A month without broadband: the final chapter

A month without broadband: the final chapter

Summary: Just before Christmas, I shared my experiences with a hobbled home phone service that was delivering 1995-era dial-up internet speeds, if any connection at all. Here's how that story ended — and the very interesting lesson I learned about Telstra's PSTN in the process.

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TOPICS: Telcos, Telstra
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The show Life After People, which I noticed on Seven while channel-surfing, explored the decay of the world's physical infrastructure should it be left without maintenance in the wake of the disappearance of the human race. Within 200 years, we were told, reclamation of land would carpet the CBDs with massive trees and corrosion would bring the Sydney Harbour Bridge to collapse.

While the show was basically an excuse to show famous landmarks explosively degenerating in glorious CGI renderings, I couldn't help but think of how Telstra's public switched telephony network (PSTN), the backbone of Australia's home-phone and ADSL broadband services, would fare in the 200 years after people. Heck, it's not faring very well now, even with people around to maintain it.

For those keeping score, the last time I touched on my ADSL service outage, I was 12 days without broadband and counting. Turns out it was to be another three weeks before the situation would be resolved — and I count myself lucky that it even happened that quickly. (One reader noted that he had been without broadband for two months and counting — if you're out there, how did that work out for you?)

When your very living depends on having good internet access, every day without phone and broadband service seems an eternity — and every fruitless call to iiNet seemed like more and more wasted time. By mid-December, three weeks of back-and-forth with iiNet, which was in turn running back-and-forth with Telstra, had produced nothing resembling a resolution. Anecdotal evidence, and the invaluable advice of ZDNet Australia readers, suggested Telstra's pending customer network improvement (CNI) order could take weeks or months to complete, particularly in the end-of-year slowdown period.

I was, unsurprisingly, happy when I was contacted by a well-meaning Telstra spokesperson who had seen my earlier posts and wondered if she could do anything to help. Well, sure, I said, out of alternatives and curious to see if Telstra could be motivated to fix its network more quickly if appropriate pressure was applied in the right places. I neglected to tell her one small piece of information (that I had signed up to switch to an Optus cable service just two days earlier) but accepted her offer of help and started watching the clock.

As hoped, things began moving quickly. The next day, I got a call from a senior technical support person at iiNet, who had been contacted by someone high-up at Telstra and even gave me his direct line as a point of contact should I need anything at all. Tech support people don't normally give their direct phone numbers unless things are going very badly, or they have been told to treat you well, so this was a pleasant surprise. I hoped it was for the latter reason, and not the former.

Just hours later, my new iiNet friend got back to me again: was I switching networks? he asked. "Uh, yes," I responded; "why?"

Turns out that iiNet could only continue pushing Telstra to fix its line if I kept my phone service operational; once the number was ported to Optus, the entire affair was out of iiNet's hands and Telstra would let the CNI lapse. This left me with a few options:

  1. Cancel my move to Optus, then wait for iiNet and Telstra to sort things out
  2. Move to Optus but get a new phone number so iiNet and Telstra could sort things out on the old service
  3. Move to Optus, keep my number, and pay for a completely new landline service to be connected through iiNet so it could keep working with Telstra to fix the landline. Some day.

If this sounds like a Hobson's choice to you, you're not alone. I really didn't need to add a change of phone number, and all its attendant time-wasting, to the list of problems I had to deal with. Since my main focus was to get back online, and I also wanted to be sure the CNI was completed so the landline service would eventually be operational if needed in the future, I chose option 3.

Yes, seriously: to get a working home phone and broadband, and get iiNet to keep pressuring Telstra to fix its network, my only option was to pony up a $69 installation fee and $29.95 per month to rent a phone service I had no intention of using.

Switching service providers shouldn't be this hard, and it shouldn't really be the customer's responsibility to pay carriers to complete repairs to their own networks. But such is life in local-loop limbo.

Switching service providers shouldn't be this hard, and it shouldn't really be the customer's responsibility to pay carriers to complete repairs to their own networks. But such is life in local-loop limbo — a place I understand to be well-populated with customers whose urgency to get a working service is balanced by Telstra's apparent policy if only fixing the PSTN when part of it spontaneously bursts into flames (and even then, only using wads of chewy and dental floss).

Amazingly enough, resolution came quite quickly. A Telstra technician paid me a visit on Christmas Eve; I was out at the time, and returned to find a card that informed me there were now no problems with my line.

By this point, however, this was irrelevant since I was already happily online, eight times faster than my old ADSL service, with Optus broadband. But it was an interesting experiment with interesting results: weeks of pursuing Telstra through the usual customer channels produced nothing, but a bit of pressure from above and Telstra was able to fix the network within a week. Without that pressure, I'd probably still be paying for both my Optus service and the vestigial landline, waiting for Telstra to slowly work its way down the CNI list.

I consider myself among the lucky ones: at least I had an alternative. Millions out there who have no access to cable, and who find themselves without recourse in the face of non-existent service guarantees — in which the only option is to wait, then wait some more — face frustrations and expenses far worse than those I incurred.

With Telstra not only confirming recently that its policy is to invest as little as possible into PSTN maintenance, but also deciding not to run PSTN connections into new housing estates, things are likely to get worse before they get better. With its clear push towards wireless and the looming NBN-induced irrelevance of the local loop, stories like this may become rarer and rarer — if only because Telstra seems ready to usher the PSTN out the door for good. Even for those that just want a reliable home phone service, it's clearer and clearer that the NBN is the only glimmer of hope on this particular horizon.

Topics: Telcos, Telstra

About

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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17 comments
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  • David I was in the happy process of reading your article until I came across the words "I neglected to tell her". Instantly the words "agent provocateur, devious, untruthful" as well as many others not as acceptable came to mind. I do not bother to read on.
    sydneyla
  • I was in the happy process of reading David's unfortunate situation, until I came to the first and only comment which included "typical I'm not listening, eyes shut, conspiracy theory idiocy.
    RS-ef540
  • What does this say when things happen after a call from the powers that be? It tells me that you have only managed to jump the queue because you are the media.

    What this also confirms is these companies have management teams that are simply pigs at the trough. Their mantra is "Get rid of the maintenance crews so there aren't enough people on the coal face to keep the infrastructure running." Also "lets outsouce our customer service" to a country that speaks the English language with such a heavy accent that together with the cheap poor quality phone line connections it is impossilble to communicate.

    Finally management teams that cut bonuses to staff that keep the system running because management have made bad financial decisions. The crews do the work at their same exceptional performance but the whole company has to suffer when management stuff up which seems to be a common theme these days.
    hongkongpom
  • Wow man, I had the something similar happen to me, in the end I went to the TIO and it got to level 3 before Telstra would repair the copper wire in my street and I went 5 weeks without home phone or internet. It was 1o times as hard due to the fact that my telco/isp was a tier 2 provider and the wholesaler for them was Optus but ultimately the fault was with the Telstra infrastructure. That was 3 years ago. I worked for Telstra in there complaints area NCRT until a few weeks back. It's a joke to say the least. Telstra NCRT managers are more concerned about keeping the CEO happy with lots of glossy reports and ensuring cases are closed in what ever way they can mostly by ensuring the complaint handlers are over compensating customers just to get a complaint closed then actually confronting the departments who systemically caused the problems and changing its behaviors which would prevent the complaints in the first place. Outsourcing to the Philippine's, Poor training Outsourced staff, personal agendas of managers and even team leaders are all part of why Telstra just does not work anymore. Oh and anyone that dares say that finds them managed out of their job with military precision. I resigned and did not regret it for a moment. I said the above during my exit interview and instead was threatened.
    rusticated
  • This is a classic article. Why on earth would you expect a business like Telstra to repair your phone service or the cables to your premises when you are paying your money to IINET, Optus or anyone else. IINET or Optus should be hiring the same outsourced repair crew to repair the same copper cable properly, just like Telstra - NOT passing the buck to Telstra to repair it. Would you repair your infrastructure for another company to use at no cost? Problem is, nobody actually wants to pay for anything - so the end result is you get little service whilst the companies pass the fault between them. CNI is just another word for 'wait a few years' - a mini holding queue for really bad stuff in the network. Sometimes it get's fixed, other times it doesn't. Like other good repair/techs - I quit working for Telstra (with no payout!) also because they (all management) treat their high quality employees at the grass roots level like crap.
    frog1-3b018
  • No, no, no.

    Telstra own the infrastructure (gifted by the taxpayer) and HIRE/RENT it to accessers, like iiNet and Optus. As such Telstra are legally bound to make repairs. You don't get given a muti-billion dollare monopoly network, then rent it out and expect others to fix it!!!

    When you rent a property, the landlord/owner has to fix problems... same here.
    RS-ef540
  • Yes, yes, yes.

    RS do you really believe that something that cost 60 billion dollars to buy has been "Gifted".

    frog1 I agree with you entirely concerning the need for Telstra to identify and promote their best employees. If Telstra is ever going to provide excellent service and excel as a company these are the people that will be the backbone of the transformation. Lets hope those opinionated, self congratulating dreamworld ivory tower dwellers wake up to this fact.
    sydneyla
  • Sydney, because shareholders bought Telstra in 1997, 1999 and 2006 (not gaining control untl 2006) doen'st change the fact that the PSTN was gifted, by being vested, to Telstra in 1992.

    Life in comms began BEFORE 1997. Yes, Telstra shareholders now own Telstra... but the PSTN was gifted, by being vested to Telstra, in 1992, 5 YEARS BEFORE PRIVATISATION (how hard is that to understand and accept).

