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NBN: speed is good, but support is vital Pixabay

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has done users of the national broadband network a great favour by keeping a tab on the speeds that are supplied against those claimed, and publishing statistics periodically to ensure companies do not cheat.

It's a pity that the competition watchdog cannot do as much to ensure that every retail service provider has to have some minimum standard of support before they are allowed to be part of the ISP space.

In the current NBN set-up, support is vital, much more than it was under the old regime. There, if a device failed, you could rip it out, drive up to the nearest computer hardware outlet and pick up a new one. The more prudent among us would have a spare router or modem at home to avoid that trip.

But now, when you see those 404 messages, you have to contact your ISP to find out what is happening. Is the NBN Co's network down? Or is the trouble at the ISP's end? Is it you alone? Or are there a whole host of enraged NBN users out there? How long will it take to be fixed?

For people who need the Internet to do their jobs, this information is even more vital.

The NBN Co does not publish outage maps for the public benefit, the company told me when I inquired. Why, I do not know. Are they afraid that it will show that things are not as good as they are painted out to be when NBN Co functionaries emerge from their dungeons for their quarterly trysts with the media? One wonders.

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You might be one of these ultra-nerds who can diagnose that your cable modem has gone tits-up. But you cannot walk out to the shop and get a duplicate - even if it is on sale and you have the means to buy one. Only modems whose MAC addresses are registered on the network will be able to connect. Thus, only God (read the NBN Co) can supply you with a replacement.

Over the past year, I have had two service providers, the second very recently. And this particular factor, support, was why I switched. Speeds were fine, the cost was very good too, with the first. But when the lines went down, support was very difficult to contact.

The last time when this happened, earlier this month, it took me nearly 36 hours to get in touch in order to get a visit from the NBN Co organised (and that is another thing only the ISP can do).

I've probably had more issues than the average user as I am on HFC, the great idea that was advanced by one Malcolm Turnbull as part of the messed-up technology mix in 2013. The one word for an NBN connection over HFC is erratic; I have experienced speeds ranging from 6Mbps — less than what I used get on ADSL — to 96Mbps. And there is no pattern to it either.

When the latest outage happened, I had to ask a friendly ISP for a diagnosis of the modem's light pattern as the model is not available in Australia and the only site where I could find details about it gave no hint as to what was meant by the way the lights were flashing.

Does everyone has such a resource to run to? I doubt it. Thanks, Damian Ivereigh.

Perhaps the best back-up is a mobile subscription with a decent data quota so that you can use your smartphone as a hotspot and go online when needed until the NBN issue is sorted.

Trying to buy a data-only SIM was an eye-opener. I discovered that those who work at Australian telco outlets have little idea what a data SIM is. I guess you live and learn.

Unfortunately, the only way to avoid the NBN is to leave the country.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the sitecame into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

 

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