The copper network is being withdrawn – here’s what you need to know
Telco providers such as Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees are ditching the old copper wires for new technology.
The landline phone network is on its way out. ADSL and VDSL internet are following suit. That’s because the underground copper network is being replaced by technologies such as fibre and wireless broadband.
The copper infrastructure is very old. In some cases, the parts needed to repair faults aren’t manufactured any more.
The fibre network is faster and more reliable than the copper cables, so there’s little incentive to continue supporting both networks.
The first casualty of the copper withdrawal is the humble telephone.
The home phone exchange that runs on copper (the Public Switched Telephone Network or PSTN) is being retired. If you’re affected, your telco will contact you. You have two options: shift your landline service to a new technology, or disconnect it and use a mobile phone instead.
The transition isn’t happening overnight. Instead, households are being required to shift by neighbourhood. The process began with a few test regions in late 2020.
Households in rural or remote areas where fibre isn’t available will still be able to access the copper network.
If you don’t live rurally and haven’t already been asked to move to a new technology, expect to hear something soon.
Spark operates the PSTN and other telcos piggyback off it, so there’s no backup – you can’t switch to a different telco to remain on a copper landline (at least, not for a significant length of time).
You can keep the same phone number if you switch to a phone-over-broadband service or change telco provider.
However, the alternatives to copper landlines all require electricity and an internet connection, so you won’t be able to make calls during power outages. We recommend keeping a charged mobile phone for emergencies.
If you currently have a phone line but no internet, that also means a bigger bill overall.
Many households pay for ADSL and VDSL internet connections, which also run on the copper wiring.
If that’s you, and fibre is available in your area, Chorus may also notify you (and your telco) that copper is being withdrawn. If that happens, you’ll need to move to a new internet technology.
The retirement of ADSL and VDSL is a more gradual process and isn’t tied to the PSTN shutdown. It’ll mostly affect urban consumers for the time being. In some cases, it’ll be possible to continue receiving internet over copper even after your landline is discontinued.
However, some telco providers, notably Spark, are being pushier than others in moving customers away from internet over the copper network.
If you’ve been told you have to move off copper but your neighbour hasn’t, your telco has likely decided to abandon the copper network before it’s officially retired in your area. You might be able to switch to a new telco to continue with a copper service – just be aware that your new provider will eventually ditch copper as well.
This map will tell you if you’re in a “specified fibre area”, where Chorus will eventually stop providing phone and internet services over the copper network because fibre is available.
Get fibre if you can
If fibre is available at your address, we recommend you get it installed now to save yourself stress later on.
Just because your house is connected doesn’t mean you have to switch immediately. You can stick with your existing broadband connection for now, but moving to a fibre plan at a later date will be much easier.
In addition, installation is generally free at the moment, which could change in the future. However, in some circumstances, you might have to contribute to the cost of installation, especially if your home is an apartment, has a shared driveway, or is a long way from the property boundary.
What can you expect from your telco?
Your provider may choose to stop selling certain services over the copper network. As long as it gives enough notice, it’s within its rights to do so.
However, when you transition away from copper, your telco needs to give you the right information so you can make an informed choice. It shouldn’t move you to a new service without your express consent.
The Commerce Commission has published guidelines for telcos to follow when marketing new technologies.
Telcos must ensure that:
You’re given appropriate notice and don’t have to make decisions under pressure. Chorus must give six months’ notice before withdrawing copper services. Your telco must give four months’ notice of any change.
You’re made aware of the range of alternative services available to you.
You’re given clear and accurate information about the performance of alternative services (for example, internet speeds).
You know where to go to resolve issues.
We’d also expect telcos to provide information about your historical usage and spending, so you can assess which alternatives suit you best.
Additionally, if you’re on a fixed-term contract when your copper service is terminated, you should be able to terminate your contract as well. If your telco tries to charge an early termination fee, it’s likely a breach of the ‘unfair terms’ provisions of the Fair Trading Act.
If you have a complaint
Contact your telco to try to sort out the problem. If you’re unhappy with the response, contact the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution (TDR) service. This free, independent service helps to resolve disputes between most of New Zealand’s telcos and their customers.
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