Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Blow me down

Well, I've had a bit of an ongoing problem with my broadband of late. Namely, I've had issues that relate to my aerial not working smoothing sometimes. There's two things I want to post about here:

1 - the issue is not one of incompetence, it's just one of those things that happen, because of where I live

2 - Telstra have been SUPER helpful, I've spoken to locally based tech people who know what they're doing and can give me real advice, and they've pursued me to make sure that everything is working OK.

I also read in the paper that the new CEO has been looking to make the organisation more customer focused, and I also got a letter recently telling me they've made it easier to make a complaint if you need to. I'm a long way from loving Telstra ( they've caused me too much grief for me to forget it overnight ), but I definitely feel like I can see a difference and that things are headed in a much better direction. For the first time, when people call and say 'thanks for using Telstra', I don't think 'I wouldn't if I didn't have to'. If I had an option to change my internet provider, I wouldn't do it without careful consideration, at this point.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Prepaid Wireless Warning

As I posted, I got a call from the CEO of Telstra. He seemed like a decent sort of bloke, and he seemed to accept that there's a lot of problems with Telstra, and he seemed committed to fixing them. I'm sure he still is, these things do not happen overnight. Either way, having spoken to him, I've had a number of things happen to me that are very much on the scale of the things I had blogged about, and decided not to blog about them, out of respect for the fact that I believe the guy at the top knows about the issues and is trying to fix them. But, I'm going to blog about what happened to me this week, b/c I hope it might help someone.

As I am being shaped by Telstra on both my wireless accounts now, I went out and bought a prepaid device. I told the people in the store I have a Bigpond account, and I want it for overflow when I get shaped. I got it home, the memory stick slot in it is missing, which means the software is missing. These devices now come with a mini SD card that has the installer you need on it, usually.

I get online, go to the Telstra site and download the prepaid software for Mac and PC. On the Mac, it runs, but says there is no device installed, and I can't make it detect it. In my network settings, the device is there but not configured, so I assume the installer just doesn't work properly. Great. I boot over to Windows. On Windows, the installer freezes when it's installing the device. I try several times. I call support. The support guy kept asking me how many bars of signal I have in the software. I kept reiterating that I can't install the software. Naturally, he can barely speak English.

He told me he spoke to a level 2 support person, and that they said my download is corrupt. I told him that level 2 were incompetent, because if the download was corrupt it would have neither unzipped, or installed. I further said I wanted to talk to the level 2 person. The amusing part was when she asked me if I could uninstall and reinstall, and I said no, and reiterated the problem, she asked if the modem was installed. I asked her if she meant just the hardware. She had to get off the phone to ask someone/look up how to get to control panel. Of course, when she got back, I was there. The question is, how did a level two support person not know how to find if a device is installed ?

They said they still blamed the download from the Telstra site, and gave me a URL to download the software from instead ( not Telstra ). That is when I found that the prepaid software had removed the Bigpond program, and that the Bigpond installer gave me the same error, so I could not get online. That is, if you install a prepaid wireless modem, it will remove any Bigpond software you have for wireless connections. I pointed this out and was put on hold while she organised a higher level support person to call me.

While I was on hold, I went to another PC and installed the software I downloaded from Telstra, and it installed fine, and I was able to get online. So, this person who I was told was level two, both did not know how to use a computer, thought that it was possible to download a zip and have it unzip, and then run an installer from the zip, which would run and freeze during the install process. That's just all sorts of clueless. Also ( and this is the point of this post ), not the people in the Telstra store, not the support people I called at first, not the alleged level 2 girl, no-one knew that when you have Bigpond Wireless broadband installed, you cannot install a prepaid modem, because you'll break what you have, without the new system ever working. So, if you're like me, and sometimes find you get shaped by your Bigpond, if you buy a modem to use as an overflow device, you need to either buy the same modem ( I did this once, and it's it's own problem, I was sold it as a prepaid device, then later told that it's not a prepaid device at all, although I was able to make it work ), or use a different computer, which has never had Bigpond Wireless software on it, to connect to the web.

Oh, and the person who promised to call me back, never did. I spent an entire day on this, I fixed my own problem, and trained at least two Telstra staff on some basics about how computers work, and why their advice is bogus. I actually did get a call, but it was in relation to the other issue that I have open with the Ombudsman ( my wireless died, and I called several times over the space of a week, actually the people I spoke to there also suggested software I had downloaded and installed must be corrupt, and the level 2 support they promised me did not occur until 4 days after I called the Ombudsman, which I did a week after I was first told I would get a call ). They are sending me a new antenna, the one that they told me to buy last time, turns out to not be good enough. The call was because the job had been closed, because the antenna dept claimed I never answer the phone. I work from home, and I have a message service. You'd think a Telstra employee would know how to use a phone and/or how to leave a message.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Could the times be changing ?

Well, it's been a very interesting couple of weeks, culminating in my taking a call from David Thodey, the CEO of Telstra. He called in response to my recent complaints and also this blog, to express his frustration at the issues that lead to customers being as disgruntled as I have become. I've always wondered how there could be a disconnect between management and the various departments that have mistreated me in various ways over the years, because I'm sure no-one set out to create Telstra operating the way it has for me. Nevertheless, it was definitely an eye opener that the CEO takes such complaints seriously enough to call me to discuss them. I've had several other follow up calls from support people to make sure that various issues I've raised in this blog have been resolved. Might this be the start of a brand new day ? I certainly hope so. I don't think Telstra's problems are going to be fixed overnight, but I'm certainly convinced by the events of the past few weeks that the people at the top are aware of the issues, and are focused on resolving them. I've had several people call me to say 'the proof of the pudding is in the eating', these have been people telling me they know they have work to do, not people offering platitudes, and that gives me a lot of hope. Telstra was once something we all owned and took pride in. Nothing would make me happier than for it to be viewed that way again, by both clients and shareholders.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

You're a valued customer

I spent $300+ a month with Telstra. I recently got a call from them telling me how much Telstra values my loyalty, and what a valued client I am. I don't like to be rude, I did not tell him that I use Telstra because I have no choice. He discussed a few things he thought they could do for me. I really was only interested in one. He said they could roll my five bills in to one. I asked if they could be rolled in to two ( one for the two internet accounts, one for the three phone accounts ). Sure, he said. Give it a month, but that's done for you. That was about four months ago. I still get five bills a month. So, he called to tell me they'd love to do something for me, because I am a good client, but the thing he offered, he couldn't actually do. It's kind of ironic, in a lot of ways....

