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When Fibre is Down: What is the Difference between your ISP and the area’s FNO?

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There has been a notable spike in fibre downtime in areas across the country and this is understandably causing immense frustration among customers.

However, Vox CEO Jacques du Toit says it is important that the public understands the difference between a fibre network operator (FNO) and an internet service provider (ISP), because directing wrath at the wrong party simply compounds the problem.

“In this day and age, where people and businesses rely on their internet connectivity, interruptions, or downtime for extended periods, raises the collective blood pressure like little else. However, because ISPs are the face that customers deal with on an ongoing basis, be that through fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) or fibre-to-the-business (FTTB) connections, they are mistakenly blamed for fundamental infrastructure faults, which FNOs have a responsibility and duty to maintain,” says Du Toit.

The reason he feels that customers should be educated on the difference between FNOs and ISPs is because it has become apparent that when customers misunderstand where the fault lies, they switch between ISPs, causing further migration delays and often suffering early termination penalties – all of which are avoidable.

An FNO is an entity responsible for deploying, managing and maintaining fibre optic networks. Their role is the physical infrastructure. Examples of FNOs are Openserve, Vumatel, Frogfoot, Metrofiber Networx and Octotel.

An ISP, like Vox, is a company that provides internet access to businesses or residential customers. Their role is to operate on top of existing network infrastructure. The ISPs manage services by offering different plans and packages based on speed and other features.

Du Toit says that FNOs play a crucial role in setting up the essential fibre networks that deliver connectivity to a residence or business. “These networks act as the vital link between your premises and our nearest Point of Presence (Data Center), enabling us – as Vox, an ISP, to deliver high-speed and reliable internet services to the customer.

“There are several FNOs operating in South Africa, each competing to expand their coverage areas as rapidly as possible. They refer to this as ‘homes or businesses passed’. Due to the significant costs involved in deploying these fibre networks, it’s not economically feasible for an FNO to duplicate efforts in areas already covered by another FNO. As a result, in the majority of areas where FTTH and FTTB services are available, a premises is essentially served by a single FNO network. There are a few areas where there are more than one, but broadly speaking – an area is most likely dependent on a single FNO,” he explains.

“We, as the ISP, are obliged to contract with the FNO serving a particular area. They have a duty to ensure the infrastructure is maintained. In addition to infrastructure maintenance, FNOs are suffering from vandalism and load shedding. When it is down, it affects our customers, just as it affects the customers of every other ISP working in the area,” he says. “In such instances, apply pressure on the FNO to resolve the issue promptly”.

Du Toit says that a cursory glance at daily reports of outages on FNO infrastructure demonstrates that the last few months have been particularly bad – it has basically doubled from April onwards. Out of sheer frustration, many fibre customers switch ISPs in the hope their woes will be addressed, but all they are doing is switching from one company to another using the same network with its faults.

“Changing ISPs involves more than just investing time; it entails dealing with administrative challenges and technical intricacies. There is a potential for service disruptions throughout the migration process, and early contract termination penalties might be applicable,” he says.

Ultimately, Du Toit believes that as more people understand the differences and roles of FNOs and ISPs, then they will be better empowered to help hold the FNOs accountable while enjoying the unique benefits of their chosen ISPs.

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