Down & Brown
since 1998

Not the Lone Ranger

Just finished reading the article: The Cable Guy. I share much of those experiences, and sadly, many more.

Firstly, I believe that the consumer experience of the broadband internet service is very similar to Pay TV, you get a cable, satellite or phone line to the house, they give you some cables, a shiny black box that does all the magical decoding and stuff and...wa'lah. You have Pay TV or Broadband internet. An administrator determines what services you get and how that affects your monthly charges. There are contract terms. And FoxTel as compared to Telstra has few hidden charges (...we'll get to that later) and in FoxTel's favour they generally KNOW THEIR PRODUCT! Telstra, on the other hand, well.

I was sharing a two room terrace, in inner-city Melbourne (Carlton), when we moved in we notice that there was a cable already servicing the house (grey telstra cable box already outside) - so we (housemate and I) got FoxTel. No grief. No problems.

As some of my more technically astute colleages at work were getting cable internet access (and raving about it) I discussed it with my housemate and we decided to apply and have it installed. We talked about what plan we would use, and decided that surely we wouldn't need to download more than 256Mb per month and that 256 Kb speeds were surely fast enough for us... How wrong was I?

Apart from installation, the initial contract fee our monthly charge was going to be a little under $50. $25 each - which was less than what my housemate was paying for his dialup account per month.

So we connected to the blindingly faster cable internet in late June 2000.

"I was on the blower to Telstra immediately, realising that we'd chosen the wrong plan for our usage (we needed the Freedom Deluxe plan; uncapped and 512Kb speed) and wanted to change - immediately."

We didn't get our first bill until September 6th - it was just over $600. This included the last few days of June and the whole of July, this did include the installation ($190) but it also included an 18c charge for every Mega-byte that we downloaded above our 256Mb cap - all 1.2Gb worth.

I was on the blower to Telstra immediately, realising that we'd chosen the wrong plan for our usage (we needed the Freedom Deluxe plan; uncapped and 512Kb speed) and wanted to change - immediately. I was told that Telstra had brought their cable billing service in house and were _really_ behind, they were sorry about that. They were happy for me to upgrade to Freedom Deluxe, but that wouldn't come into effect until the end of the month. For some reason this was outside of the capabilities of their billing system. Frustrated, I relented, though I was struggling to accept that a company that profits in orders of billion's couldn't afford a more superior billing system.

We were charged under the other plan for August($650+) and September($750+). We had become addicted to superfast internet and these figures reflect that - even though we tried to curb our usage. Unfortunately all efforts to guage our usage through online tools at were useless - the tools often didn't work or indicate anything useful. I was almost convinced that our account was being abused in some way - and though I tried to get some raw IP logging information from Telstra (which is what they use for their billing) - I was going around in circles.

Naturally though, the bill that we received for October was under the old plan and had not been adjusted to Freedom Deluxe. Again I had to call and explain to billing that they hadn't got our billing right - fortunately though there was a detailed list of notes regarding the kerfuffle and they adjusted the billing accordingly.

We stayed in our inner city terrace for another 9 months before my housemate and I were forced to move to more comfortable (and less expensive) premises a little further out of the city (Brunswick). This property did not have cable pre-installed but we did notice that the street was serviced by cable, as it was hanging along with the power cables on our side of the street (note - _our_ side of the street).

We called FoxTel, and made our application for cable, as it didn't already service the house they advised us that the famous grey box would need to be installed but it would be non-invasive and that the cable entering the house would use the same entry point as the existing antenna cable. No drilling or invasive installation required.

After a little while, I had to follow up on the FoxTel application - I hadn't heard from them and wanted to know what the problem with our application was. They have to get confirmation from Telstra to ensure that they can provide the service. They said they'd look into it. I later spoke to another service rep for FoxTel and they had advised us that while our street had cable - the house that we lived in was not able to receive it. The FoxTel rep. advised us that Telstra had met their allocation to provide cable to the houses in the street, up to 230, and that only odd numbered houses after could receive cable, 231, 233, 235...our house was 232! The rep said that this may have something to do with the cable being on that side of the street... "But the cable is actually mounted on the power-poles on our side of the street!", I said.

"Oooh, that's weird."

So we contacted Telstra, looking for greater understanding. There was none to be found. We actually had to explain to the rep. from the new connections department the nature of the allocation stuff. The rep didn't get it until we asked her to see if 231 (the house number before ours) was able to receive was. She naturally suggested it was because the cable was on that side of the street. I advised her that it physically wasn't.

Although FoxTel offered to install a satellite - to quell our rampaging addition to 35+ channels of TV. We declined. And they sent us an padded parcel pack for us to send back their cable gear - at no charge.

