Telecommunications have developed quite a bit since 1877 when Thomas Doolittle developed a process for hardening copper wire to be used as a means of communicating over a long distance.
The need for sending more information at a faster rate has driven change not only in New Zealand but in most countries across the globe.
What’s changed in New Zealand?
In recent years, many New Zealanders have moved from services that use copper wiring such as ADSL and VDSL to newer technologies, such as fibre.
Fibre optic signals are made of light, therefore very little signal is lost during transmission and data can move at higher speeds and over greater distances. Fibre provides greater bandwidth than copper and can carry more information with greater fidelity than copper wires. Phone and internet services that use copper lines are considered slow and outdated compared to fibre. The aging copper infrastructure has become expensive to maintain and is being outperformed with faster fibre optic options.
Against this background the Telecommunications Act 2001 was amended in November 2018 to permit Chorus to withdraw copper-based telecommunication services in areas where fibre is available. To facilitate the withdrawal, the Commerce Commission approved the Copper Withdrawal Code in December 2020.
What is the Copper Withdrawal Code?
The Copper Withdrawal Code came into force on 1 March 2021. It outlines the responsibilities for Chorus, who operate the wholesale copper telecommunications network, when withdrawing copper services from an area.
Chorus are required to give consumers at least six months’ notice of any change. They need to provide information to the consumers so they can understand the transition and, if the consumer orders a fibre service, install it at their home before the copper services are stopped.
Chorus can only stop supplying copper services where households can access the same services over the fibre network. In areas where fibre is not currently available Chorus must continue to supply copper services.
Consumers can complain to Telecommunications Dispute Resolution (TDR) if they have a complaint about their telecommunications provider’s responsibilities or obligations under the code or if they claim Chorus has not complied with the code when withdrawing copper services from an area.
The Code came into effect on 1 March 2021 however Chorus will not be able to stop supplying copper services until 1 September 2021 at the earliest.
Do newer technologies work the same as older ones?
One important difference is that older home phones that plugged into the copper network held a small charge and could work in case of emergency.
Newer technologies, such as fibre, wireless broadband, VoIP and most cordless home phones, require power to work. If there is a power outage, these devices and services will not work. If you use one of these newer technologies, you might need an alternative method to contact emergency services during a power cut, such as a mobile phone.
You can find out more about home phone technologies and contacting emergency services in this short factsheet.
What other support is available?
The 111 Contact Code was created to support vulnerable consumers who cannot call 111 in a power cut because they have moved to new home phone technologies like fibre and fixed wireless. Telecommunications providers must take extra steps to ensure that vulnerable consumers are able to contact emergency services in a power cut. Providers should work with those consumers to make sure they have a suitable arrangement such as a back-up power supply or mobile phone
Under the 111 Contact Code, a vulnerable consumer is somebody who:
Relies on a home phone through a fibre, wireless network or VoIP to call 111; and
Doesn’t have an alternative way to contact 111, such as a mobile phone; and
Can demonstrate they are at particular risk of requiring 111 emergency services for health, safety or disability reasons.
If you or someone in your household might qualify as a vulnerable consumer, you can contact your telecommunications provider and follow their registration process.
Once the application is received, the provider will have ten working days to process it and to let you know if the application has been accepted or declined.
Any disagreements or complaints in relation to the rights and obligations of the parties under the 111 Contact Code can be referred to TDR if they remain unresolved after 5 working days.
How do I get in touch with TDR?
If you would like to talk to TDR about a 111 Contact Code or Copper Withdrawal Code matter you can get in touch by: