Sunday, January 8, 2012

Dear, Sweet, Darling Telstra

Note to friends: if you've been trying to ring me hereabouts and getting a busy tone... well, our line is dead. It's been dead since sometime Saturday, I think. The local Telstra chap called me (on the mobile, of course) and told me it looks to him as though it's been struck by lightning. Everybody up here on the hillside is without a phone at the moment, and given the patchy, crappy mobile coverage here, it's an interestingly silent sort of situation.

To top it off, it appears our Net connection has been shaped back to 64kbps. Still eight or nine days before the contract renews, and we get a massive 12Gb of 1.5mbps to play with again.

What went wrong? Well, Natalie updated her iPod. And of course, things like the iPad will happily update themselves. I take care of my own security, but Nat's new desktop machine doubtless constantly be checking into Jobsland. And the old machine the boys use runs Windows, so it gets regular security updates. And then there's the Wii... the last time I saw Jake switch it on, it had a vast array of new Internet channels, so I suppose it's been updating itself too.

Twelve gig a month. Gosh. The generosity of it. But that's the biggest allowance we can get under the 3G wireless plan via Telstra. It costs more than most of you are paying for four, five, ten times as much data at four or five times the speed, and it tends to drop out at unexpected moments... but it's what we've got, and it's all we're going to get, apparently.

Still, the dead phone line is a bit of a shit. I have some useful information for Telstra on that topic. Some of you may wish to stop reading at this point, because I may use language which isn't exactly suitable for the parlour at annual CWA meeting...

1) Dear Telstra: please put the following abbreviation on my record: NAFI. It stands for Not A Fucking Imbecile. What that means is that when I call your miserable, shitty call-centre to tell you there's something wrong with my phone line and I'm using my goddam mobile phone to do it, you can reasonably assume that I have ALREADY unplugged the handset and plugged it in again, tested the power, etc. I'm NAFI, Telstra. If I call you to say that my phone isn't working, can we just fucking well accept that it's actually not working?

2) Look, I have no problems with Indian folk. Dealing with people from the subcontinent face-to-face I don't even think about their race, or their culture, or mine. But you know what? The accent is a bit hard to follow, especially when I have to use a shitty Telstra - connection mobile phone to call your service. Oh, and the game where everybody tries to pretend they're actually in Sydney, and not in Chennai or Mumbai or Delhi? I have no idea who you think you're fooling. Yes, I know your Melbourne facility includes plenty of folk from the subcontinent, but honestly... I actually can't remember the last time I spoke to someone in your call centres who DIDN'T sound like they were fresh out of a Bollywood spectacular.

Telstra, I would very happily pay a reasonable premium for the opportunity to speak with someone who communicates in the same kind of English that I use, and who can share a friendly joke with me because we share the same basic cultural assumptions. I have no fucking idea why you imagine that outsourcing your call centre work was a good plan, but I promise you this: if any useful rival company ever, ever sets up out here in northern Tassie, I will abandon your fucking slipshod, pathetic, perpetually outsourced "service" so fast you won't know what hit you.

3) Speaking of service... lets go over our record of the last few years, shall we? First there's the horribly dodgy reception. Well, I live in a mountainous region. I guess I have to accept that. But... how come you can't upgrade my local exchange to be ADSL compatible? You've done it practically everywhere else. What's wrong with us? While I'm at it... the phone lines get blown to fuck by lightning every second year hereabouts. I remember one year you left a hundred-plus metres of phone cable draped over some farmer's fence because you couldn't figure out how else to keep it dry. (It was an electric fence, by the way. Every call we had for months (tick) included a regular (tick) noise that made the (tick) whole goddamned conversation sound like (tick) we had a fucking metronome going (tick.).

Anyway. Given that the aging copper lines on this hillside are prone to rain-death and lightning-death, and that we get a lot of rain and lightning, maintenance out here must cost you people a fortune, Telstra. But you know what ISN'T affected by water and electricity?

Glass. As in: fibre-optic cable.

I would dearly like to know what you fools pay to maintain the copper along this hillside. It would be fascinating to compare that ongoing cost with the cost of replacing the copper with glass fibre.

Ah well. I guess I'll never know, eh?

I remember the good old days when you convinced us to go with an ISDN modem for Internet purposes. We got a whopping 128kbps out of that. Yeee fucking haa, eh? Of course, storms blew out something like eight of your expensive modems in less than two years, until your people finally figured out you'd hooked our phone line to entirely the wrong lightning protection system... sure did make communications unreliable.

Anyway. When you pulled the plug on the ISDN system nationwide, you basically gave us the finger with regard to the Internet. No ADSL for us, no sir. Not out here. And back then, your shitty 3G service was still selling megabyte allowances for a couple-hundred bucks. Of course, we couldn't receive 3G Internet anyway... so for three or four years, we had a fucking satellite dish on the roof.

Actually, it's still there. But we're on 3G now, yeah. Not due to your work, though. Nope. To put it flatly, your consultants ranged from useless but friendly, to outright rude. The lass at the shop in Launceston was so unpleasant I've never gone back there, nor will. Luckily, one of my neighbours knew a bit about specialty 3G aerials, and after six months of phone calls and requests -- all of which came to nothing, except perhaps twenty to thirty wasted hours of conversation on the phone, plus a great deal of time listening to your fucking robot service -- I discovered that you have a business office in Invermay which actually sells the aerials my neighbour reccommended. So I drove there. And I bought one. And I installed it on the roof. And I connected it to your fucking base station router myself, and integrated the whole fucking lot with our LAN myself, and then argued my way through your tech support people until the account was up and running.

Yay me. Frankly, you should consider employing me, Telstra. Except you couldn't afford me, because I charge a vast premium when forced to work for utter arseholes.

Speaking of arseholes... what's with the business of maintaining parallel databases for all your different forms of customer? I can't actually count the number of times Natalie and I have had to tell some heavily-accented flunky to "check the records, yes, Mr Flinthart is not the account-holder but you'll see he has authority to access and make changes". Only, of course, practically every fucking time your people denied all knowledge because first we were private account holders. Then we held a business account (for the ISDN) and that didn't show the records from the private account. Then we were private again, but the authorisation didn't carry over. And then, even though you let me set up an entire fucking 3G BigPond account attached to Natalie's mobile, the first time I tried to fix and debug the account, your people insisted I didn't have the fucking authority.

How the fuck does that work? How can I create and authorise an online account -- but not have access to the simple issues of repair, because apparently I'm not authorised to work with the same mobile phone account that I built the goddam Internet account around? How is it you were willing to let me set up the whole 3G thing, including rolling all Nat's mobile bills in with the landline... but then you told me I didn't even have the authority to inquire about the usage afterwards?

Telstra... I really don't know where to begin with what I'd like to say. I'm writing this largely out of frustration, thinking back over ten seriously fucked up years of dealing with your wildly second-rate service, but the more I think about it, the more I realise just how piss-poor it's been, and how we've just come to accept it as a necessary part of life.

And I'm pretty goddam unhappy.

There's not much I can do about it, Telstra. Except, of course, to tell everybody: anytime you get the choice, anywhere, the answer is "Anyone But Telstra". And that includes hiring kids with plastic cups and long bits of string, to be honest.

I don't suppose we will ever see a competing service out here in the sticks. But if we do... I promise you, Telstra, the things you will have to do if you want to retain my custom will be so demeaning, so utterly obscene, and yet completely fulfilling from my viewpoint that you are probably going to have to hire an entirely new set of call-centre staff afterwards.

Until then: get stuffed.