Chorus will push the Commerce Commission to make wireless broadband providers disclose performance data for their services, CEO JB Rousselot said today.
Rousselot told shareholders at the company's annual general meeting that while the Commerce Commission’s broadband monitoring report highlighted the strong performance of fibre relative to other technologies, consumers were being confused.
"Despite this independent evidence, wireless broadband providers are not required to disclose the expected performance of their service," Rousselot said.
"For me, this is the one area of New Zealand’s broadband regime where consumer protections are falling short."
In Europe and Australia, he said, broadband providers for fixed and wireless networks have the same standards of product disclosure, he said, while in New Zealand, only fixed line broadband consumers were told exactly what they are getting.
"This difference is concerning when we are fielding constant reports of consumers being automatically transferred to a wireless service, if they don’t contact their telco provider to object within a certain timeframe."
Vodafone responded that Chorus was incentivised to promote fibre above other good internet access technologies, so Rousselot's comments came as no surprise.
“As an internet retailer, we want our customers to have the best possible internet experience for their individual situation," the company said in a statement.
"New Zealand has a sparse population in a long, thin countryside, therefore different internet technologies may be required depending on whether you live in the city, a provincial town, or rural Aotearoa – often dictating whether fibre cabling is viable or a mobile solution is necessary."
Vodafone said its customers satisfaction scores for wireless broadband were higher than for other access types, including fibre.
"Fibre is brilliant for high usage customers, while wireless broadband offers ‘plug and play’ convenience anyone can easily set up in a few minutes and is essential for rural connectivity."
Vodafone said it was actively encouraging Kiwis on lower quality copper connections to consider upgrading their internet to newer technology, either to fibre or wireless broadband depending on where they live.
“We constantly monitor our networks to ensure customers get a good internet experience across all access types," the company said.
It also said it supported a review of the TCF Product Disclosure Code, whihc was set in October 2013 before wireless broadband was introduced.
"It’s worth noting the Commerce Commission’s latest measuring broadband report shows average download speed for wireless broadband was 25.2Mbit/s, which is plenty fast enough for the activities most Kiwis conduct online such as browsing and video streaming."
Rousselot said from the complaints Chorus receives at its community meetings in fibre rollout areas, many consumers did not seem to understand the true nature of the change in their service.
"Many were given the incorrect impression they had to change because of an imminent shutdown of the copper network," he said. "Some have even found themselves downgraded from faster VDSL speeds.
"We’ll be raising these consumer concerns and the clear gap in disclosure as part of the Commerce Commission’s wider review of consumer issues within the telecommunications sector."
Telco Spark, which also held its AGM today, said it was planning to ramp up sales of wireless broadband after its 4G network performed above expectations during the pandemic and even more as it rolls out 5G.
Rousselot said one of the great things about New Zealand’s fibre ecosystem was that Chorus’ role as an independent wholesaler had enabled the emergence of a diverse range of retailers.
This meant consumers were benefitting from sharp retail offers with a range of different customer propositions.
"Small retailers are focusing on things like customer service," he said. "Electricity retailers are bundling broadband with power.
"And Sky TV plan to enter the broadband market next year, replicating a strategy that has proved successful in other markets."
However, Chorus couldn't just leave it to retailers to promote fibre because there were still about 470,000 customers who could connect to fibre today but haven’t done so.
Mobile network operators, meanwhile, had an economic incentive to promote alternative wireless technologies to their existing fixed line customers to avoid wholesale costs.
"In recent months you may have seen us taking on a bigger role in encouraging awareness of fibre," Rousselot said.
"A few months ago the then communications minister described fibre as the highest standard for internet connectivity.
"We think he’s right. Our fibre – it’s how we internet now – campaign focuses on how fibre can resolve many of the issues we’ve all experienced on other technologies. Things like glitching during video conferencing, websites loading slowly and the frozen buffering wheel when watching programmes online."
Rousselot also said fibre to the home used 12 times less electricity than copper and wireless networks per subscriber.
"This because data is transmitted by light and we no longer need electronic equipment in streets to power broadband transmission," he said.
"The resulting drop in power usage, once most people have migrated to fibre, is expected to help us reduce our network-related carbon emissions."
Around 90 per cent of New Zealand's electricity is generated from renewable sources.
Earlier this week, Chorus released its next generation, high speed and symmetric hyperfibre broadly into the market.