• Tony Bosworth

“It’s the NBN you don’t really have” – residents race to unplug NBN boxes when storms come calling

The Hawkesbury has been experiencing plenty of storms this last month and for many residents that means only one thing – a frantic race to unplug the NBN box in their home before it gets fried.

On the Bowen Mountain Facebook page, frustrated locals have been documenting their experiences with the NBN NCD (network connection device) boxes in a live poll and over 50 of them make the dash to unplug the box every time there’s a rumble of thunder. They do that because many are on their third or even fourth box after storm activity has caused them to fail.

And that’s in just one Hawkesbury suburb.

NBN was only switched on at Bowen Mountain a little under three months ago following over a month of no internet or phones, thanks to a broken Telstra cable. Since then there’s been a constant litany of failed NBN boxes, turning the initial relief at getting access to the NBN to sour for an increasing number of residents.

“I’m so sick of not being able to use the internet through the NBN and having no landline every time there’s a clap of thunder,” said Bowen Mountain resident Narelle Williams on the online poll.

“It’s ridiculous not to be able to be connected in this day and age. The current system is useless. It’s the NBN you don’t really have.”

Twenty-nine people on the Mountain report they are on their second unit, 14 said it was their third, and one of the poll voters is even on their fourth unit - all failed during storm activity.

The NBN NCB box - can't stand the heat...

Macquarie MP Susan Templeman who is keeping a close eye on NBN issues across her electorate told the Post: “Without being able to count every single report I’ve had via email and Facebook of a blown NBN NCD across the electorate, I’m estimating it’s in the hundreds by now.”

Each time the NCD fails a technician has to come out and replace the box and one Bowen Mountain resident said on Facebook the technician, “told us the boxes are all outdated and there should be new ones next year, as in 2021, that will solve the issue as it’s costing them too much with technicians and boxes”.

“I can understand the total frustration for Bowen Mountain residents, especially after a year of communication chaos,” said Ms Templeman.

“They are experiencing major problems with their NBN boxes after storms, as are areas like Winmalee, Hawkesbury Heights, and Faulconbridge. And these are all very storm-prone areas,” the MP said.

“I raised this issue with NBNCo at the start of storm season, when we first had mass losses of boxes.

“While NBNCo says to unplug your box from the power source, there is clearly a major design flaw that needs to be rectified.

MP Susan Templeman says "clearly a major design flaw".

“It isn’t good enough that people are onto their fourth or fifth box in just a few weeks. There is a time delay in receiving them when people have no phone or internet, and I’m being given information that technicians are agreeing to leave people with a spare box. While I welcome that sort of forward thinking and flexibility, this is not a long-term way of providing people with an essential service. There has to be a better fix.

“I’ll continue to fight for reliable phone and internet connections, which are vital for the students, the small businesses, the people working from home, but also can be life-saving in times of natural disaster.”

The overall cost of the NBN rollout is now at $57billion. When the NBN was originally launched by the then Labor government it was a full fibre into the home or premises system. When the Coalition was voted in they decided it would be quicker and less expensive to use a mix of fibre to the curb – with the last stretch to the home using Telstra’s existing copper wire – plus wireless and satellite delivery in some areas.

An NBNCo spokesperson told the Post they were aware of reports of lightning “impacting the operation of some components of FTTC (fibre to the curb) network equipment. We know this is impacting customers living in high lightning areas like the Blue Mountains. Our technical teams continuously look to investigate ways to reduce the impact of lightning on our electronic equipment with ongoing testing and trials as part of this process”.

“Although lightning is known to interfere with communications and electrical equipment, only a small proportion of customers in these areas are affected,” said the spokesperson.

“All NBN FTTC equipment has high-rated surge protection built in and has been tested to comply with all relevant electrical and safety standards – to ensure the safety of our community.”

NBN’s advice to customers is to make sure the devices are plugged directly into a power outlet, not into double-adapters or power-boards.

“During storm activity, to reduce the chance of in-premises equipment being damaged, customers can unplug all connections to their NBN NCD including power, telephone cable and ethernet cable to the home/Wi-Fi gateway for the duration of the storm. Note this will result in loss of service until the NCD is re-connected. This is similar to standard advice provided by other device manufacturers, telephone networks and emergency services.”

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