The long, twisted road to DSL – February 6, 2007

Today’s blog is a not-so-brief tale about my exploits in trying to get DSL service in Brisbane.

But before I get into the sordid details of that experience, I will point out some related and unrelated news articles — just in case you want something to read other than my tales of DSL woe

  • Samuel delivers ISPs last warning – The Australian – Local ISPs have been advertising really fast DSL connections (using ADSL2+ technology) – the problem is that most customers will never see those kinds of speeds. ACCC competition chief Graeme Samuel is not amused by the advertising schemes, and wants immediate changes.
  • Samuel stands by Telstra broadband [pricing] decision – Sydney Morning Herald – Graeme Samuel has acknowledged the financial risks Telstra must take to invest in broadband services, but has stood by the regulator’s past price setting decisions.
  • Skype’s new internet phone service in Australia – Sydney Morning Herald – Skype is bringing a new domestic calling plan, where users to pay a monthly subscription and a connection fee but no per-minute charges, to 24 countries including Australia.
  • Apple and Beatles settle trademark dispute – Sydney Morning Herald – Apple and The Beatles settled their long-running trademark dispute over the use of “Apple” as a name and logo, raising hopes that songs by the Fab Four might soon be available as legal downloads.

Now on to my DSL story …

To those of you in the business of providing broadband (high-speed) Internet services using DSL, you should take some solace in knowing that dealing with Telstra, the incumbent provider in Australia, is no better than working with Bell Canada. However, the race for worst-place is a photo finish!

There are so many DSL providers in Australia that any prospective customer who attempts to determine why one provider might be a better choice than another ought to be thoroughly confused. But considering the spotty areas in which high speed Internet is available on (coaxial) cable , it’s no wonder that DSL is so prevalent here. Unfortunately, despite a de-regulation of high-speed services several years ago, DSL without a phone line is not available here. I have yet to determine whether this is a regulatory issue, or simply a business decision by all the service providers. Nevertheless, adding insult to injury, the DSL competitors have to pay Telstra twice – Once for the copper line rental, and again for the DSL service delivered over it! This means a cost to competitors of approximately $32 per line to Telstra. This goes a long way to explaining the $69 average monthly price for DSL services here. (Thankfully, Industry Canada and the CRTC put a stop to double-dipping some time ago).

After wading through hundreds of advertisements and Internet sites, and reading all the fine-print, I had endured enough of trying to find the best deal. With grudging acceptance that we would have to pay $29.95 for a phone line plus $69.95 for broadband Internet access each month, I finally summoned up enough courage to order the services from Optus. This provider had the least restrictive usage rules (read: download surcharges) for the going price of $69 per month, and it included a free DSL modem with no setup fee.

The bad news was that DSL could not be ordered until we had a working phone line and phone number. Argh! Given that Optus provides both these services, I can’t imagine why it was so confusing to the sales rep that I should want to order them … both … at the same time … and no, I don’t have a phone line already.

The voice service was ordered on 11-Jan, and delivery was scheduled for 4 working days out … 17-Jan. This was an accelerated installation. OK, not too bad. But the 17th came and voice service did not work. On 18-Jan we finally reached an Optus rep via phone, and determined that the “code 72� error would have to be investigated on-site by a technician. So a service appointment was booked for the morning of 19-Jan.

The next morning, Thursday 19-Jan, a technician was outside our front gate at 8:00 am to work on the underground wiring panel near the street. Within 30 minutes, we heard a loud rap on the front door – yes, our voice service was working! Kudos to the technician.

Now for the broadband order … I called the Optus agent back to get ADSL2 service. After another half-hour on the phone with Alfred, we had a DSL order … time well spent, you might think! But alas, the installation date for the DSL connection was set for 6-Feb, more than 2 weeks away! Why, oh why? Optus DSL installation has a 10-day lead time. And that fails to consider that 26-Jan is Australia Day, a national holiday, and that Optus will needs 3 business days (before the 10-day lead time starts) during which to verify my request and the quintillion voice recordings I had to make to authorize the switch of service providers from Telstra to Optus. (The quick-thinking among you will recall that I have requested service with Optus, not Telstra.) But OK, at least we have a date.

I was promised that the free ADSL modem would be delivered by courier on Monday 5-Feb, and that Optus DSL service would start working on the morning of 6-Feb. I was further advised there would be a 2-hour outage on the voice line while it was cutover from Telstra equipment to Optus’ facilities during the morning of 6-Feb. So … the wait for broadband began.

We continue to pay a ridiculous price for prepaid dial-up Internet service from Telstra’s BigPond division. A mere $49.95 for 95 hours of dial-up Internet access time! This would mark our third purchase of dial-up service time.

5-Feb came and went with no sign of the DSL modem. At 7pm, I called Optus to find out the score. After looking up my account, the Optus rep advise me that I had been mistaken, that service was not scheduled for installation on the 6th, but for Thursday 8-Feb. I was advised that the date had been the 8th all along, and the modem should arrive by courier on the 8th also. But wait! A message has been received by Optus from Telstra advising that its technicians cannot complete the cutover work to Optus’ infrastructure until the afternoon of the 8th, due to a “high workload.â€� So my DSL service cannot start working until at least the afternoon of 8-Feb. Optus felt that I did not need to know of this change because, in its words, the schedule change was “not customer impacting.â€� Whoa, excuse me? Shouldn’t the customer be the one to decide which schedule changes will cause an impact???

It gets better: If the Telstra work isn’t completed by a certain time on Thursday, it won’t be marked as completed by Telstra systems until the following day. This would mean that Optus’ systems will not be updated until Friday, 9-Feb to enable my DSL connection. So this Thursday 8-Feb is a “maybe� and Friday 9-Feb becomes the “likely� date for my service to be fully connected. But it ain’t over until the DSL gods smile.

The Optus rep, to his credit, was very apologetic. Optus wants my business, he assured me, and he patiently answered my questions – realizing quickly that I know too much about DSL service & setup. We agree, finally, that the date of 8-Feb is dependent on Telstra, and there is nothing that Optus can do to accelerate the installation. The best reparations available seem to be a bill credit for an additional month of free DSL service ($69.95), plus a free month of Optus’ dial-up Internet access to replace the BigPond service until DSL is installed. [We’ll see if those credits transpire.]

And so, on Day 18 (Monday), the wait for broadband continues …. Isn’t it funny how every TV ad for broadband highlights how fast the service is, yet fails to mention how long you will wait to get it connected? A little industry humour, I suppose.