Archive for 24/01/2014

St Helens Information Night – 5 Feb

Following the success of our previous information night (the feedback was overwhelmingly positive) on the 15 January, Nick Crawford has asked us to run another one for those who were unable to make it. So…

We are holding an information night entitled: NBN Business Survival Guide at 6pm on 5 February at Tidal Water Resort. There are only 30 spots, which Nick reckons will be quickly filled.

Eventbrite - St Helens NBN Transition Business Survival Strategies

Larger issues on the contract situation

ripupcontract

I have previously posted about the situation regarding existing contracts particularly around the Telstra contracts, who being the largest player hold the majority of the contracts. Telstra are in a unique position here, because they own and run the existing copper network. It is Telstra who has agreed to dismantle the copper network and is being paid compensation to do this.

It is important to quickly cover what a contract is. A contract is (in this case) an agreement between two parties for one to provide a service (the provider) and the other (the client) to pay for it for a fixed period of time. Under standard contract law, if either side wants to break the agreement it needs to compensate the other for any losses incurred due to this breach. In the telecommunications world given that usually it is the client who wants to break the agreement (by ending it early), this compensation is in the form of an Early Termination Fee (ETF). However the provider can also break the agreement by ceasing to provide the service detailed in the contract. This is the situation with the NBN transition.

The transition is being forced upon you (the client). You have not requested this change. You are most likely incurring significant business costs (in terms of new equipment, administration, probably downtime) due to this. Under contract law you are actually entitled to claim these costs against the provider since they (not you) are breaking the contract.

So for the provider to turn round and attempt to force you to take on their replacement service on the NBN by threatening you with an ETF is completely ridiculous (unconscionable would be the legal term). As an absolute minimum they need to release you from your contract without an ETF.

Many providers (including Telstra) have thrown their hands up in the air and said that this is all out of their control, almost like it was an Act of God. However this is patently untrue. It is not as if the transition timetable was not known well in advance (several years). If the providers had thought about this, they should have not allowed contracts to run past the disconnection date. However, most likely, it was just too hard to work out who was affected by which disconnection date and so they just ignored the dates and continued business as usual with multi year contracts.

However Telstra in particular has even less excuse. They chose to accept the shutdown of their copper network in their agreement with the NBNCo. They chose to accept the compensation offered to them for this. So they definitely cannot stand up and say this is out of their control, they (with NBNCo) set the timetable. It was totally in their control.

One important thing to remember is that these agreements are almost always what are called Standard Form Agreements – which are agreements where one side (the provider) offers the agreement for the client to agree to on a take-it-or-leave-it basis (there is no opportunity for the client to negotiate the terms). Under consumer laws (which cover small businesses too) these agreements cannot have any “unfair” terms – ones that disadvantage one side (well they can, it’s just that they are not enforceable).

So when you talk to your provider about your options regarding the transition and they say you have to do or not do something because it is written into the contract, if you believe this is unfair (remember they are forcing this on you) – talk to the TIO. The TIO have the power to effectively look past the words of the agreement and get a sensible result.

EFTPOS Provider Tyro worth a look

logo0

Following the feedback I received on the information night in St Helens, it was clear that EFTPOS is by far the biggest issue affecting businesses transitioning to the NBN due to its instant effects on sales if it is not working.

Eric Bennett from Tidal Waters, St Helens put me on to a relatively new entrant into the EFTPOS Merchant Provider market: Tyro. Like all new entrants into a market, they appear to have very innovative products. One feature of their standalone EFTPOS terminal, the Xentissimo, is that it works over WiFi. That means that it has all the good features of broadband (speed, low cost, reliability, works on the NBN), but is also mobile (within the WiFi range of your shop). This means that it is easy to hand to clients and avoids having to run cables from your back office to the front counter.

Eric tells me has been using them for several years and is very happy with them. So if your current merchant provider is not stepping up to the plate with an offering that works for you – I suggest you check them out.

Here is a full comparison of EFTPOS offerings.

