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NZ telcos to provide essential repair services using 'no contact' model

The telecommunications industry is working on a ‘no-contact’ model which will allow its retail stores to provide essential modem and phone provisions to its customers without them coming into contact with workers, as alert level 4 and lockdown commences in New Zealand.

Telecommunications has been classified as an essential service, and as such are expected to continue to provide service to New Zealanders in their roles as mobile carriers and internet service providers (ISPs). 

But all providers, including the big three, have closed their doors to usual retail service. Vodafone closed on Tuesday, and Spark and 2degrees both closed yesterday before the raising of alert levels.

On Tuesday the telco industry received confirmation from the Government that any entity that provides maintenance and repair services for utilities and communications, including their supply chains, is an essential service.

This includes any issues related to connectivity, such as modem and phone provisions and SIM replacements.

Some retail stores will, therefore, be open only to provide these essential services and act as ‘distribution sites’ for zero-contact pick up by the customer.

Customers will be turned away, however, if they are not experiencing a genuine connectivity issue.

“Customers need hardware to remain connected to friends and family and to work from home during the lockdown,” says New Zealand Telecommunications Forum chief executive officer Geoff Thorn.

“If someone experiences an issue with a modem, handset or SIM during the four-week period, and cannot get these items replaced, they could be cut off from the outside world. 

“The courier network may be heavily congested over the coming weeks, so implementing a purely online delivery solution could still leave people disconnected for days.

“To ensure we can keep all New Zealanders connected, the industry is currently designing a no-contact collection model that would allow some of its stores to continue operating. 

“While the details are still being confirmed, in practice this would mean that while stores would remain closed to foot traffic they will act as distribution sites for a ‘no-contact’ pick-up by the customer. 

“We are taking the time to get the model right, to ensure we are protecting the health and safety of the people who will be operating the retail stores.  

“Our goal is to maintain strict adherence to the lock-down – no contact between individuals – while ensuring no New Zealander is disconnected.”

This comes as most ISPs in the country announce new plans and measures to deal with COVID-19.

Broadband data caps have largely been scrapped, and most providers have implemented a freeze on COVID-19 related disconnections or late fees.

Spark has rolled out a discounted service for connecting New Zealanders who don’t have internet access at home, and Vodafone NZ has implemented a remote-learning plan through zero-rating Government guided education and health sites to support responses to COVID-19.

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