Telecom has done an about-turn on guaranteeing the quality of its residential lines for data transmission, initially claiming that it could not.
Last year the corporation offered most New Zealand telephone users free installation of a second line within a specified period. The advertising told customers that if access to the Internet was causing conflicts in their households, “Let us slip you a line”.
The second lines were thus specifically offered to residential customers for data transmission, but the punning phrase seemed for a time to have reverted to its normal meaning, because Telecom, via its faults division staff, was telling customers that data transmission was not really for residential customers.
Faults supervisor Paul Willdig said: “We cannot guarantee data transmission on our residential lines, only on our data lines.” He advised the purchase of a leased data circuit.
When his hard-pressed service failed to fix faults that occurred on this writer’s line within the promised 24 hours, Willdig said Telecom could not refund line rentals, as it promises, because neither line was out of action — they were both usable for voice calls, so there was no refundable “fault”. The fact that data transmission was out of action on both due to the earthing hum and noise was not relevant: the lines could be used for the only kind of transmission that Telecom guarantees.
IDC figures show that about a third of New Zealand households have a PC, and a Telecom corporate spokesperson, Peter Brittenden, said there are about 100,000 Internet users, which means that a large, and growing, number of New Zealanders would have been affected if Telecom had decided to save itself the cost of ensuring that its lines have data-transmission quality by only guaranteeing residential lines for voice.
A Commerce Commission spokesperson, commenting on the apparent anomaly between Telecom’s 1996 advertising campaign and policy being given by faults, said it “raised issues under the Fair Trading Act”.
Telecom was then asked: “Do you regard data transmission as a normal part of telecommunications, and guarantee it; and thus when data cannot be transmitted, or transmitted properly, do you regard that as a fault, a refundable fault?”
That obviously sent the corporation’s lawyers into a flurry; the answers took a long time to emerge. “They are not simple questions,” Brittenden said.
But the answer turned out to be very simple, as Brittenden admitted four days later. It was on page two of the telephone directory, under the heading “My phone line’s faulty”.
“We do guarantee the connection,” Brittenden said in a prepared statement. “We undertake to provide a connection between you the customer and your ISP. This comes under our service commitment and guarantee [which is what page 2 in the phonebook is].”
Brittenden says that Willdig, and all other staff at faults, have had “communication” from the services division, “to make sure that there is clear understanding of the what the rules are”.