Telstra disagrees with me over contracts

contract

You may remember that I posted a copy of a letter that Michael Patterson, the General Manager of Telstra Countrywide Tasmania, sent out to many (all?) small businesses in Tasmania. Well today (Monday 20 Jan) I received a call from the Michael asking to meet me for a coffee. His main point of contention was that, while he was not across all the details, he disagreed with my posts about the contract situation when transitioning clients to the NBN.

My position (in a nutshell) is that the NBN service is so different from the ADSL and fixed line service that it is replacing that many existing contracts would become void. The main problem being that the provider cannot continue to provide the current service (which among other things allow Fax, EFTPOS & Alarm Systems to work reliably).

He promised me he would provide a business brief from his team – in other words the official Telstra position, which I promised I would post up here when I receive it. I assured him that my main goal on this website was to provide clear information to small businesses. There is enough mis-information out there about this transition, I certainly don’t want to add to it.

St Helens information night a roaring success

Well it has been a few days since our booked out information night in St Helens last Wednesday, but this is the first time I have had a moment to sit down. What most people seemed to appreciate is the informality of the event. I have a presentation I give, but this is mostly just to trigger people to ask questions and ask they certainly did!

The feedback I got (via a survey) was extremely positive. I think one of the most telling answers was to the question “How likely are you to recommend the event to a friend?”, everybody answered either “Extremely Likely” or “Very Likely”.

I spend all of Thursday visiting businesses helping them to get a handle on what was required to transition them across.

Unfortunately due to how busy I have been since the St Helens night, I haven’t had the time to market the Deloraine night on the 22nd Jan, so we have had to postpone it for the moment. I will personally visit the few people who had already booked in.

Telstra willing to waive existing contracts when moving to the NBN

break-contract

For those who have been following my investigation into whether suppliers can hold you to an existing contract when transitioning to the NBN – i.e. force you to take their NBN service. I had a significant result today.

In a nutshell a potential client had a Telstra BizEssentials package, which was an ADSL internet and fixed line bundle, on a 2 year contract, signed in April 2013, which extended way past the 23 May 2014 cut off date. Telstra had informed him that while they could supply an NBN package encompassing the phone and internet, the phone line could not be used for fax, EFTPOS and alarms systems. To allow these to work an additional ISDN line would have to be installed at extra cost.

This amounts to a significant change to the service supplied under a contract and by law, Telstra must allow the client to escape from the contract. I was expecting to have to argue with Telstra regarding this, but no, a call to their call centre, followed up with an email and a few hours later they came back saying they had removed the contract from the service. That was easy!

So now the client is free to choose whatever supplier they wish to transition them to the NBN (including of course staying with Telstra).

So it appears that Telstra are very aware of their contract obligations and have decided not to stand in the way.

Morty’s on the Bay struggling to connect to the NBN

mortysphot

I spent Friday down in St Helens promoting the information night I am holding in St Helens next Wednesday (15 Jan). During my walk around I was introduced to Mort Douglas who is the developer for the new Morty’s on the Bay complex. He related to me the story of the trouble that the businesses moving in are having getting the NBN switched on in the building.

Indeed I noted that the cafe on the ground floor didn’t have an EFTPOS machine due to the problem.

My understanding is that have NBNCo have failed to recognise this as the multi-tenant building that it is and work on a “whole-of-building” approach. Unfortunately because NBNCo are one step removed (they can’t deal directly with customers – they are wholesale only), this has led to them not always being across what is going on on the ground and more to the point what is required.

I have fired off an email to my account managers at NBNCo to see if we can’t get the right people to talk to each other. I will keep you posted of what is happening.

NBN Installs delayed to March due to “remediation” required

deadlines

We have just received word that the NBN Installs for three of our clients (Delquip, Mountain View Inn & ATX Sales) in Deloraine have been delayed in 3rd March – due to “remediation required”. This typically means that there is an issue with the Aurora Power Pole that is being used to deliver the NBN Fibre connection.

This is getting dangerously close to the time when we need to have completed transitioning clients across to the NBN – 3rd May (nothing can be changed in the last 20 days before switchoff on the 23rd May).