    Here AGAIN is what the High Court said in March 2006 (although you, the portfolio and NWAT know better, of course, lol...)

    ..."the PSTN which Telstra now owns (and of which the local loops form part) was originally a public asset owned and operated as a monopoly since Federation by the Commonwealth...

    ..."the successive steps of corporatisation and privatisation that have led to Telstra now owning the PSTN (and the local loops that are now in issue) were steps which were accompanied by measures which gave competitors of Telstra access to the use of the assets of that network. In particular… the step of vesting assets of the PSTN in Telstra, in 1992"...{END}

    The High Court even mentioned monopoly, lol.

    Argue all you want and keep starting the alphabet at M. But in reality the alphabet starts at A... well before Telstra was privatised.

    RS-ef540
  • i can sympathise. I live in a rural region and have been without NextG wireless for 1 month now. Bigpond / Telstra have always been difficult to deal with, but so far with this outage (not the first i might add), I have been hung up on and lied to on numerous times and i still have not even heard from level 3 support who i was promised my case had been escalated to. As far as I can tell, my problem has not even been looked at.
    I really wish i had a higher up contact to pursue this, such as yours! :)
    sen7ient
  • sen7ient, try contactiing Telstra's propaganda site -

    http://exchange.telstra.com.au/

    They don't like being further embarrassed there and David Thodey personally has a blog where you can post. So perhaps that will get the ball rolling.

    Keep in mind however, therein, the idiot shareholder element will of course shamelessly attack you and call you a liar, for saying anything less than 100% sugary about perfect [sic] Telstra and therefore their portfolios...

    But at least those in Telstra who pull the strings, will get to see your problem.

    Give it a try!
    RS-ef540
  • Ooh, obviously you'd need to find a connection elsewhere to do so!
    RS-ef540
  • Going back a few years, I had a problem with Bigpond. Nothing serious, I'd just been overpaying for 15 months - 1 week after I had signed on a plan ALMOST identical was on offer for $30 a month less. The "almost" part had something to do with blue moons and hens teeth, every significant part of the connection was identical.

    So when I realised this, I called them. I was told "We advised you of the change, not going to compensate you", which they did. Kind of. Was an email spouting their oh so generous entry level package - you know the one, 300 meg a month for $30 - hidden away as fint print (*other offers are available, follow these 20 breadcrumbs for more info).

    Anyhow, after not being happy with the "tough luck, we told you about it" line, I went to the Telecommunications Ombudsman. The next day, I got a call from Telstra appologising, and compensation of $30 a month for the past 12 months. Not everything, but a darn sight more than I realistically expected.

    Used that $360 compo to pay for the next few months, and when it ran out I switched ISP's. Point being, as David said if you put pressure on right way, you get a result sooner rather than later.
    Gav70
  • Remember that iiNet and nearly every other ISP selling last-mile services, is paying monthly wholesale fees to Telstra for use of the copper line. I don't think it's a big stretch to suggest that Telstra is still responsible for maintaining that infrastructure. If you rented a car and the transmission went, would you fix it yourself or call the rental company for a new vehicle?
    braue
  • Interesting that this could happen on Next-G too. And because it's a direct service with Telstra, you have nobody to apply pressure on your behalf? Do you have a backup home-phone service or are you relying exclusively on Next-G?

    Any others having similar problems out there with their fixed-wireless services?

    And, anybody had an experience where a similar fault was resolved quickly and painlessly?
    braue
  • Good to hear you got it resolved in your favour. Very important that all telecoms consumers out there are aware of the recourse available to them through the TIO. Although, without the telcos working to defined guaranteed service levels, even the TIO's scope and power to pressure may well be limited.
    braue
  • Indeed David...

    But then you aren't a one-eyed Telstra shareholder, desperately clinging to NWAT idiocy. One who has been willfully brainwashed into strangely believing and outwardly promoting, that poor old Telstra (and of course the more precious than life itself TLS portfolio) has been hard done by?

    Are you? Lol...
    RS-ef540
  • The wireless service is through Bigpond.

    Actually I think my problem has finally been resolved. I was eventually able to convince a L2 manager to send me a replacement router, and after some registration problems, it finally worked.

    The Netcomm Home Network Gateways that Bigpond hand out for NextG are known to be terrible hardware that fail continuously. this is the third i have had in the 14 months of being a NextG subscriber. The first issue also took about a month to resolve.

    The moral of the story is, if you are a NextG broadband subscriber and something goes wrong, get them to send you a replacement router. It will be difficult to get quickly, but it will generally fix the problem.

    For my own circumstances, after a seperate billing drama with Telstra (they refused to remove an incorrectly billed dialup charge because it was on an old software system - after 6 months of escalating charges we gave up) we disconnected our landline and now rely on VoIP.
    sen7ient