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NBN Service Class 0: When you're stuck in NBN limbo

The NBN website says ready to go. But ISPs say no way. Is there anything you can do?

"The NBN network is available in your area."

So sayeth the NBN website. But tell that to the ISPs...

It's been two months since the National Broadband Network website told me my area was ready for service. Two months of calling ISPs who tell me there's nothing they can do yet to connect me to the local node. They don't know when, they don't know why, they just know they're waiting for something to change in the NBN system before they can do anything for me.

I get it. I'm lucky to even be this far down the NBN track. You're still a dirt road, while I can see the bitumen and I'm just waiting for the driveway to be paved. But I'm living in NBN limbo, and I'm not the only one.

Seamus Micronode NBN FTTN

The day I first saw the local micronode installed back in February deserved a friendly photo. Seven months and counting...

Seamus Byrne

The official term is 'Service Class 0'. I hope that's the name of the NBN house band. According to the NBN, approximately 2.5 percent of homes find themselves in this situation right now. That doesn't sound too bad as a percentage. In real terms it's a little under 48,000 premises in the 1.9 million 'brownfield' premises being upgraded from the traditional copper network. If you're in the 48,000, you're still going to be very annoyed that it's you.

So what causes this problem? How is there a gap between what the NBN website tells us about our address and what ISPs see for the same location? Half the frustration is that there is no straight answer.

"Not all areas are uniform and in some cases there may be additional works required," an NBN spokesperson tells me. "These works could be civil or they could relate to integration with the power grid."

So the wider town you live in is signing up to plans all around you. Everything on the path home is almost ready. It's just that 'almost' can mean a lot of different things. Days, weeks or months.

"NBN provides [retailers] with all relevant information for end-user premises," says the NBN spokesperson. "Including the access technology it will receive, its service class status, date of serviceability and exact location."

But in that interim 'Service Class 0' window, there's no new information to share until those extra works are done.

The NBN waiting game

I asked Australia's top three ISPs for their perspective on this knowledge gap. To be the face of NBN retail but be unable to answer questions for people who see they should be able to connect on the NBN site, but get told by ISPs they are still in a holding pattern. They didn't have much to say.

TPG, now the owner of iiNet as well as its own operations, did not respond to our request for comment.

Optus didn't comment on this specific aspect of NBN connection problems, only saying that "NBN provides Optus with serviceability forecasts and regular updates about homes and businesses as they become serviceable."

Telstra was relatively strident by comparison: "We do consistently and persistently check in with NBN Co regarding premises that are Service Class 0. These are unique cases and ISPs, including Telstra, are not in a position to influence NBN Co's connection schedule nor do we have access to background information, these would be questions for NBN Co."

It is absolutely a question for the NBN, but the NBN is expressly designed to not communicate with the public. But it's also been a political football that has been forced to sell its virtues in the public spotlight. And that includes having a website that lets people check the status of their location.

What to do while you wait

So what do you do?

One thing you don't do is just ring every service provider you can find until someone promises to sign you up. Between less scrupulous sales agents and carefully worded false promises, you could end up with something that still isn't really the NBN. I've heard more than one suggestion to sign up to a company's ADSL "while you wait and then we'll transition you when the NBN is ready."

You can wait for the NBN on any network. You don't need to jump anywhere -- and live with disconnection and reconnection hassles -- before the NBN is genuinely ready for service.

As hard as the wait might feel, use the time to do more research on the NBN plans out there. Plans are changing rapidly. ISPs are tweaking their deals regularly. In the two months I've been stuck in limbo I've watched a number of new unlimited NBN plans hit the market. Competition is heating up, so if there's a silver lining it's that a delay could be saving you money or mean your perfect plan finally comes to market.

Remember that all providers are selling the same basic service when it comes to NBN. Shopping around for a great deal that suits your needs is absolutely in your interests.

Most ISPs are also offering a service to let you know when your address is finally ready for action. Sign up for this notification with any ISP you're happy to get a call from. I don't trust that I'll get that message as quickly as I want (which, to be honest, is yesterday), but it's better than refreshing websites all day long in the hope that something will change.

Beyond watching carefully, doing your research and making an ISP or two keep an eye on things for you, there isn't anything else you can do.

Except practise your patience. I hear it's a virtue?