Broadband internet is not a singular service that you get from Telstra, there is ADSL and there is Cable - they have different service departments and different connection departments. There is no consumer facing consolidation of their services at all. When you look online to see if your house is able to receive cable, the web-page you use is different to the web-page you use for ADSL - it'd be nice to type your address and other relevant details into one page to see what services you can get to that residence. But nah, that'd be a stupid way to spend $billions profit.

To disconnect from cable - we were going to incur a nasty termination of contract fee. Even though termination of our cable contract was not because we didn't want it - it was because we could no longer get that service to our house.

By arguing this point, Telstra waived the termination of the contract. The rep. I spoke to also offered to connect to ADSL for the cost of the transfer fee. This is essentially allowing you to connect to ADSL for any contract term for the amount of an 18 month contract term ($180) - this suited us nicely. We were happy to go across to ADSL, as long as there weren't any futher nasty charges that we had to incurr other than the more expensive monthly charge for the Freedom Deluxe service (weren't gonna get bit by that dog again!).

I would later have to pay the full amount for the three month contract that I selected (attempting to avoid any nasty early break of contract fee) because the offer was not documented by the sales rep. that offered it - I didn't argue the point. My willingness to battle Telstra had been exhausted.

We have had ADSL now for nearly three months and I felt a warm glow when my July bill arrived with $0.00 to pay. Telstra had to bite the big one because their ADSL internet service was unreliable - they blamed it on a third party.

So what have I learnt?

  1. Telstra collectively don't know their product. There are severe inconsistencies among individuals in the understanding of their broadband product - cable and ADSL. Consumers don't have a chance if they speak to different Telstra sales or billing reps. and get conflicting messages.

  2. Be mindful about the hidden costs; ask, verify, understand and confirm. This applys to everything you want to do with your broadband service (in fact anything you buy). Additional users incur additional costs. Downloading more than your allocation incurs addional costs. Moving your ADSL account from one phone number to another phone number (say you moved house - even if you moved next door and got a new phone number) incurs additional costs.

  3. If a sales or billing rep advises you or offers you something, have them note this is their records. Telstra keep reasonably detailed logs about their interaction with their customers. Protect yourself by ensuring that the information they keep reflects what they have told you. Have them read it back to you. It may save you money later on.

  4. The consumer side of ADSL and Cable has been trivialised by geeks and a prevailing fear of computing/networking among consumers. It's just not that complicated. Telstra include network cards in their installation to support consumers who don't understand that broadband is not about dialup modems - it's about large scale public networking. If you don't have a network card, the nice Telstra (sub-contractor) will plug the right one into your 'putey and get it all working. It should all just work. If you do have a network ready machine - say thankyou for the network card (put it in the draw) and have them make your existing machine work. Put their network card (unless it's better than the one you have ;-), doubt it though. Telstra are obligated to get your gear working but naturally there are boundaries to this. They probably won't help you set up your Sun Solaris server cluster - but they will support Windows 98. Check the documentation on this.

  5. If you're a geek or a boffin, or you like to tinker with 'putey's then what you do after the stuff is installed is your problem. You have to support your own grief. This applies to ADSL and Cable like it applies to FoxTel. The FoxTel guy provides the service to your house and tunes the Teev or VCR into the set-top-box and gets it all working. If you want to run the set-top-box through your HiFi, then your DVD player and then into your get the cables and you get it all working. If you want to set up a Linux firewall and run IP masqerading and ra ra ra...after the Telstra dude has installed it - it's your problem.

  6. If you have a sharehouse and want to avoid paying for additional users 'cause there are four of you who want to connect to the internet. Get educated and get gear. There are some great home networking packages and products available from Netgear (sold by Harris Technology in Australia) which allow you to set up a home ADSL/Cable router (look it up) and allow you to use one login. You're not entering some scary geek world this is _the_ world. If you buy a product you usually; read the manual, plug this stuff in configure it and it works. If it doesn't - ring tech support for the device like you'd ring tech support for your microwave if it didn't work. It's just not that hard or scary.

    Oh, and between four people the monthly cost would be tiny for superfast internet access!

I'm a technical guy, and I would've thought that thanks to my geekish genetic makeup I may have avoided such a nightmare - but I wonder if that was at all possible, considering the obstacles that faced me were not related to the technology (every item of hardware and software installed has worked flawlessly), but were related to the service.

The guy (sub-contractor) that installs the cable is different from the guy (sub-contractor) that installs your cable modem, network card and sets up your computer. The ADSL guy (sub-contractor) relies on the Telstra guy to set up the line at the exchange properly so you can get ADSL. The guy who installed ADSL at my house complained that he'd been to 4 installations already that day and that each of the different Telstra exchanges had physically not been set up properly for ADSL - they'd simply gotten the wires around the wrong way - he'd had to go to the exchanges himself and get it right!

What hope do consumers have when the service providers do not comprehensively understand all aspects of the service that they provide?