The Broken Modem Part 3

I realise at this point, this is not about Telstra, but it's related, so I'll post it here. I went away for 2 weeks, after calling Sierra again and being told that despite their belief that the issue is physical damage, they would send me a bag to send the modem back. I got back from my holiday and called them, the woman on the call said 'there's a note here that it's physical damage'. I reiterated all that I'd gone through and that I'd been told they would send a bag. She said she'd call me back after she spoke to a manager. It's been several days, they have not called me back.

At the core, the issue here is that Telstra sold something, and refuses to help me when it breaks and I need to get it fixed, they leave me to deal with the manufacturer directly. I can't recall the last time I bought something from a reseller and they did not offer to help me when I needed warranty service.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Broken Modem Part 2

When I called Sierra Wireless, they said they would send me a bag to return the modem in. That was two weeks ago, so I called and was told it had been sent but they would resend another. A few moments later they called back to say that it had been decided that the breakage was my fault ( I can see why they would presume that, although it's not true, if all their modems break the way that mine did, then they are cheaply made rubbish and no-one should ever consider plugging an aerial in to one ), and they simply did not send the bag, without bothering to contact me. They are calling me on Monday, a manager will speak to me as I complained about their decision to just not tell me what was going on. I am deeply unhappy at the idea that I may have to pay to repair a poorly constructed and badly designed device, but if it costs $200 to repair and $400 to replace, I'm obviously going to have to live with it. I just don't see why they wouldn't even look at it or give me the option. Apparently they felt the same way, the woman did call me right back, so I assume they expect a higher standard of service from their staff than what I recieved. I just wonder why I am such a magnet for bad service. I'm polite on the phone, my requests are not unreasonable. What do I have to do ?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Wireless Modem Part 4

So, my next step was to send the following to the Ombudsman:

I have a Bigpond service, on a contract, for wireless internet. I went in to a store and asked for a way to upload a file quickly, they sold me a $400 modem on the basis that it could upload 2 GB in 15-45 minutes. It took 10 hours, and as my service now is no better than it was before I upgraded, I asked for a refund. I've written to the store manager, her staff have lied about what transpired and they are refusing to do anything about it. I've sent her a passage of the Sale of Goods Act 1954 ( from memory, I found it online ) which states i am entitled to a refund and damages if goods do not work as promised. She is stonewalling me. I was also told that a prepaid modem would be available to me at certain rates and the rates I was told were also lies. My entire experience with this particular store is that they are liars. I spent $400 on something that literally did nothing for me ( as my old modem works just as well ) and I don't see why I should spend $400 on nothing because of lying sales staff.

I have to admit at this point that neither the Ombudsman or Jade did anything to address the issue of my being lied to about prepaid rates. However, when the TIO replies to you, you get a code, and a secret phone number. The people on that number will not talk to you without a TIO number, but they are VERY helpful when they do talk to you. Well, mostly. I called the Telstra secret help line, and they said they would investigate my claims. Later that day, I travelled to Melbourne for a weekend with my son. I got there, and tried to connect my notebook, and got an error message : Invalid user name or password. I called the general support line, and the person on the other end first established that she could not log in to my account, then reset my password twice, both times we established she and I could not log in, then insisted I uninstall and reinstall the software and test again before she could escalate the claim to tier 2 support.

This is actually a new development, in the past I've called support and gone through the 'is it plugged in, is it turned on' level of monkey support they offer, and been told that we've 'exhausted tier one support options', but when I asked about tier 2, I was told it did not exist.

So, I was told it would take 4 business days before anyone would call to try and help me. Now, this was on the Fri before a long weekend, so we were talking about a week without the internet that my work relies on to exist. I was not pleased. I complained to the TIO again, they said that as I had a complaint open, I could not open another one. I called my trusty secret number, and the person there organised for me to be placed at the head of the queue.

The next morning ( which was Tuesday, not Friday ), I got a call from a guy, and he basically told me to try my password, then did some typing on his end, told me to try it again, did the same again, and the third time it worked. I did not have to change anything on my end. I find it odd that I complained to the Ombudsman and found myself disconnected within hours of doing so. I'm sure that's not a normal procedure they follow, but either way, it was somewhat of an interesting co-incidence. Nevertheless, I must admit that once you get to the point of complaining to the TIO, my experience is that you find yourself then put through to people who speak English and who actually do try to make your satisfaction their desired outcome, which is a world apart from the people behind the numbers passed out to the general public.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Wireless Modem Part 3

I've broken this up because the emails are so long. Here's the final email I got from Jade:

Hi Christian,

As I explained to you in my previous email my staff have not lied to you. The Prepaid Device you originally came in to purchase would be grossly inadequate for the purposes stated which is why my staff steered you away from this option. Jed did not tell you that it would upload in 15-45 minutes and I am unsure where this information came from but I am sure that it was not him because he is aware after 4 years in the Telco industry and dealing with BP and Mobile internet that you cannot make promises based on estimated speeds and does not make assurances such as this. I have taken all the information provided by yourself and my staff and will be standing by the decision that I have made foro the reasons stated in my previous email. You stated in your first email that "Based on this news, and on the fact that I didn't want to spend more than I had to, I decided to upgrade my existing BigPond account to the faster modem" taking this into account if you made the decision to do this then I cannot hold the staff responsible after they suggested another option for you which they believed to be the best way of handling your situation even though it is not the cheapest taking all factors and information provided to them into account this is what they suggested for you but you decided to go the other way. I Strongly suggest contacting bigpond as previously communicated to you as there may be something that they can do that will rectify your situation they are very helpful and have a lot more resources availble to them in regards to Wireless Broadband than ourselves at store level. If then you still have no satisfaction then of course take matters further if need be.



My final response to her:

Hi Jade

I'm sorry, but I was told by your staff that it was Jed who spoke to me. I don't recall who it was. I DO know that the person I spoke to EXPLICITLY stated that it would take 15-45 minutes. I asked again and was told again. Being an experienced IT worker, if I'd been told 15 min, I'd have asked about it, but I assumed that 15-45 min was a range to allow for network conditions. As for steering me to another option, that is also not true. They presented two options, and I made my decision, again based entirely on the fact that if I could upload 2 GB in 15-45 minutes, it seemed wiser to spend the money on the device which would let me do that consistently, with the account I am already tied to. I did not realise at the time how close I was to my monthly limit, something I realise is my fault, and that's why I had to go on to buy a prepaid device ( although, as I said, and as you've never addressed, I was also told rates that were wrong on that device, and sold a device that I've since been told is not a prepaid device at all, with the wrong software so I cannot recharge it ). They gave me next to no advice beyond answering my questions, and certainly did not suggest that any of my options would perform better for me, or suit me better.

As you have no intention of helping me and continue to call me a liar, I will indeed take this further. As I stated to you earlier today, the Sale of Goods Act allows for goods that do not perform as promised. I am a computer programmer. I know more about computers than any of your staff, and I certainly know a lot more than any Bigpond help staff, who are uniformly useless. I was in the city, because that's where Jed assured me I could count on getting that speed. Nothing anyone can say to me now can change that I had a specific need at a specific time, was made specific promises, and they were lies.

I've had years of this sort of abuse and lies from Telstra. I've finally decided to do something about it. Could you please send me a photo of you in your work uniform for my blog ? http://whyihatetelstra.blogspot.com/


As you may have noticed, she never replied, and I do not have a photo to show you. However, I can offer this artists impression based on the mental image formed by our dealings as documented here.

To recap, the staff at the local Telstra store lied to me, lied to cover up their actions, and the manager basically called me a liar, repeatedly. Makes me wish I had some Telstra shares, really....

The Wireless Modem Part 2

So, Jade replied as follows:

Hi Jade,

Thankyou for bringing this to my attention. I appreciate the depth of detail, time & effort that has gone into explaining your experience with my staff & team in general.

Like all complaints or concerns that are brought to my attention, I will now investigate your allegations & act accordingly to my findings.

If there is merit to your allegations, I can ensure you, as manager I shall resolve the matter.

Please allow a timeframe of 72 business hours for my findings regarding this matter. Due to my commitments today & the unavailability of the concerned staff, I would like to inform you that the intended investigation shall commence as of 09:00am Thursday 25/02/2010.

If you require further information or clarity in regards to this response, please do not hesitate to contact me on the mobile number stated below.



Jade Smith

Store Manager

I am not sure if she meant 72 business hours, but it was less than 9 business days before she wrote back, as follows:

Hi Christian,

Thankyou for contacting me in regards to this matter I have now looked into it with the Staff involved. Firstly I'm sorry that you feel your service from the store here was less than satisfactory when you came in looking for an alternate wireless solution.

After speaking with my staff they have explained the situation to me as to what happened with your transaction. It seems my staff offered you a few different solutions rather than just the BP Elite Modem and upgrading your Bigpond monthly usage allowance. After Shaun passed you onto Jed for some further information he offered you a solution using Telstra Mobile Broadband in which you would be required to purchase the new TMB Elite Device for $399.00 and could set up a Casual TMB Plan which offers you the download/upload allowances that you would of required to perform the additional uploads back to the USA at a price of $69.00 for 6GB.

He has advised me that he offered this as the Pre Paid options were too expensive and you were using it irregularly and it is more convenient that Pre Paid were the credit expires after 30 days. This TMB solution also means that it can be cancelled at any time with no cost to you by simply removing the data pack which is added to the account and reactivated by adding the data pack to the account the next time you require it and you only ay for what you use. As you were happy with your current BP Wireless Service he did not recommend buying the BP Device as even though it may be cheaper it was not a practicle solutions as the speeds are controlled by Bigpond were as the TMB speeds are not.

You have told me in your email that you were offered a few options but you decided to go with the BP Elite device and upgrading your BP plan. The issue that we face is that unfortunately you were not happy that the claimed speeds did not meet your expectations. As Jed explained the day that you came in these are only claimed speeds and peak speeds may vary but it should definitely be within the range stated of 550kbps - 3mbps upload. By choosing the new BP device and registering it with your account this leaves us no way of being able to switch back to your old device. I have contacted BP Tech support to verify this infromation and it is correct.

On the day you came in to receive a refund for ths device our systems were running very slow and there were different things Jed needed to check off first to make sure that the account was correctly set up so that you can achieve the maximum speeds. I have had a talk to him and let him know that his communications skills with customers needs to be a lot better when facing issues like this so that people such as yourself are not just left at the counter wondering what is going on.

As my staff did offer you a different solution to what you bought to start with unfortunately im unable to refund your device and it would also mean that you would be unable to use your current BP wireless device. If you had of taken the TMB solution with a casual plan it would have allowed me to do this as the devices require no registration and we could cancel the plan at no additional cost. The only thing I may be able to suggest is to contact Bigpond technical support on 133933 to see if there may be some other technical reason as to why you are not getting the claimed speeds from the device.

If you require further information or clarity regarding this, please do not hesitate to contact me

Kind Regards,

Jade Smith

My response:

Hi Jade. Your staff are liars. I am not overly surprised, however, I should make this clear from the outset.

As I made clear to your staff at the time, my bigpond account is at the maximum allowance. I decided to upgrade my modem on my current plan because I was EXPLICITLY told that a 2 GB file would send in 15-45 minutes. NO-ONE told me that the speeeds could vary, although I know that. I expected the EXPLICIT advice I was given to be the truth and for the range given to allow for network variance. 10 hours is no-where near close enough to 45 minutes to give you any reason to disregard my compaint - your staff lied to me to get a sale and are lying to you in order to keep their jobs and to give you an excuse to ignore me.

