluggish 6 megabits. Nevertheless, the solution I really expect is that the source of the problem will be dealt with, quickly.
This time round, my broadband stopped working at around 6pm on Sunday. The little monster was outraged, because she was halfway through a gripping episode of Ben And Holly’s Little Kingdom when the picture froze. Luckily, I had just finished uploading a bunch of hi-res pics via Dropbox. Phew.
My broadband went back on today (that’s Tuesday) at around midday. It took me to inform Spark of the problem in the first place, but there was no update in the day-and-a-half it took Chorus to bless us with their presence, and we’ve not been officially told that it’s been restored.
If you’ll excuse the transgression of using a hackneyed line from the The Six Million Dollar Man, we have the technology! Surely, if we have the technology to sell all-you-can-eat broadband packages, then it should also be possible to harness technology to, you know… let people know what the fuck’s going on! Surely, with today’s technology, it should be possible for Chorus, or Spark (or maybe Chorus and Spark) to have some kind of gadget in those boxes to tell them when something’s broken down.
In my view, given the importance of broadband to our daily lives, both internet providers and the companies responsible for maintaining and fixing the infrastructure should be liable for damages should there be unacceptable delays in getting a consumer’s broadband back online. If something goes bung in the box up the road, there should be a way for Chorus to know that. But if not, and a consumer alerts them to a problem, then Chorus should treat fixing the problem with about as much urgency as an ambulance.
But instead, on the one hand New Zealanders have got vastly overpriced broadband, while putting up with a service that takes almost no responsibility in ensuring the continued availability of that service, 24/7.
To me, the current situation is pretty bung. Why do we put up with this shit? It might well be that it’s not Spark (or other service providers) who are at fault, and that it’s an impossible problem with Chorus, but you know what? There is a problem, it’s not going away by itself, broadband is of national importance, and the Government should bloody well step in and talk tough.