Sunday, June 1, 2008


Almost everyone in Australia has their Telstra story but my own might be a bit worse than some, It's also the principle reason I have put nothing to this Blog for the nealry two months since I returned from China. Two politicians and the department of the Ombudsman for Communications has been contacted in the course of this sorry tale but it doesn't mean resolution has been or will be any faster. In fact, not even for a politician is Telstra necessarily available to give answer.

Under unforeseen circumstances pressing in since January in early April I left Hong Kong where I had been teaching and living a fairly leisurely existence for around 15 months on Lamma Island. Lamma used to be referred to as Hippie Island and you still walk or bike around because there are only paths not roads but it's not so remote from civilisation I didn't have all mod cons including phone and full broadband access and within days of obtaining myself a apartment with a view there.

One reason I'd been in HKong was to be in reach of my elderly father who had had a triple by pass operation. Early this year I realized he was in various difficulties where he had been living for years and I needed to get him back to Australia rather fast, buy and settle him into a property there. We moved into a house in rural but not outback Queensland (back of Sunshine Coast Hinterland) on April 18th. Things have been fairly good here except......we have had no phone and myself no internet apart from what the kindness of the local real estate office has allowed me to use as I am doing right now for basic work.

Australia's main communication service, Telstra, promises, and is supposedly under some kind of legal obligation to provide phones within 2 or 3 days to anyone having, or, as in my case, dealing with anyone who has some kind of potentially serious medical condition. My father has had a heart condition and was under a doctor in HKong as he is here in Australia. Already since being here he has been briefly in the nearest hospital for a bleeding condition after a minor op ..... So there isn't much case my father qualifies for speed as regards phone installation and when I applied for a phone the point was not disputed. True anyone can use a mobile phone and I have done that. I have used an expensive Telstra pre-paid one, the only one said to be able to manage the "blind spots" which the hills and ranges of this area can produce. You make two or three calls and you find you need another card recharge and if you take the phone out with you shopping or anywhere, there's no house phone for my father.

The house which, given our situation, got bought rather quickly stands at the end of a road at the edge of the town/village. On one side is an open field on the other a vacant block which for the time being has little chance its owner will build on it. But they nearly did so last year and there begins the problem. Our house which had been unoccupied for some time used to have phone connection but the neighbour who never built at some stage in their plans had an accident with the cable that runs in front of the vacant block, There now needs to be a new cable laid and a new trench dug for it by Telstra and a new trench dug by us to the front of the road from our house to join the cable, but that should be no big deal. There are people with bobcats can easily serve us for that little problem.

Initially any delay was supposed to be because a Telstra technician didn't have the right length or type of cable or that the waiting list to have anything dug was too long to deal with us immediately and I was receiving promising mobile calls about that. Then it was supposed to be that Telstra could go ahead but that the council couldn't, it needed to give permission for the cable laying. When I finally obtained somebody who was council related they spoke with the local mayor and it was agreed nothing of the sort was involved. Nihil Obstat to laying cable,the responsiblity was all Telstra's. A month had gone by.

Periodically I received letters from Telstra about what I could do and who contact about whatever. Chiefly it was that I should consider accepting a temporary radio phone. This of course would be no help to me personally and my work as it gives no access to internet but my own situation that prevents me from sending files to such as magazines or publishers is of no concern to Telstra only the case of my father even slightly counts. It is notorious people in Australia can be left waiting months for internet facilities.

However, locally I was receiving serious warnings about accepting any radio phone, which incidentally is said to be a "free" service but isn't, (this merely means it is delivered free, otherwise one pays despite levels of inconvenience that could well justify a free ride for anyone!). I was hearing that radio phones assuming they work can be a trap i.e. you could be stuck with this substitute instead of the real item plus related internet access for months. One friend's sister in Brisbane, (which being an urban area one wouldn't even expect to be saddled with what is normally a rural area option), complained she couldn't work her radio phone. About all she could contact or be contacted by was some mad number in Mumbai, India! It seemed one should consent to radio phone as a last desperate resort. It is incidentally a fact that many people in Australia feel so exploited by Telstra that they have cancelled their landline services and use mobiles exclusively (but they need to be urban - I have already alluded to the mobile problem for rural areas!)

As time went by I was advised to try the influence of state politician, Dorothy Pratt, with whom I had had friendly meetings in the past over the legal case, just recently settled to media attention, of queensland artist, Ken Wenzel, who had been nearly three years battling an absurd charge of indecent exposure....on a deserted beach, which is the sort of place you feel you're situated when battling Telstra. Dorothy had had successes obtaining Telstra cooperation in the past but they must have got tired of her successful complaints as she couldn't even get a reply out of them. In the face of this frustration she advised getting hold of a federal politician, Bruce Scott, or pursuing the deparment of the Communications Ombudsman as a last resort. Bruce Scott's office was sympathetic and helpful but as they could not get back to bring me joy I approached the Ombudsman's office for which one rings Melbourne (from the real estate office here).