I don't care if you have no way of turning my old device back on. I know your systems are fundamentally broken, that's why when I moved from ISDN to wireless, I could not move my email address to the new account. That doesn't change that your staff lied to me and you're now backing them up in their lies. It does not change that I was sold something on false pretences, and I surely have a trade practices claim as a result. If you're going to ignore me, I will have to forward these communications on to whatever body oversees retail transactions such as this and decides on their legality. Is it the ombudsman i need to speak to, or is it just a more general body that stops fraud in retail ?

If you'd paid attention to the letter I wrote, you'd know that I went on to buy a prepaid device because I needed to buy more bandwidth, and that I was lied to about the cost of that device ( that is, the cost of charging it ). Are you saying that I can use this device at a rate of $69 for 6 GB, because I was charged $100 when I came in to recharge it.


In the absence of a prompt reply, I also sent this:

Jade, I've done some research and according to the Sale of Goods Act 1954:

Specific performance
In an action for breach of contract to deliver specific or ascertained goods, the court may, if it thinks fit, on the application of the plaintiff, direct, by its judgment, that the contract shall be performed specifically, without giving the defendant the option of retaining the goods on payment of damages.

The judgment may be unconditional or on the terms and conditions as to damages, payment of the price or otherwise that the court thinks just. The application by the plaintiff may be made at any time before judgment.
It seems to me that if your network can't provide the speeds you promised me, the Sale of Goods Act leaves room for me to be refunded and /or paid damages. In this case, it becomes complex because any damages paid would have to include the damages incurred because my old modem no longer works, meaning if I am required to return it to get a refund, damages would at least include the cost of getting me to the situation I was in prior to the transaction.

Do you know which legal body I should be making my complaint to ? I will start with the Ombudsman, but if you know of a better body for me to contact, I presume you're legally obliged to tell me on my request


Monday, March 15, 2010

The Wireless Modem Part 1

What follows is a letter of complaint I sent through to the manager of the local Telstra shop. I think it adequately explains what happened. Jade is the manager of the store.

Hello, Jade. I am writing to outline my complaint about the service
I've recieved of late, principally in your store. I felt I should
contact a manager prior to seeking ways to lodge a formal compaint

On Friday, Feb 19, I went into the Telstra store in Hobart and asked
for advice regarding my wireless internet account. I expected to pay
$150 for a modem, and then to add some bandwidth to that modem, to
create a prepaid account in order to give myself access to some excess
bandwidth when I needed it to deploy my work to my US employer. I was
told that this modem was inadequate, and that a $400 modem would give
me far better speeds. Shaun R ( the name on my receipt ), took me to
speak to Jed Bennett. Jed informed me that this upgraded modem would
send my 2 GB file in 15-45 minutes. Based on this news, and on the
fact that I didn’t want to spend more than I had to, I decided to
upgrade my existing BigPond account to the faster modem. I then took
this modem and my notebook to an office in the city where I could
leave it, and set it up to send the files. I watched it for half an
hour, and then tried www.speedtest.net. I tried the speed test
several times over the next day, and always found the speeds on offer
were roughly the same as for my old modem, and certainly less than 5%
of the speeds I was told I would get. The files in question ended up
taking 10 hours to send.

I then found out that I had used all my available bandwidth for the
month, so I needed to buy a prepaid device as well. I went in to the
Glenorchy store, and they told me that resellers are not allowed to
sell prepaid modems. They also told me that the city store closed at
1 pm. I asked them to call to make sure, and they refused. I raced
in to town, to find they close at 4 pm. I mention this as an example
of how hideous customer service is when dealing with Telstra or your

I bought a modem identical to the one I’d bought before. I should
mention at this point that I discussed with Shaun R in detail that my
options were to upgrade my modem, or to buy a prepaid device to use as
a backup for the months that I need it, and I asked for pricing, and
he pushed me towards the $400 modem as the available option, and gave
me pricing that included a peak price of $169 for 20 GB. I was sold a
$30 SIM card which I was told would come with a GB, and then I could
recharge online. I took the modem home, and installed the software on
a different computer to the one I’d been using, however, the software
proved to be the same. I read the manuals, and followed the
instructions, but could not get online. I finally worked out that I
needed to call to activate my SIM, no-one had told me this. When I
asked how to recharge the modem, I was told to push the $ symbol in my
software. I was told this by several support people over the weekend.
They all referred to the software as the Telstra Turbo Connection
Manager, when the program I got was the Telstra Connection Manager.
They typically just kept telling me to look for a $ sign and would not
believe me. I’ve since been told that the modem I was sold is ‘not
suitable for prepaid’ ( although it is working ), and so I have the
wrong software. I made several attempts to buy more time online, but
this did not work, either. I made many calls to support during this
process, and they were uniformly useless.

On the Monday I went back to the Telstra store. I was informed that
my best option for charging my modem is $100 for 6 GB. The prices I
was given when I asked for prepaid prices, were prices for people on a
monthly plan with an ongoing commitment. I was therefore encouraged
to buy a modem for prepaid, which is not a prepaid device, and does
not come with the necessary software, and told that I could buy data
at a casual rate, with prices that are actually not available to me.
The person who made this recommendation to me was not the person who
sold me the modem, so at least two people were told I was buying a
prepaid device, although only one lied to me about pricing. Again, I
was VERY explicit, I didn’t just ask what the prices were, I also
explained at length that I was considering this device for use as a
prepaid option for months when I needed it.

The salesperson sold me some bandwidth for $100 and kindly used his
phone to load it into my SIM, as I only have an iPhone, which I
believe will only work with the SIM you provided. I then explained
that as I spent $400 on a device which worked no better than the
device I already had, and as I was specifically and explicitly lied to
when I was told a 2 GB file would upload in 15-45 min, I wanted my
money back. The salesperson found Jed, who came out, and spent 20
minutes trying to look at my account online. He said it was running
very slow. I guess he was not using one of these new, fast, Elite
wireless modems… I asked him what he was doing, he said looking at
something. I said that’s not really telling me anything, and he said
‘yes, that’s right’. In other words, he wasted 20 minutes of my time
and was very rude. He went on to ask things like where I was when I
tried to send my files, but because he couldn’t find anything wrong
with what I did ( I was in the CBD ), he just went on to waffle about
burst rates and so on. The burst rates would have to be VERY rare for
a file to take as long as it would with the old modem, and, either
way, he was the one who told me 15-45 min, there were no caveats at
the point I was being sold to, and certainly there’s orders of
magnitude between 15 min and 10 hours.

