12 days without ADSL: A local loop eulogy

12 days without ADSL: A local loop eulogy

Summary: When your broadband speeds are limited to 38Kbps it's not hard to join the ranks of people demanding the NBN already. Telstra's copper network is a renovator's delight.


As was inevitable, the handover from Melbourne train operator Connex to new operator Metro Trains was not without its difficulties: over a dozen cancelled trains, a major power line disruption, and air conditioners that continued to work sporadically if at all, reminded everybody that beneath the new coat of paint was the same old network with the same old problems.

Telstra's copper loop, which is currently languishing under a similar go-slow policy when it comes to upgrades and repairs, isn't doing much better. I know this all too well as I barrel through the 12th day in which my "ADSL2+" service — which has already spent two years struggling to pass 3Mbps thanks to the vagaries of geography and network layout — has been unusable. Kaput. Dead. It is ex-broadband.

Even the basic phone service is filled with enough crackles that it's like talking with your head in a foil bag of potato chips while someone crunches said bag constantly. Literally hours spent with my ISP's customer service and two visits from Telstra technicians later — one of whom helpfully told me that he "didn't know much about data" — left things in such a bad way that I rejoiced when the service managed to connect at 38Kbps and stay that way.

Stream data rate table

Hell on Earth (Credit: David Braue)

It didn't stay that way for long, however: as I write, the service has dropped out yet again. The ISP blames Telstra, and Telstra blames ... something else. Possums, I believe. Or the Linear Hadron Collider. Whatever the reason, the "major cable upgrade" that Telstra told my ISP it was arranging a week ago, clearly still has not happened.

I am a patient person — perhaps too patient in this case, due to what appears to be an increasingly optimistic belief that the line would actually be fixed before 2010. But after so long, and with no relief in sight, I have progressed from complaining, past hope, to rationalisation, to philosophical contemplation. And, ultimately, to the only conclusion I can draw from this experience:

Years of Telstra neglect — and I'm not criticising here but rather repeating Telstra's stated local-loop policy — have pushed the copper loop into a death spiral. Patchwork solutions, such as Telstra's RIMs, are designed to deliver inexpensive patches that meet not the goal of improving customer service, but rather with delivering lowest-denominator at lowest possible price to Telstra. Even in the cities, problems and delays such as the one I am suffering through confirm that Telstra is running the copper loop into the ground.

If the copper loop is sold off, as Telstra has suggested might one day happen, the new buyer will inherit a network that may carry voice calls fine but is fundamentally unsuited to the pressures put on it by current patterns of data consumption. ADSL2+ isn't a roadmap; it's a Band-Aid. And the network on which it runs — access to which has remained a thorny issue — is just not up to scratch: my problems, for example, began after Melbourne experienced two days of drenching rain, although it might just be coincidence.

The situation is not that dissimilar to Melbourne's trains, where the first day of service under Metro Trains was marked with both expected teething problems and unexpected disasters. The overall impression was that outgoing operator Connex had been holding the whole network together with chewing gum and rubber bands until handover, when the age and disrepair of the network quickly caught up with it.

With summer's heat and congestion looming, one only hopes Metro can stave off total meltdown — literally and figuratively. That the copper loop isn't in a much better state is a worry. Is this the sum total of telecoms policy in Australia? If so, we should be thanking the Rudd Government and its idealistic, financially irrational policies for at least bringing a sharp NBN policy into focus.

Because while its governance is murky and its financial models fanciful, the NBN will at least counter years of neglect by Telstra, into whose hands the copper loop has been entrusted and duly ignored. In its current renovator's-delight state, can the local loop possibly be worth anything like what Telstra believes it is, or even what the ACCC has argued it is worth?

Whether Metro Trains, the Telstra local loop or the Liberal Party's chances in the next election are hanging by thinner threads is still not clear. One would like to think Tony Abbott's preoccupation with the Emissions Trading Scheme and Nick Minchin's abandonment of the communications portfolio could leave the NBN largely ignored in Parliamentary discourse, but it did get a mention in Abbott's maiden speech so this may be just wishful thinking.

Whether Stephen Conroy uses this vacuum of dissent to railroad through the NBN legislation, we shall see. Whether Abbott decides to rail against the NBN and keep us locked into a stone-age copper infrastructure, we shall see. But as I plod towards day 13 with no relief in sight — and thousands of Australians continue to struggle every day with access to even passable broadband — it's hard not to hope that the Powers That Be just get on with it.

Telstra's local loop is fundamentally broken. Discuss.

Topics: Broadband, Telcos, Telstra, NBN


Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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  • Good article David...


    I'd say prepare to be besieged by the "loose cannon" Telstra shareholder loonies, questioning your journalistic skills.

    Those who will totally ignore the reality of your article and talk via their punctured portfolios.

    I think you got it right, but money (particularly money gambled and lost) talks according to these lunatics...
  • Question

    " Is this the sum total of telecoms policy in Australia?"

    as it currently stands. Yes. The telstra shareholders would like it to remain that way too I be..

    You know what really gets my bit, is how much have we all paid collectivley in the beloved "line rental" to telstra?? The amount we have all paid we should already have dark fibre running to our house.
  • How dare...

    how dare you insult my beloved Telstra? You should be ashamed of yourself. I owned shares in Telstra, and as far as i'm concern, Telstra is a good company who respect their customers, doesn't rip off their customers left, right and centre. They only look after the interests of Australians and what's best for the country....*cough cough*...ahhhh....my shares...only...$3.44...WTF, but why?? Telstra's a good corp that everyone loves...*cough cough*
  • Freakonomics !

    David broadly speaking I concur with your views.
    But you may like to read a book called "Freakononics" that my give some clues as to how misguided and misaligned motivations cause stupid outcomes and unintended consequences.

    Which I might add will for certain be the case with the NBN.

    Thats what happens when you sell the asset but actually keep control and dictate the returns on that asset to its owner.

    Yes I believe Telstra maintain the pstn network to the minimum standard that barely keeps it functioning for minimum functionality.

    Yes Connex was not going to spend any money that they were not going to recoup fully let alone see a minimum return on in the time left on the operating contract.

    In Telstra's case the asset is 100% owned by the operating company (TLS) but as Telstra was emphatically told by the high court you will bare absolutely any price the ACCC sets for your asset the PSTN. Regardless of your actual costs, regardless of how the ACCC arrives at its figures, regardless of whether it makes a mistake or not.

    So when Telstra wanted to make a concerted effort to "renovate' and upgrade the network it tried and failed at getting a price it deemed worthy of the money and effort to do so. Its own money, $5 B fttn to 65% of population.

    Again its not a question of whether the price Telstra wanted for wholesale access to ITS OWN network was exhorbitant or cheap.

    Its the fact it had to get the ACCC's commitment otherwise, the govt can feel free to spend its own money on upgrading Telstra's network and continue to set whatever wholesale access price it wanted.

    The consequences of this stalemate unintended or otherwise.

    1/ No or minimal upgrade to the PSTN

    2/ Telstra takes the risk and builds early the Next G network and massively extends lead over Optus and others.

    3/ NBN 1.0, NBN 2.0

    4/$5 B project becomes $20 B becomes $43 B.

    5/ $5 B Telstra money, $0 Govt Money becomes
    $0 Telstra Money, $43 Billion Govt Money less 49% max for Private equity. (None yet forthcoming)

    4/Telstra HFC upgraded to 100 Mb/s bef. xmas 09

    5/ Optus announce $25 m upgrade to HFC.
    (which begs the qu. why they have'nt already)

    6/ Optus trialling LTE ( upto 300 Mb/s wireless!)

    9/ etc etc. I think you get the picture.
  • RE: Freakonomics !

    May i add one more point to this. As stated the government is the one controlling prices for a network owned by Telstra.

    You're suggested saviour in the form of Rudd and his NBN is kinda mute considering future ramifications, specifically the plan to sell their ownership of the network 5 years after it's operational.

    So in the course of things, we're going to create the same situation we already have.

    1- A network built uneconomically by the public (through our taxes)
    2- Sold (and probably without good value)
    3- Private ownership of an infrastructure network to which the government dictates pricing.

    How is this a change from the current system?? How is this an improvement??

    "If so, we should be thanking the Rudd Government and its idealistic, financially irrational policies for at least bringing a sharp NBN policy into focus."

    - So in reflection we should be damning a government who is willing to waste $43billion dollars of taxpayers money (bare minimum of ~$21.5 billions) on a policy to upgrade our speed when as you point out, for weeks (or longer) at a time thousands of households will lack even a dial-up network speed and possibly worse.

    Don't get me wrong, i'd love the "in-general" better speeds but only if one pays enough attention to history to not repeat mistakes. If they're too blind-sighted by vote grabbing (or whatever other alterior motive) then i'd prefer they drop the whole thing and actually improve other basic services... healthcare is a prime example...
  • What a load of tripe..

    I sorry, but that was the biggest load of tripe of comments I have read in a long long time..

    Spoken from a true tls shareholder I bet.

    @Relaity Check
    you said it yourself, yes telstra has only put enough money into the pstn to keep it functional... But yet the scumbags have the audacity to charge every person monthy fee's to use it.. If it's not working - like my mothers - and to an extent, like david, she was told directly by the tech that they only need to make sure the line is rated to send a fax in terms of data.. Yet no problem in taken her hard earned money..

    "How is this a change from the current system?? How is this an improvement?? "

    how is it a change? Yes, having an open access network where vendors can set their own price (above the access charge that is the same for everyone) is a bad thing..

    Compition Is bad mmmkk

    it is no wonder why people hate telstra and want to see the network ripped away. We are paying a permium price for access to a crappy, outdated network.

    Diaf telstra as far as I am concerned.
  • My TLS my TLS....

    I would pay $43 now and get a tip top network in place for Australians. $43B is not a waste, it's bringing the 21st century technology to all Australians, unlike Telstra's copper, a dinosaur. They milk it anyway they can, line rental anyone?? You TLS shareholders are so greedy that you don't care about the future of telecommunication, it's disgusting. NBNCo will be a wholesale only company, WHOLESALE only. Everyone will have equal access to the fibre and therefore greater choices and competition. It will benefit ALL Australians.
  • 12 Days....at least yours is getting fixed eventually

    As for your ADSL2+ service being down for 12 days...this might make you feel better:

    1. There is one way to fix your problem. Instead of lodging the complaint with your ISP (no SLA's on broadband service), Ring Telstra and lodge the fault on your home phone.....they do have a level of service to maintain for that, and it'll more than likely resolve your ADSL problem.

    2. I'm unlucky enough to have signed up for a naked service, so can't do the above. My connection has been down for over 2 MONTHS now, with no resolution in sight.

    At least my ISP sent me 3G modem to use in the mean time! Similar case though, the ISP has tested everything, including moving me to a new port in the exchange, professional cabler to test cabling in my house etc....they referred the issue to Telstra, who have no incentive to resolve a 'noisy line' for someone who isnt their direct customer, so they are saying there isnt a problem at all.....where to now?

    My ISP is dillegent enough to keep raising it with Telstra, as its a 98% chance its a problem with the copper wire to my house, even though it wouldnt be more than 10 years old.

    Friend of mine just built a new house in the middle of an existing suburb in Canberra (next to Bruce stadium) and can't get ADSL AT ALL! He's only choice is 3G service as there's no cable services in ACT.
  • Well Done

    At least you can (sometimes) get ADSL2.
    Here, I'm limited to crappy ADSL1 even though I'm only 2 minutes walk from the exchange!
  • My cat ate my homework and Telstra wont fix my copper !

