‘The nbn network is Australia’s exciting new landline phone and internet network. It’s designed to give you access to fast, reliable phone and internet services, no matter where you live’. NBN Connect Kit.
Pardon? I hope P&I will indulge me if I can write about my personal experience with the National Broadband Network. It has been a catastrophic encounter with what is supposed to be a gee-whiz time for Australian innovation and technology. But first some backtracking. It was announced nine years ago by Senator Stephen Conroy, the then Labor communications minister. At $43 billion, it was to be ‘the single largest nation-building infrastructure project in Australian history’.
At the time, I thought how odd that so much investment should be put in the hands of an erratic and excitable minister who’d had no business experience and whose only employment had been with unions and as a political apparatchik. Where was all the private investment when all the principal users would be telecommunications companies? It didn’t seem to matter because it was all so electorally wondrous with its dizzying speeds and dazzling technology.
The NBN came last year to Sydney’s northern beaches where I live. I signed four months ago with Telstra. It was effectively dead on arrival. As soon as it was installed, the landline and internet connections died despite the accompanying Telstra brochure proclaiming ‘Let’s bring your home to life’. Since then, the service has been a roller coaster like the blackouts in a Third World city. I kept a log. There was no or only partial service on 30% of the days. More than ten hours have been spent on the phone to Telstra/NBN technical support. This had been outsourced to the Philippines. It was nicely out of sight and out of corporate mind. Recurring complaints of the same fault apparently did not penetrate the consciousness of the Telstra service providers back in Australia. I spoke to Mary, Francis, two Simons, Sandra, Ram, Zara, Sid, Joe, Vince, Sam, JB, Nica, Isaiah, Dana, Kyle and Dave. They were well versed in reassuring chatter in which everything is ‘okay’. I was sent three modems as if they were at fault whereas it turned out to be all along ‘a problem in the street’.
Promises of returning phone calls were never met. There is no phone number for Telstra Complaints or email address. You have to fax or post a letter. I attended a community meeting at which the Telstra representative with the corporate-speak title of Community Engagement Specialist was supposed to discuss the NBN. But prudently he decided it was safer to talk about what another aggrieved attendee seated next to me called ‘marketing rubbish’. I mentioned our situation. The man from Telstra apologised and assured me he would follow it up and contact me. It came as no surprise that he never did.
The man from Telstra at one stage claimed Telstra had nothing to do with the NBN problems despite the fact it was selling its service. He thought better of it later. Another Telstra representative insisted it was not liable to compensate anyone for the wholesale loss of service despite the fact it was charging customers for a non-functioning connection. It is the modern prerogative of the corporate harlot: making money without responsibility.
I mention all this as one example of what anecdotal evidence suggests is quite common concerning the NBN despite its numerous success stories. No wonder. Canberra is as addicted to the glossy and vacuous promotion of its products as the peddler of cars or pizzas. Millions are spent on seducing the punters with sugary dross and the word ‘exciting’ is never far from the fingers on the keypad. It’s a grand deception, which the government gets away with because that’s the way things are these days.
A recent report of the Telecommunications Ombudsman noted a surge in complaints about the NBN. You can forget about staying with the genuinely reliable old ADSL system because once NBN availability is in your area you will be obliged to take it. As unfailingly happens with all major government projects, the original cost has blown out. Five of the top 15 public sector salaries are NBN executives. Shades of the ‘three amigos’ in an earlier Telstra life. Now there are concerns that wireless technology will make the NBN redundant.
The prominent businessman, Maurice Newman, aptly put it in the Australian: ‘Sadly, history will record the NBN as yet another poorly conceived, badly executed, over-priced, taxpayer-funded white elephant. It will join that pantheon of failed government initiatives such as mothballed desalinisation plants, renewable energy projects and rapidly obsolete submarines – painful reminders of valuable resources and scarce capital squandered in the name of conceit and political expediency’.
FOOTNOTE. Two weeks ago Telstra actually in Melbourne rather than Manila informed me the problem had been fixed once and for all and the case was now closed. Since then, there have been five outages – the latest lasting three days – and more than two hours of phone calls to Manila, thanks to an Optus mobile. The latest word was that the problem to quote Telstra jargon had been ‘escalated to level two technician’. This meant an NBN sub-contractor, possibly ill-equipped, would investigate. But not at the weekend if you don’t mind.
‘We hope that you enjoy bringing your home to life with Telstra on the nbn network and all the benefits your bundle offers, including fast and reliable broadband’. Telstra contract pamphlet.
John Tulloh had to go to a local cafe with wifi in order to send this as all Telstra communications at home were out of order.
John Tulloh had a 40-year career in foreign news.