This whole transaction was typical of dealing with Telstra for me.
The sales people lied, the product did not work as promised, the phone
support was clueless, and everything went wrong. However, while I see
I have no choice but to be ripped off on the discrepancy between the
rates I was told I would get and the rates on offer for prepaid, I do
not see why I should spend $400 for a modem that does not work as
advertised. I am told there is no way for you to activate my old
modem again. I would suggest that is your problem. I am sending this
to you, as the manager of the store in question, to give you an
opportunity to respond before I start to involve the Ombudsman and to
seek other remedies.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Overuse Fee

As previously discussed, I've had wireless for a long time, which means from time to time I've found out that they've changed the nature of their plans without telling me, and thus overcharging me. In April of 2008, Microsoft released Windows XP Service Pack 3. I downloaded it, and installed it, and it caused my computer to stop working ( there turned out to be a bug for AMD processors ). So, I removed it. During the course of that month, despite my asking it not to, Windows downloaded it several times and then asked if it could install it. As a result of this, I got an overuse bill of $500. During the month, I had actually tried several times to use the online usage meter, but it was broken. I confess to not thinking about checking my mail, as I've covered before, because I don't check my Bigpond mail in general, as I cannot rely on it's ongoing existence.

So, I did some checking, and realised that Telstra had, in the meantime, moved from plans that charge for overuse ( at ludicrous rates ), to plans that offered a ton more bandwidth for less money. In other words, Telstra was deliberately robbing me, but their business model at the time allowed for them to make money on giving me more bandwidth, for less than the core rate I had paid. I wrote a letter explaining both this fact ( so there was no way that leniency would cost them money in the sense of making a loss ), that the problem was the Microsoft are also clowns and Windows would not obey me with regard to ignoring SP3, and the fact that if their usage meter had not been broken, I'd have worked out soon what was going on and the degree to which I was over my limit.

I got told to fax a form in to make my complaint. So, I did that. I followed up a month later, and the form had been lost, so I resent it. When I followed up after that, several times, I was told that it would take a while to process, but that I would not be penalised for non payment in the meantime.

For the next 18 months I just kept paying the current amount on my bill, and let an overdue amount of $500 ride from month to month. I just figured Telstra moves slowly, and it wasn't costing me anything to wait. I was wrong. One month, I got a bill, looked at it, and realised I was being charged a monthly late fee. I called them to complain, and they told me that the issue had been decided upon a year before. No-one had bothered to tell me, but the decision was that because I had at various times gone over my limit in the past ( although nothing like this ), that they would not accept a reversal. So, they just kept on charging me month after month, without ever letting me know what was going on. I made a fuss and got those overdue charges reversed, but was made to pay the core fee.

As I've said before, any other ISP would have moved me automatically to the new plan, it's clear that anyone would accept more bandwidth for less money, and Telstra was the last ISP as far as I know to be charging exhorbitant overuse fees instead of shaping users, just like Telstra is the only one to calculate usage based on uploads as well as downloads. The fact I was eligible for overuse fees at all comes down to Telstra robbing their clients, on several levels.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


While I've been with Telstra, I've had numerous types of internet connection, including dial up, ISDN ( which is a joke, by the way ), and wireless. One big issue for me has been that if you have a dial up account, for example, and upgrade to ISDN, for example ( and ISDN is just dial up through two phone lines ), you can't keep your username between account types. Thank goodness for gmail. I've been online for coming up to two decades, and I've had many email addresses, and changing your email address is always a hassle, and always causes you to lose contact with people. As a result, I don't check any of my BigPond email addresses, because I know how fragile they are, I am careful not to ever use them, because I did that once, only to find that my address was going to be deactivated, despite my continued intention to be a BigPond customer. It's clear that whoever wrote these systems was taking a lot of shortcuts, or plain did not care. I do love, as a software developer, to be told that it's just 'not possible' to perform some basic task, from someone who basically accepts that must be true, because it's true for their system. Yes, it would be possible, if your systems were designed properly.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Changing rates

Telecommunications is obviously a competitive industry, and with emergent technologies and competition, the cost of things like phone and internet plans tends to move downwards. The mobile phone plan that used to cost my work $500+ a month, is available for less than $100 nowadays. I've had many ISPs, and it was quite common for me to suddenly find that my bill would drop, or the available bandwidth would grow on a plan commitment as time progressed, because of how the plans would evolve.

Except Telstra. With Telstra, they create new plans all the time. When I first got wireless ( which I need to get because while my local exchange has ADSL, Telstra used poor wiring in my area, so I can't get it ), it cost me $249 for 3 GB. Unlike most plans with a capped usage, there was no way to get shaped or even cut off when I hit 3 GB, instead I'd be charged extortional rates for any overuse. That, too has changed in recent times due to market pressures. However, what I discovered after being on this plan for a couple of years, is that the plan I was on, was no longer for sale. Instead, one could pay something like $159 for 5 GB ( I am not sure of the exact number, I pay $119 for 10 GB now, and I don't recall the specifics of the inbetween step ). The other important distinction was that the new plan shaped you instead of charging extra. The point of all this is, I had to call Tesltra, where the person on the other end of the line cheerily said 'yes, we're happy to move you to this new plan if you would like'. It is clear that no-one WANTS to pay $249 when they could pay $159, any more than I wanted to keep pay $159 when it dropped to $129 for 10 GB ( and I found out this week that the price dropped to $119 for 10 GB a while ago, the guy on the phone actually ASKED if I wanted to move, can you imagine saying 'No, I'm a shareholder, I'd prefer to pay extra' ? ). But, because Telstra's business model is based on people being ignorant and uninformed, they just keep gouging people on the old plans unless they ask to be moved.

