Monday, August 07, 2006

True Tales of Telstra

Last year Telstra, in a blaze of publicity, announced they were going to install high-speed fibre throughout Australia; they were going to make sure Australia had the fastest internet and the best phone network in the world, period. While everyone in the auditorium was cheering, I was laughing my head off. When it comes to internet speed, Tassie is the a%#e end of the internet, with the rest of Australia only slightly ahead. While politicians and company directors throw phrases like 'information superhighway' around, we're still waiting for the graders to come and start sealing the dirt track we're currently using. We wait… and wait… and wait… for pages to load, while 10-year-old American kids are busy watching 5 streaming full-screen movies and playing World of Warcraft online at the same time. And if this sounds like I'm complaining about slow internet, consider this: where I work we have consistently subscribed to the fastest possible internet option as and when they became available to us!

Today Telstra publicly announced they were putting their $4 billion dollar plan on hold, supposedly because of conflicts with the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) over pricing. This fibre rollout was never going to happen, it was always beyond Telstra's technical, financial and service abilities, and one suspects it's announcement might only ever have been a way to push Telstra share prices up at a time when large blocks were being made available to the public.

The selling-off of Telstra in the first place is fairly shonky practice. Australian taxpayers paid for Telstra during all the years of its establishment, then the government sold it as if it were the owner of the company. Did any of the money go back to the people who bought it in the first place? Well… no, far from it. In fact the government sold Telstra to the public, the very people who already owned it, one share at a time.

Now why would anyone want to buy into Telstra anyway? This is a company whose customer service is almost non-existent, as these examples show:

• Miss your bill? Too bad, because Telstra, despite announcing plans to build the world's best communication network, can only send bills through the mail. They cannot regularly email them to you, fax them, or ring you up and tell you your phone is about to be cut off.
• And that cutoff will cost you $57 to have reconnected, even though its about 5 seconds work.
• Line rentals and handset rentals from Telstra are plain ridiculously high. You can buy a new mobile (cell) phone, with included credit, every two months for the same cost as renting a Telstra line for that long.
• Every other phone company in Australia rents its lines off Telstra, and yet the majority of them can still charge less per call than Telstra.
• Forget consolidating all your Telstra bills into one manageable portfolio. Sure they've advertised it for years; in fact, we have called Telstra umpteen times in the last 4 years, and arranged for a Telstra Rep to come and go through our accounts and options. Despite making multiple appointments over that 4 years, we still haven't had one single Rep turn up.
• As shown on current affairs TV programs last week, Telstra sends people bills for 1¢ even though postage is currently about 45¢ in Australia. Telstra implied in the interview that this was an unusual error; not so. Many, many people have Telstra bills in their drawers somewhere for 1 or 2¢; mine was over 10 years ago.
• The vast majority of Internet Australia still doesn't have anything more than a 56k dial-up connection, despite those amazing fibre plans, and has very restrictive time and data limits on it. Telstra, according to its own literature, does not 'officially support' anything faster than a 28k connection!
• Forget calling Telstra's Customer Service with its voice recognition nightmares. Even if you are understood instantly, you'll have an average 6 questions or button pushes and 60-85 second wait, be asked a whole heap of identifying information, then told they can't help you in most cases because it isn't on the script in front of them, perhaps you'd like to be put through to another department? And another after that? And another…

Telstra sucks, bigtime. This is a company whose share prices will continue to fall and fall and fall, until it goes bankrupt. Announcements of non-existent impossible developments will delay it for some years, but the plain and simple fact is that Telstra is not a commercially viable company, and is too set in its self-righteousness to see themselves as the man in the street does. While the government and the taxpayer footed the bill, Telstra prospered, at least on paper. But the writing is on the wall, and it says 'Please hold…'

AUSSIES! Help me out here, post comments on this article about your own terrible experiences with Telstra, so our Yank readers can get some idea what they're like from people other than me!

1 comment:

Customer said...

I wanted a house phone connected to a house I'd just moved into. Telstra couldn't tell me how much it would cost to connect; when I pressed them they said it depended on whether 'the line was ok'; if it needed work I would have to pay extra. I told them that repairs and maintenance to their infrastructure were not my problem, especially as I was not yet a customer. After progressing higher up the chain at least 3 times they agreed that it was their problem and that I would pay only the minimum connection fee. I'm glad I got that in writing first, because it took 3 work crews and 2 days on the job for them to get the line working again. At first they couldn't find it, and I had to show their technicians where their own 3 service pits along our boundary were located. Then they couldn't tell which line it was, and I contacted the person who had the house previously and found out from him what his phone number used to be. Armed with this information, they were able to isolate the correct line finally, and set about the two days of work necessary to 'lay new wiring from the road to the house'. That was interesting because the previous tenant had also told me that there should be no trouble locating it as he had had to pay Telstra a massive fee for 'repairing the line and laying new wiring from the road to the house' when he first had it connected two years previously! One of the technicians told me that the main problem was that there were no spare lines at all in their cable along our road, and that to connect me they would have to splice into an existing line and 'share' it with another subscriber. This does not, of course, mean that I and that household pay half the line rental fee each. I also wonder what will happen a year or two from now, since this is a road which is having new houses built along it every month. Will bigger cables be laid with more lines available? Not according to the techie, who said that would be too costly to even think about it. He also told me that the man next door had also asked to have his phone connected two weeks before I did, but because he wasn't as persistent, I had been queue-jumped and the other guy was still waiting. He seemed to find this amusing. I didn't.