We need NBNCo to prioritise the towns (like Deloraine) that are facing the switchoff deadline and to prioritise businesses, since they take longer to migrate.

I have written the following email to the Federal Member Eric Hutchinson:-

Dear Eric,

We have just heard that NBNCo have delayed three NBN Business installs in Deloraine until 3rd March 2014 due to their connections requiring "remediation".

As you are probably aware the copper telephone is being disconnected in Deloraine on 23 May 2014 requiring all subscribers (including businesses) to transition across to the NBN by that time. In practice the actual deadline is the 3rd May, since nothing can be changed (like moving numbers) in the last 20 days (Telstra "Order Stability").

We are a small telecommunications company, based in Launceston, specialising in moving small businesses across to the NBN. Moving a business (with their EFTPOS, Fax, Alarms, phone systems etc) is a very complicated process - taking many months to achieve particularly when you include the required testing and troubleshooting to perform a smooth transition (without downtime).

I realise that there is nothing can be done about the deadline - I have already been in touch with Malcolm Turnbull's office about this. However there is something you can do about NBNCo, given that this a government enterprise.

My request is that you approach Malcolm Turnbull and ask him to direct NBNCo to:-

1) Prioritise the towns that are affected by the 23 May switchoff: namely Deloraine, St Helens and George Town (not in your electorate).
2) Prioritise businesses over residential since they will take
considerably longer to transition than residential (who often only need the internet, not phones etc)
3) Impress on Aurora that they need to get their act together if the fibre is delivered via a power pole to quickly fix any issues.

I am happy to discuss all this with you on the phone at any of the numbers below.

Many thanks,

Damian
--
Launtel - We're at your call
Tel: 1800LAUNTEL (1800528683)
Mob: 0418217582
Fax: 1300784109

Govt confirms deadline will not be delayed

Malcolm Turnbull webshot

Just before Christmas I received this letter from Malcolm Turnbull’s office. I had asked via Barry Jarvis (the mayor of Dorset Council, Scottsdale) what information the Government had about the switch off and what options there were to delay the deadline. While the letter talks about getting NBNCo’s act together, the deadline is not changeable – it is out of their hands due to the definitive agreement signed between NBNCo and Telstra.

So unfortunately it looks like there is nothing that can be done to delay the deadline.

NBN Rural Woes

fibre-power-pole

ON Sunday, December 22, the NBN cable was off the hydro pole and on the top off a barbed wire  fence in the blackberries on Tasman Highway 2 1/2 kilometres from St Helens towards Scottsdale.

I notified Aurora as I thought it might have been the three-phase power cable.

It was terrific in its response and actions but said it was the NBN cable and the NBN had been notified.

I spoke to a Visionstream person who also said that NBN had been notified on three occasions about this, but it took until 3.45pm on Friday, December 27, for the repair crew to come and lift the cable out of the blackberries and barbed wire fence.

The NBN cable is still only about four metres off the ground between the poles.

My concerns on so-called remote locations like St Helens with the NBN has now been confirmed with this fiasco – if live stock had been in the paddock, as we all know, they would have chewed it to pieces, and potentially put small businesses out of business.

When the copper is turned off nobody can trade without a live connection as we are all unfortunately committed to computers.

NBN obviously doesn’t give a high priority to repairs and maintenance so how can we operate with the cables strung between poles in a remote location and in a fire-prone area?

– Michael Tucker of St Helens Newsagency, Examiner 3rd Jan 2014

You can find the original opinion piece here

What Michael doesn’t say is that following the May 2014 permanent switch off of the copper network the telephones would also be inoperable should the fibre cable be cut. This is of great concern – particularly for businesses.

Given that the cut off date seems to completely immovable it is important that we:

  • Keep lobbying the government and NBNCo to secure these cables – Michael Tucker noted in my meeting with him before Christmas that following the 1967 Bushfires it was mandated that telephone lines be carried underground due to their importance – the same should be true of the fibre.
  • Businesses consider carefully the impact that loss of internet and phones would have on their business and consider putting in place some backup options (using the 3G mobile network).