    Sorry to say it's your isp's fault.

    They are the party your contracted with.

    They inturn are contracted and have SLA's with Telstra. If Its Telstra fault your ISP would have recourse against Telstra well and trully by now. And would easily have the ACCC and others all over Telstra.

    If its 2 months and their still blaming Telstra, I think you will be "enjoying" your 3g broadband for a lot more time to come.
  • Something is needed

    Its obvious that something is needed to give non Sydney/Melbourne residents a choice. We might not need fibre to the the home, but something needs to be done for the thousands of Australians out there who don't have a choice.
  • Service Levels....

    Contracts for broadband (home plans) generally don't carry an SLA. So the ISP are doing their 'best effort' to resolve the issue whether it lies with their equipment or with Telstra's.

    In the mean time, Telstra have tested the line twice and say that 'yes its noisy, but its just within limits, and therefore not our problem'.
    3rd party cable company has tested the line twice and say its 'outside the limits for a copper service, just'.

    Agreed its between the ISP and Telstra to resolve the issue, but as an end user of naked ADSL service with no SLA's, what can be done to expedite the resolution process?
  • that explains it

    the cat did eat your telecommunications homework, which explains why you know sfa about telecommunications.
  • Broken Contract.

    Walk away from the contract.
    Your ISP is well and trully not living upto their commitment.

    Go with another ISP. Perhaps even Telstra even if its for 1 short term.

    You will learn something from the transition. Then come back here and tell us all about it.

    Can we trust your account will be honest and without prejudice
  • Sydney/Melbourne

    Ah, Sydney and Melbourne too. There are thousands in both cities forced to use dial-up or wireless. How the hell does anyone expect useful internet at 64kbps? We were rolling out symetrical 2M services up to 14km from an exchange in 1994 with hdsl. 15 years later and not much improvement!
  • of course

    Of course!

    Always the ISP's fault that the line has noise on it! Never telstra! (who still charge us line rental for a crap product that they do not care about)

    STFU and GTFO... go back to your Telstra hug site NSW or whatever it is..

    ~Annoyed customer (not by choice)
  • what?

    No such thing as a short term with telstra. Their marketing model forbids it..

    The sheer idea that you just suggest to someone to sign back up with telstra just to get THEIR line fixed is insane and just proves his point 100% that even though telstra are happy to take your money.. unless of corse you are running naked.. (and they are still taking your money by proxy)
  • You serious?

    Are you serious? Did you just say that?

    Wait, so you somehow seem to think that this is somehow his (her?) isp's fault that they have noise on the line? Then the only way to get it fixed is for them to swap back to telstra to get the required service even though this person is still paying line rental?!?!? (albiet by proxy through their current ISP)

    W.. T... F..

    This does nothing but prove how much contempt tls shareholders and tls as a company have for the Australians who CHOOSE to be with someone else (or even have a choice for that fact)
  • Say It With Me - If It Is To be It Is Up to Me ;-)

    Technically it may be many things that are the problem. But the fact is your ISP is the only party your are contracted with.

    You can learn harder on you isp to get it fixed or you can walk away. Or you can bitch and moan and speculate that its Telstra.

    If it is noise and it is below the minimum threshold the choice from there is easy.

    But again what action will YOU take ?
  • Great Article!

    The broadband experience is woeful (totally inadequate word though). The copper network is almost dead, especially in many "out of the major city areas". It is a constant fight to get something done, and lengthy delays. Telstra come, in their own time, and it is a similar message from the techo - "I know nothing about data. You will have to keep complaining until they escalate it and send a specialist out". Then they charge you for each visit - $120 a pop!! Hopefully my provider can do something about my ADSL2+ early in 2010 - if they get access to the exchange ... Here's hoping - it is over 12 months already! And it is well known in this area the copper wire network is simply VERY sick!