What I found most concerning was that they had a broadband plan at $29 a month that gave you something like 100 MB. Those plans are gone now, the minimum you can get is 2 GB. The issue was, they had ads on TV selling these plans, and they showed someone at a computer watching a video that was at least DVD quality, and surely would have come close to filling that 100 MB quota. I could easily see some old couple signing up and getting a $4000 overuse fee in the first month, and it seemed to me like the campaign was calculated to create that eventuality. I considered complaining about it, but I confess I never got around to it. I just warned every person I knew, especially older people who I knew were not technical, of all the ways that Telstra was looking to fool them into something they could not afford.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Broken Modem

I am jumping out of sequence now. This happened in the past week or so. I bought a pay as you go wireless modem, so that I could buy some extra bandwidth in times of need. There's more to this story, but I want to focus on one aspect right now. The modem I bought, I took home and spent an hour trying to make work, before finally realising that as it uses a SIM card, that card needs to be activated. The manuals said nothing of this, nor had the sales person. I had bought this modem because I'm a developer, and I needed to deploy an installer to my boss in the USA. Having established that the speeds they claim for their latest modems are lies, in Tasmania at least, I settled for breaking it up in to many files and having three wireless connections sending files at once. So I set up some files to send, and went to bed. The next morning, my connection was not working. I played with it for a bit, then called support. It turns out that I paid for 1 GB, and was given 200 MB. Now, I wonder how many people would know EXACTLY how much they had used, and how many would just accept they were out of bandwidth and pay for more ? So, I called support, and they put another GB on to the account. I asked how I refill it from there, they told me to push the $ symbol in the software. That seems self documenting, except, there was none. The person on the other end basically treated me like an idiot and kept telling me to look harder.

The long and the short of it is this. I registered online to refill the SIM online, but found that the options I saw seemed to correlate to buying calls, not bandwidth. In hindsight, I think that's because the Telstra sales person lied to me about how much bandwidth would cost if I prepay, I expected to see an option that cost $169 for 20 GB, and for it to scale down from there. However, the core issue was that the software that came with my modem was for a monthly account, not for prepaid, and the reason for this is that the modem I was sold to use for prepaid, when I requested a prepaid modem, is not a modem approved for prepaid use. It actually works fine, excepting that the Mac version does not work well at all, it drops out every 30 min and I have to reboot to get online again, but it's not what I asked for, and therefore the software is wrong, and does not have the recharge option.

So, I went in to the store and the guy there put my SIM in to a mobile phone and recharged it that way. I guess I can just buy the $100 recharge online, the site just doesn't make clear that it works for a modem that uses the phone network. The reason for the confusion ? The actual top prepaid rate is $100 for 6 GB. The only way to get 20 GB is to buy 3 lots of $100 for 18 GB. When I asked for rates for prepaid, when I was explicit that I was buying a prepaid modem to use only when I have to deploy something and my monthly allowance is not enough to cover it, the guy showed me rates for plans. It was the fact that I could see nothing about bandwidth, or see the prices I was quoted, that I didn't think the online option would work.

Where I live, I have wireless b/c it's my only option, and even then it only works with an aerial( inevitably, there's a post coming about the story behind that, too ). The Telstra shops do not stock those, or even know they exist, it seems. So, I have to go to another local store called Total Communications to buy that. As I have a new modem, I need a new patch lead to plug it in. So, I bought this, and set it up. The aerial is mounted on the house, the cable comes around to my window, and I close my window on it to hold it in place. Then my modem sits hanging from the lead on one side, and a USB extension snakes down to the front of my Mac on the other side ( I should clarify, I use my Mac mostly with Windows XP, so the poor Mac support is rarely the source of any of my wireless issues ). In other words, I don't see any way for any force to be applied to the modem, unless someone were to yank the outside cable, HARD, and then I'd see the modem pulled up hard against the window.

So, I unplugged the aerial, because I was swapping between modems. When I went to plug it back in, it wouldn't go, so I looked at it, and the connection was bent up. I carefully bent it down again, and plugged in my aerial. I didn't use any force at any point, with the obvious exception of gentle pressure to reposition the connection by a few mm. The aerial connection snapped off when I plugged it in, and fell out in to my hand. I feel certain that poor manufacture/design was at the root of this issue, but I would accept that I'm likely to face an uphill battle getting any sort of warranty support. Nevertheless, this poorly made piece of junk cost me $400, I don't want to just throw it out. I should add, it plain does not work anymore. I called Total Communications and took it in ( they have a repair shop so they seemed the likely candidate, I was hoping for someone to just solder the connection, even if I could not plug in an aerial, just to make it work at all again ). They called me several days later to tell me that as they did not sell it to me, they would have to charge me $80 just to send it off to be looked at, so I should take it back to the Telstra shop I bought it from instead.

So, I finally got a chance to go in to the city again to drop off my modem. I go in to the brand new Telstra shop in the mall. I waited 5 min for someone to take my name and tell me that someone will call me to help me. 15 min later, I get into the bill payment line and ask the guy at the conter. He points out a girl with a clipboard and tells me she's the one who will help me. I go and wait 5 min for her to finish, and ask her. She says 'rather than keep you waiting, let me take you to the person who can help'. It's too late for that. The guy takes my modem out the back and comes back after 5-10 min. He tells me he had a close look and the connection has snapped off. Well, I have the connection in my hand, I told him the modem worked at some point, so what else did he think had happened. He then told me to buy a new modem. With a straight face. I told him I'd been to Total Communications and I'd come here to find a way to get the modem repaired. He went off, and eventually came back to tell me I need to contact Sierra Wireless directly and mail it to them to get a quote on getting it fixed. I spent 40 min in a Telstra shop being shunted around and had to fight to get what I asked for. So, I will call Sierra today and see if they can help me.

I should add that at no point in this process did anyone call out my name from the list I was put on. The store was busy when I arrived, but actually got very quiet during the early stages of the process.

If you have a Sierra wireless modem, the 308 model, do NOT plug an aerial in to it if you can help it. The connection is dodgy, and the whole thing is poorly made, and if it snaps off in your hand, you will face all sorts of hassle trying to make it work ever again.