Around the time I did so I received a communication from Telstra that the first stage of the job could begin on 13th June (Black Friday 13th, lucky for some) and the actual connection could be made on the 16th (As this isn't busy China it seems it would be too much to dig and connect the same day!). I was told I could agree to accept this delay into June or ring and discuss this at a certain number. Not unsurprisingly the person I was advised to ring was uncontactable. So too was the person at the default number provided. But as I didn't see waiting more weeks for a simple job I chose to contact the Ombudsman's office.

I waited from 9th in call line to tell my tale and receive their special job complaint number and though I had hoped the office itself might use its authority to ring Telstra I was next given a number, the office's number, for contact with a high official within Telstra to re-tell my woes. If this didn't do the trick and the matter hadn't been settled by Telstra within 10 days (working days!) I could get back to the O's office for further action. (Back in 10 working days to sort out a job Telstra should supposedly solve within 48 hours and which they had already left undone for 5 to 6 weeks?!)


The special number given to penetrate fortress Telstra is hardly worth having or perhaps it is so only for the very determined which I somewhat am. Evidently there is a desire not to answer because for forty minutes I just heard music, none of it interrupted with the usual promises or apologies for waiting. It's psychhological warfare to get complainants to ring off in despair. Finally I was speaking to somebody who didn't sound or behave much like any high official except that he was on all of a high horse when his best response to my understandable irritation at how I had been treated was: "If you speak to me like that I will put this phone down". He could not be drawn on what Telstra's much touted promises actually are, or once were, but said I was free to go through the 10 (working day complaint system of the Ombudsman) otherwise....I had kept on insisting upon an alternative until I learned, yes, I could otherwise speak to "Connections" if I wished though it would be no improvement. I hesitated at more runaround but declared I did so wish.

At Connections I at least encountered some polite helpfulness from Christine (down on the Gold Coast rather than Melbourne but still nowhere near me). Christine took all details and said I could wait while she tried to sort things out. When she came back she said she had been trying to twist arms but could get no one to budge on the issue of first work to be done on 13th June, i.e, almost 2 months after application for a job Telstra promises and is supposed to sort out within 48 hours. Asking for the firmest of promises that receiving a temporary phone would not interfere with my place on the list for cable laying, I took the advice to receive a radio phone. I was told it would arrive within 24 hrs and probably the same evening.

I can report that it was brought around at about 8.30pm by some courier, contracter hired by Telstra (i.e.not any Telstra engineer) who wasn't quite sure what the phone would do but efficieintly enough set it up into working order. He believed since the latest kind of modem was involved a USB cable would be sufficient to give me radio Internet. But no such luck as I discovered upon inquiry with Telstra next day. There is no question the phone works but not perfectly. I sometimes have to ring more than once to a number to obtain any ring and the sound is sometimes a problem. One can't seem to leave volume up at a desired point; you ring and are may have to start hitting volume plus in order to hear or be heard. But I concede it's better than nothing at all. Whether I shall be so positive in mid June is another matter. .

Yet perhaps something just might cause connection before the given date. At the very end of May I have received a form from Telstra telling me ( and my doctor) to sign up, for priority treatment with Telstra. This communication is likely to be a response to my various complaints but is also very likely to be material that should have been sent to me long ago and which if it had been sent to me might have speeded a process that I have always been told can't be speeded up. I suspect the simple office problem is that I am not, as the papers assume I would be, an existing customer of Telstra requesting an extra service as opposed to a new customer, a situation not bureacratically foreseen. But how many more surprises will this tale turn up?

By now I have questions of another more philosophical kind especially as soon as this issue is raised - and by now I can hardly meet anyone or enter a shop and not be asked on the progress of the affair - I am hearing other stories, not just Telstra tales though they do seem particularly symptomatic. I hear about people left with problems councils here or there in Australia couldn't deal with in years, of money constantly lost - in one case $8000 a week because promised decisions re buildings are postponed - the buck passed on to others. It is a picture of almost unbelievable inefficiency, unreliability and no feeling of proper consideration towards people. I ask myself what is the reason? What is Australia about?

As someone not native born and somewhat disadvantaged for that - the Aussie style and accent and savvy is a help at least sometimes - I do ask questions. I suspect that at least part of the problem could be that the much vaunted egalitarianism is paralyzing action. With no one willing either to give or take direction people finish victim to either somebody's resentment or endless will to postpone as soon as the obvious course of action is declared. Whether I am right or wrong about this the simple fact is a lot of people across Australia are unnecessarily suffering for often quite silly pretexts. Since it is the basis of communications in the nation reform not just the organization but attitudes of Telstra might be a good place to set about reforming a few things out of kilter in Australia.



