Old poles choking Gigatown

A red-tagged pole in Maori Hill that has ended attempts by a resident to hook up to fibre...
A red-tagged pole in Maori Hill that has ended attempts by a resident to hook up to fibre broadband. Photo: Gerard O'Brien.
The roll-out of fibre internet across Dunedin is being seriously compromised by the city’s unsafe power poles.

Both the roll-out of fibre through city streets and connections to residents’ homes have been affected.

The Otago Daily Times yesterday ran the story of a Maori Hill resident who was told the poles near his house could not take fibre cables, meaning he could not be connected.

Yesterday, more people came forward with similar stories.

The issue comes two years after Dunedin won the Gigatown competition, in which the city got  ultra-fast 1Gbps broadband at a cheaper rate for three years.

Dunedin City Council-owned lines company Aurora and infrastructure company Delta came under severe criticism last year after it was revealed electricity infrastructure had not been properly maintained, leaving thousands of power poles compromised and potentially dangerous.

Dunedin-based internet service provider Wicked Networks managing director Stu Fleming said many of the decisions Chorus, the national company rolling out fibre broadband across the city, made about whether to make connections underground or via poles were  done  on computer models.They were made without knowledge of the situation on the ground.

"There has been an impact on the speed of the roll-out, and there has certainly been an impact on delivery to customers."

Wicked Networks had about one case a month in the past year where delivery to a customer had been held up at "scoping stage", when unsafe poles meant connection could not go ahead until the situation was resolved.

Mr Fleming said his firm was just a small part of the Dunedin market, so that number could be "scaled up" when including more major providers. Those would include Spark and Vodafone.

"In the current climate, with Delta and Aurora, there’s a major problem."

One customer in Northeast Valley had to wait seven months for a connection that had eventually been made by Chorus digging a trench across a street, "a major amount of work".

In another case there were two unsafe poles and 12 trees on a Dunedin City Council reserve impinging on lines that had to be removed.

That order had been cancelled because the company had no confidence the work could be done in a reasonable timeframe.

Roslyn resident Catharine McGrath contacted the ODT and said shortly after she bought a house in Roslyn in late 2010 her electrician reported the pole she needed for power and communication was unsafe.

In August last year, Ms McGrath  applied to have fibre installed, having forgotten about the pole.

When a technician arrived to connect the house "he found the very faded and almost unrecognisable red tag he had missed on his first visit.

"He then contacted his supervisor to see whether a pole on the opposite side of the street could be used for an overhead connection, but was told this was not possible."

Early this week a truck and digger arrived in her street to dig a trench for a fibre cable from the pole on the opposite side of the street.

"Approximately five men with all sorts of expensive equipment spent approximately five hours cutting, digging and eventually covering a trench across a recently resurfaced street, and all because of one unsafe pole.

"My overwhelming feeling is of frustration that so much time and money has been wasted on finding a solution to a problem that should not exist."

Mosgiel couple Peter and Lynne Hill said Chorus informed them it could not connect them to fibre because of a power pole in their street.

The pole had a red tag that was replaced by a blue tag "but apparently that is not a satisfactory condition".

The company was due to connect to fibre broadband yesterday, but the couple discovered that was not possible, and was told there would be a follow-up by April 4.

A Glendining Ave, Northeast Valley resident said she had been waiting for more than 15 months for fibre to be connected.

Her provider Spark had told her technicians could not climb the pole outside her house.

"I found it interesting that there was a comment in your article regarding [Chorus] working with the customer to ensure a timely replacement or refurbishment.  This has not happened in our case and I’m sure there will be many instances over the city of the same situation."

Dunedin councillor Andrew Whiley, a Digital Community Trust appointee, said people understood when the city won Gigatown fibre would be rolled out using poles.

That would mean residents from Brighton to Waikouaiti and Port Chalmers could easily have been connected.

Cr Whiley said the compromised poles were a barrier for many in the city, including areas outside the central business district.

Once poles were safe he wanted to see gig-speed internet fast-tracked to those communities.

"The problem is the poles have held us back."

Comments

We signed up for fibre in April 2015, took till September 2016 for the pole to finally be replaced, and that was after laying a complaint with the DCC who escalated it through Delta, despite our ISP and us directly being in touch with delta several times over the year and a half.

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