To be fair, I called Sierra this morning and they have been very helpful. They may still get me to send in my modem and tell me they can't fix and won't replace, but at this stage, it's early days, so I don't know exactly how it will turn out. It's Telstra that messed me around up to this point, not Sierra.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Broken Promises

For the record, I called Telstra 5 min before close of business because Nathalie did not return my call, as she had firmly promised to do. I spoke to Shirley. She is going to resolve my underlying issue ( I won't go in to detail so as not to get ahead of myself, as I've not written about this incident yet ). She's also going to get a tech to call me tomorrow, instead of my having to wait at least two more days, according to their usual timeline. So, with luck, I'll have my main internet connection back tomorrow, instead of having to use the kids computer to get online.

She also promised to call me tomorrow, because I need to send her a receipt to finalise the main transaction, which means she's essentially made the exact same promise that Nathalie did, but she was pretty adamant that she would call, knowing that I'd already been let down in this regard, today.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Random Calls

I just got a call from Nathalie at Telstra. She was very helpful, although I still have no internet and no ETA on it, she seemed to be doing what she could. My question is, is it REALLY the law that if a company calls and asks to speak to me about my bill, instead of there being a system of mutual trust, I am expected to provide my personal details to some random person on the phone, who may or may not be who they say they are ? I can see how that protects Telstra, but I do not see how it protects me, if someone calls on the basis of pretending to be from Telstra, so they can get my personal details.

Add that to my broken internet, and I confess to starting the call badly, unlike prior callers who I have refused to give my details to, she refused to tell me how many accounts I have, etc, but we got through it with the reference number from the Ombudsman. The reason there is so much internet fraud is that people just comply with these sort of requests, and every once in a while, be it an email or a phone call, something comes in that is not what it claims to be.

The Repair Man

I am in a bit of a quandry today, b/c while I want to keep going sequentially, I've just reported Telstra to the Ombudsman and had them respond by cutting off my account, and telling me it will take a week before someone will even try to fix it. I also posted this blog link on a Facebook page ( there's a ton called 'I hate Telstra or similar, this is the biggest one ) and had a Telstra employee tell me that he assumes their service has improved since the 1990s, when this blog starts. No, I'm afraid not. It just gets worse. I am going to stick to the sequential format, and hopefully I'll have an outcome on this latest debacle by the time I post about it.

We moved in to our current home about 6 years ago, I believe. After about 3 years, we had a major rain storm, and then our phone started to play up. It sounded like it was under water, funny enough. So, we called for a technician. We had a broken phone for a fair time, then one Sunday, I looked out of my window and saw a Telstra truck. I figured he'd come and knock on the door soon enough, so I kept doing what I was doing. When I next looked, he was gone, and the entrance to my garage was blocked by a hole in the ground ( not a massive chasm, but a hole, nonetheless ). I went inside and grabbed my phone to call and complain, and it was now not working at all. It started to work again, the next day, and it was fixed from there.

I contacted Telstra to complain that their service staff come on to my property, dig a hole, leave it, break my phone altogether for a time, and don't even speak to me. A few weeks later, I proceeded to complain that there was still a hole in my yard, and that we could not use our garage.

They responded to tell me that an investigation had revealed that the line was broken because I'd been digging around it, which meant I was liable to pay for the repair. My response was two fold:

1 - so the person I complained about is assumed to be totally honest in making a counter accusation against me ? ( this is also the issue I'm currently facing with lying staff in Telstra stores )

2 - I've never dug anything up anywhere near my shed.

This went back and forth for a time. I pointed out that I am not a cripple, I am quite capable of filling in the hole in my yard, but that I didn't, precisely because I know how Telstra operates, and if I clean up after them, they'll use it to blame me for interfering with the lines. They did not care, they kept sending bills.

In the end, I realised that when we moved in, the settlement was held up as the previous owner had never got council approval for the shed, and he'd been made to come out and dig up the footings so they could be inspected. This happened while I did not own the shed, or the house, and I did not do it. I wrote and made this clear, and got back a letter telling me that Telstra did not absolve me of blame, or accept any blame, but would not be pursuing the bill. In any case, I'm not sure how digging done before we bought the house, broke the lines 3 years later.

The guy came back shortly after and filled in the hole. He did not let us know he was here, I just found the hole filled.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Broadband Connection

A few years after my mobile phone experience, I was working in my first programming job. Broadband was pretty new, especially in Tasmania. I'd held off for a year or so, but in the end, I decided I had to bite the bullet, swallow my pride, and get a Telstra service. They were my only option at the time ( you'll see this is a recurring theme ). So, I called them and booked for them to set it up. I got a message to call them urgently. I called, they asked for my password. I said 'what password ?'. They said they needed to know my password to know what was wrong with my application, or they could not help me. I said I didn't need their help, I didn't have a problem, barring that I wanted broadband. I thought hard and remembered my old password was 'coffee'. They proceeded to tell me they could not connect me to broadband until I paid the $500+ I owed on my old phone account ( the one where they billed me after I disconnected ). I explained to her that it was all a lie, and I thought they had given up on it. They said no, in fact, they had a private investigator trying to find me after I did not appear for my court date. Remember how I moved house, and they didn't set my fax up right ? Well, it appears they have no records kept of when I told them I moved, and so when they got to the point of sending a summons, they sent it not to my PO Box, but to the house I no longer lived in.

Here's where it gets weird. I said to the woman, we are the only Graus family in Tasmania. They print the phone book. How can they claim they needed a PI, and how could both Telstra and the PI be so worthless as to not think of looking in the phone book to find me ?

Anyhow, I explained why I was not paying, and the woman responded to tell me that I could pay at any post office. I mostly just laughed at this point. I did some investigating, and the statute of limitations on a bill like this is 5 years. It was four years old at the time, so I just waited for that time to pass. I've since paid bills at Telstra offices and seen that the bill in question still shows up on their system, maybe that's why they treat me so badly, because obviously almost anyone who sees that will have no idea what happened, and will just assume I am a deadbeat. $500 is not a lot of money to me nowadays, but I could have had my work pay for it back then, it's not really the point. The principle is that they lied, they tried to steal from me, and I refused to be intimidated.

