30 August, 2008

Telstra Wastes Another Day of My Life

I see that Comcast, over in the States, has just put a cap on its broadband packages of 250 Gb/mo. SprintWireless, however, still has its service uncapped for $50/mo. This puts into grim perspective the awful day I had yesterday but to appreciate it, you'll need a bit of background.

I'm a Telstra NextG wireless broadband customer - by necessity - there are no other broadband suppliers in my area at all. Since the NextG service stared, 2 years or so ago, Testra has insisted that each customer has a separate account, a separate modem, and fixed the technology so that you could not use a router. This made the service hugely expensive. For a 1Gb/mo. download limit, Wifie and I paid $80 each (yes, each, plus $250 each for our modems). Then, a couple of weeks ago, Telstra announced that it would actually supply a router with the service so families could have a single account and share it - welcome to the 21st Century, Telstra!

Since Wifie and I also have a Telstra NextG mobile phone and a Telstra land-line (don't get me started on that!!) - as I said, Telstra is our only supplier out here - we decided that, with the router now available, we could bundle our services and save money. In fact, since we only needed one NextG broadband account, we could now get the absolute top-of-the-range package which has a 3Gb/mo download limit and costs a mere $109/mo.. So we ordered the router and set up the bundle. Rather than wire the house for ethernet, I also bought a wireless PCI card for my desktop machine (Wifie is a Mac user so already has bluetooth and WiFi as standard.)

Yesterday was the day when all the equipment arrived and we could plug it all together. (I won't dwell on Telstra's cock-up with the parcel delivery, or the online parts shop I first ordered the Wi-Fi card from which lied about the part's availability.)

It took seven hours work yesterday and another hour this morning to get it working. Now that may just be because we're both stupid (which we're not) or because we have non-standard equipment (which we don't) or because the network we were building is vastly complicated (which it isn't) or because I didn't have the necessary 25 years in the IT business needed to sort out the problems (oh, hang on a minute, I do have 25 years in the IT business).

The real reasons it took so long were:
  1. The Telstra router came with no instructions beyond saying you should follow the instructions in the software wizard on the accompanying CD. The wizard, of course, helps you cater with the simplest possible case then dumps you. Naturally, it has no trouble-shooting guidance for when things go wrong.
  2. Telstra's phone support covers only one computer attached to the router. To anyone except a marketing executive, this might seem ridiculous as the only point of having a router is to make a network consisting of multiple computers. Still, I suppose it saves Telstra money, so that's OK.
  3. The Telstra software was (as always) poorly designed and completely unhelpful. Still, it has nice graphics and zoomy logo things. As I ran through the set-up sequences over and over again, I couldn't help thinking that you can never have enough of seeing a company that is currently shafting you, advertise itself and its products over and over and over again, at the expense of your time and frayed nerves.
  4. The Telstra business systems that should have made all this easy, were a mess. (I spoke to four different branches of their software support group before I got the one that knew anything about doing an installation on a Macintosh - and I only got to them because I shouted at the poor guy in the third group and got him to take ownership of the problem of routing me to the right support group. Then it turned out that the sales group which set up our username and password had stuffed up and I had to be guided through a little secret technical magic to reprogram the router!)
  5. The fifth problem wasn't Telstra at all - which was a refreshing change. The software that came with my Chinese PCI card didn't work properly and came with no instructions whatsoever. Like all driver software, it is designed for propeller-headed geeks with nothing better to do than to learn hexadecimal codes and stick their noses close to hot chips. I tried the Wi-Fi card in three different PCI slots, reinstalling the driver each time I moved it, before I found one that it liked. Since I did most of this sitting on the floor, I had the additional joy of having my 4 month-old puppy, Bertie, slobbering excitedly in my ear and attempting to jump into the innards of my computer.
But that's all behind us now. The router works, our two computers are talking wirelessly to the Internet and all's well with the world.

Except that all we get for all this effort and stress is a low-speed broadband service with a 3Gb download limit. Gee, thanks, Telstra.

When is Comcast coming to Australia?


David N said...

Optus, iiNet and others have been in Australia for years - what did they offer to compete? They are allowed to provide competition - they made sure that it was a law in Australia. Did Optus offer to build an exchange in your area to provide you with a choice? It seems that every other ISP in the country doesn't want your business, their marketing managers have decided that you are not worth the expense - but at least Telstra provided some service.

With your 25 years in of IT experience, the backing of your local bank and the ruling of the ACCC you could start your own ISP - there is no law against it.

graywave said...

Hmmm. Starting my own ISP sounds like a great idea, David - if only there was any fibre-optic cable within 20km of where I live! Actually, it sounds like a really bad idea. Can you imagine the hassle of setting such a thing up? A 2-node home network was bad enough!

You'd think I would be grateful to Telstra, wouldn't you? You're right, they are the only company to actually cater to people living outside the main cities. Yet, strangely, I'm not. For a start I see a high-quality telecommunications infrastructure as a basic service that should be provided to everyone in my country at low or nominal cost by the Government. Like water and electricity. Selling Telstra was a huge betrayal of the Australian people by the last conservative government.

For another thing, Telstra is so utterly useless at providing even a basic service that I just can't like them no matter how hard I try. For example, I moved into a newly-built house about a year ago. I ordered a new phone line to be installed before I moved. After 11 months, Telstra had still not managed to do it. It was only when I threatened to get the telecoms ombudsman involved that they shifted their collective arses. Then I had it within two weeks.

Similarly, and as a litle coda to the story above, the day after I got my new 3Gb service contract for $109.95/mo. Telstra announced a whole set of new plans. You can now get the 3Gb service for $89.95 and a new 10Gb service for $129.95. Funny that the Testra saleswoman didn't mention this, don't you think? I can't decide whether it was deceipt or incompetence but I would put neither past Telstra.

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