After ringing for and obtaining confirmations the work could begin on the 13th June I went ahead to obtain the bobcat and get the trench cut outside the house towards the street on the 12th. This is a job supposed to be done within 24 hrs of Telstra's own work as one shouldn't leave open trenches in front of the street into which people might trip - it's a potential legal liability. A member of Kingaroy council told me to ring her Friday if this time no one turned up or did anything as she would wish to speak to Telstra herself. (Several friends were saying it's time to contact media itself).

Too late to cancel the job and because anyway I received a third confirmation that I would be visited on Friday between 8am and midday, at the last minute I open a letter to discover that, without explanation, the job would be done not as indicated in an earlier letter on the 13th June but 15th July (recall the first Telstra visit was in April!). However this could mean almost anything and is no guarantee either way of action or delay from an institution which by now I knew footballs you back and forth from dept to dept undecided whether you represent a "fault" or a "new line" or unsure whether you even have the job number you cite.

Accordingly, and despite July 15th, I was contacted by Ernie on Friday at 11 am apologizing he could not arrive that day but he would come Monday. I conveyed this information to the councillor and that I felt since something was happening I would have to wait. On Monday it was Alan was in contact, he was coming but then he couldn't come, he would come Tuesday. On Monday afternoon I had spent over an hour listening to music and Telstra pre-recordings while waiting as some persons, and eventually one fairly helpful assistant rang back and forth between depts inbetween which I learned she said there were such terrible arguments raging she was glad I couldn't hear them. (But I could imagine!). I received two calls from Alan on Tuesday (after another assistant) Lackshmi swore someone would be with me Tuesday, it was all arranged and set) but Alan is a technician - better than nothing but we need the contractor as well - and Alan recalled he had visited us in April to do things he couldn't do. He said he was ringing different depts to try to settle things and would ring back later that day but didn't.

Today, Wednesday, by deliberately trying to trick the silly system by ringing a couple of wrong numbers (after having checked my specific pin number for call up was as usual not available - is the pin no assistant on permanent holiday and using an answerer for secretary?) I actually got hold of a, or the, case manager for the job. He seemed more interested in Alan the technician than I am in the circumstances and said he would contact him and get back to sort all this out. Not hearing anything after about 3 hours I went through the slow process of ringing the more automatic than person manned Telstra system again and learned, after suitable wait, that though the case manager thinks my case is a new line, I am all of registered as a "fault" case.

With this degree of mix and muddle no wonder they can't sort out what the council plainly tells them (told them) weeks ago and what the contractor understood he would be doing weeks ago. I was told by Tony the case manager would ring in about ten minutes (two hours later he hasn't) but that he believed the job's preliminary works were for 15th July. Would or could anyone know that and what would be the guarantees?


This is how Telstra treats PRIORITY cases for which I have a certified letter, following a doctor's signed application that we supposedly are such. When I spoke this morning to one assistant I could barely hear her for the fade effect of the radio phone whose volume control I kept adjusting to understand her at all. How can this inferior substitute for a phone cover Telstra's legal obligations or professional work conscience if it has any in the case of priority persons. Clearly if I have these problems my father who is hard of hearing can't be expected to use the phone easily in my absence for any problems or emergency that might crop up.[The answer to this I learn is one is not priority enough!. We can give you another better radio phone - I doubt it, it's how the waves carry over the ranges here - or the condition must be so extreme one is linked to some data flow and a life support machine]. Can you do anything at all before July 15th? "No we can't". Can you give any guarantee that 15th July would deliver anything? "No we can't guarantee anything" As has been expertly pointed out to me alternatives are possible,a temporary wire could easily be laid and arguably the trench along the front of the road which needs endless inquiries, checks, permissions, isn't even necessary. But Telstra the incarnation of Can't can't do anything. It has now been suggested I might take on their radio internet service. This needs looking into. I long ago read an advertisment for it and I recall it said such was a more than a leisurely 28 days to arrange for. (Actually, June 19th, I was told I would be rung between 9 and 10 am about radio internet - but no one rang. Perhaps there isn't a service to talk about. I am living about 130 kms outside Brisbane which is not super rural or outback by Australian standards but the alternative, Optus, tells me they still haven't set up South Burnett Shire as a wireless region!)

Telstra, this seemingly shameless, almost totally disorganized bureaucratic maze, a Kafka's Castle of a can't do company for so many people (I went into the real estate office for essential internet work today only to hear two more tales in variation on my theme) has put my working life on hold since April when I returned from abroad and it makes things between difficult and risky in the case of my father. The stress is terrible every time just to deal with them and waste time and energy again and again telling the details of a story they can't or won't understand or deal with...... And this company needs months to lay and connect a single line?

Who are these people that place Australia in company with the worst organized third country systems, so busy saving or making money on their privatized system they never have staff enough to deal with what's basic? No civilised society should tolerate such shoddiness and mess. Telstra should be round here within hours (or even work through the night if necessary to just keep their word and responsiblities!) No doubt they are, or consider themselves, legally protected against such matters and couldn't care less about anyone and clearly they don't understand what it means to "provide a public service".