I stuck with dial up and about 6 months later got an Internode ADSL connection. Internode are awesome, I love them, I'd be with them today if I had the option.

The Mobile Phone

As I already mentioned, my sales job in the 90s wanted me to have a mobile, but would not provide one. So, I bought one, and I'd get sent a bill every month, which I'd then send to the company. The bill was $500+ a month, as I was the sole employee in my state, I spent a lot of time on the road, and on the phone. I got a call one day from Optus. They gave me a new Erikson digital phone if I'd swap to them. Now, this is the days before plans and so on, this was so amazing to me that I pulled over to clarify. Then, I said yes. I called Telstra and told them I wanted to disconnect my service, and they accepted my disconnection request.

I worked in Tasmania, and I had to get the bills, send them to Melbourne, and then my boss would, once a month, send them to Sydney to get paid. On that basis, I frequently got second notices, etc. I got a disconnection notice about 6 weeks later. I called and said something along the lines of "As I've explained before, I have no control over the payment process and it can be slow, but you will get paid. I still found it funny that you'd threaten to disconnect a line that is not connected". They informed me the line WAS connected. I was on a plan where I prepaid $500 a month in order to get a better call rate, a casual plan would have cost $1000 a month or more. I asked why they thought I was paying $500 for connection when I was not using my phone, and they indicated they did not care.

For the next few months, I was getting angry bills and threats in my PO Box. I talked to my boss about it. They would have paid, but I refused to pass it through on principle. I disconnected the line, it was clear from looking at the situation that I believed it to be disconnected, and I was not paying. After quite a few months, they stopped contacting me. This was when I decided to never use a Telstra service again. Sadly, over time, I found I had no choice but to reconnect to Telstra, but that's another story.

The Fax Machine

About 15 year ago, Telstra was just another corporation to me. One more bill I got every month, that was about all. I was working as a sales rep, I had an old analogue mobile phone, and my bill was around $500 a month, in fact, I was on a $500 plan. So, I was a good customer. I also had two phone lines to the home I was renting. I was the sole sales rep in my state for a tea and coffee company and while I drove around selling direct to cafes, all the distributors in the state ordered our products by sending me orders via fax on that second line.

After a relatively short period of time, we bought a house, about 2 klm from where we'd been renting. Sadly, the way the exchanges are set up, we could not keep our old fax number. Settlement took a month, as it does, so I called Telstra and organised for them to set up a second line in to the new house. I rented the old house for an extra week, and made the booking for them to come on a Wednesday. I took the day off work, and sat down and waited. They did not turn up.

That night I made some phone calls and asked what was going on. I was assured that they would come on the Thursday and that it was all booked in. I spent another day at home, this time making numerous calls to ask why they were not there yet. Towards the end of the day, I made yet another call to the number they provided. The woman I spoke to assured me that the team would be there soon. I asked her where she was, physically. She was initially taken aback, but then she said 'I am in Adelaide' ( that is, she was in a different state to me, I am in Hobart, Tasmania ). So, I said to her, 'Do you even know where Moonah is ?'. She admitted she did not. So, I asked her: "If you don't even know where I am, it's not your fault, but how is Telstra equipping you to accurately answer my question, and how do you know where the team is ?". She all but admitted that her job was to offer platitudes for teams she assumed were coming. I explained to her how my business revolved around this fax, that the old fax was being turned off that day ( plus I was losing access ) and that it doesn't really look professional that I had to call my clients and instead of giving a new number, just tell them that we had no facility to take orders. She gave me the number to call the actual service centre. It was late Thursday by this point, so I called the next morning.

On the Friday morning, I called the number I was given, and told them who I was, that I'd made two appointments for them to put in a fax line, that I'd been inconvenienced considerably, and that it was urgent that the line go in that day. I was polite. The response was that the guy yelled at me something along the lines of "who the f*ck are you, why are you calling, how did you get this number, you shouldn't have this number". Suffice it to say that I ripped in to him, and he did in fact offer some sort of apology. I don't believe I got my fax line until the following week, but after 15 years, I admit my memory is not precise on this point.

At this point, I was utterly enraged, and I felt that I deserved some sort of apology. I made a formal complaint about what had happened. I wasn't looking for a free car or a trip to Europe, I just wanted someone in an official capacity to apologise to me for how dreadfully I'd been treated. At this point in my life, I still assumed that Telstra was a customer service focused organisation, and had some level of respect for it's clients. I was a sales rep myself, and I guess I just assumed that they'd want to know about something like this, to at least say sorry, because if that had happened in my organisation, I'd have wanted very much to turn the situation around after such dreadful service.

It's my recollection that I spent 6 months on an insane quest for someone to say 'sorry' to me. However long it was, I bounced between layers of management as people fobbed me off until finally someone called to inform me they were some sort of middle management, that there was no point in my trying to call anyone else, and that he'd called to tell me that 'what happened to you doesn't usually happen to our clients'. He was very careful to NOT say sorry, or that he cared about what happened to me, only that it was not the norm. I assured him that I knew they didn't make a client list and be careful to call and abuse them all, that didn't really change what happened to me. He just reiterated that what I'd experienced was unusual, and that was it.

So, that's how I first found out that Telstra phone support staff are not remotely empowered to do their job, and that no-one at Telstra appears to care how clients are treated. It only got worse from there.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I knew this would happen

Of all the corporations I've dealt with, none is more incompetent, less customer focused, more likely to give you nothing and ask to be paid for it, than Telstra, our former national telco. Having been lied to, ripped off and stolen from by them again, I realised the time had come to start writing about it. I'm going to start at the beginning, so it will take a long time to get to the latest incident, which will presumably have been resolved, probably by the Ombudsman, by then. As far as I can see, the Telstra business model is built on relying on the business of old people who are too scared to change, because they never had an option before. And then charging more than any other telco, in order to buoy up falling profits. Which I'm sure is working well enough for now, but obviously has a use by date.