Going round the twist with Telstra and NBN Co

By PATRICIA EDGAR | 6

NBN Co claims their focus remains strongly on improving customer experience on the network including a smooth connection to the network. In fact the experience is a fiasco.  

Bill shorten says the dysfunctional NBN needs to lift its game, and under a Labor Government the company will have to pay compensation to businesses and families who have been seriously inconvenienced by their incompetence. Appropriate standards and financial penalties would be determined in consultation with the ACCC, NBN, and other stakeholders.

We are told NBN installers missed more than 80,000 appointments in 2017 and a report by the ombudsman in April this year found that complaints about the NBN increased 200 percent in the second half of 2017 to 22,827, most of which concerned service quality and delayed connections.

The installation partnership between NBN with Telstra as service provider requires the talents of Shaun Micallef and Charlie Pickering to make sense. It is impossible to work out who is responsible for the mess.

The frustrations caused – when appointments are cancelled, missed and the ongoing harassment from Telstra callers who can’t understand Australian English, who cannot deviate from the script in front of them, and it seems, can’t keep accurate records from one call to the next – are enough to send someone round the twist. And of course you can never speak to the same person twice, if you can reach anyone at all.

My nightmare began November 2017.

We own a holiday house at Anglesea where we require the internet to do our work. We have had an ADSL connection with Telstra which has cost $29 monthly over some years. Two years ago we began to receive letters insisting we must sign up to the NBN. I investigated the costs of connection and found the best deal I could get was $80 a month. When I queried this price, the Telstra salesman said, “Life was tough”. So I waited. Late last year I was sent two threatening letters. The wiring would be removed from the street to the house if I didn’t sign up. So I did.

The ‘case manager’, who spoke from a place unknown, said three appointments were required and dates were not negotiable. Two modems arrived separately in the mail. I made myself available on the set date for the first appointment, which went smoothly. The technician, a local from Anglesea, took the second modem and told me he had seen up to five sent to a house. Further appointments were set and dates were cancelled with no reasons given. The second appointment didn’t require entry to the house but the third took some time. Eventually we got a date confirmed which was meant to conclude the task. But no, that technician, who installed a small device, advised we would need a fourth appointment as Telstra had not done the work required for the phone connection.

More than six months later and through innumerable calls, when a script was read, and I had to repeat myself interminably – giving my name, DOB, being notified the call would be recorded for training purposes, then the history of the case reviewed – a date would be announced when I couldn’t be in Anglesea. Such a deviation from the script – as saying there would be no one in the house on the stated date – would stymie the caller and they would have to play music while they went offline, into the Telstra morass, to find someone who could deal with this intractable client.

After several such calls, I suggested the local technician from the first job could be given access to the house to complete the work. That was not acceptable. That technician, who works for Telstra, tried to get the job, but he had no success either. Technicians are sent far and wide, rarely doing jobs in their home territory, as those allocating the jobs live in Woop Woop and don’t know their geography.

Then I received another threat: the service would be cancelled if I did not present on the day specified. I demanded my recorded discussions, where I railed about Telstra’s extraordinary inefficiency, be forwarded to management. I then got a call from a manager who could speak English. He would sort out a convenient date. But two days after that call, when I thought all was resolved, I got another call. The previous manager was “no longer with Telstra” so I was required to go through the story again. I lost my cool, so another manager got involved and a ‘mutually agreeable’ date was set for the fourth appointment. I waited at Anglesea that day and the technician didn’t show up.

Meanwhile, we have been billed for the last four months for a phone connection we do not have. After an hour on the phone, we thought Telstra understood the problem, but the next bill was the same. A further call to Telstra uncovered the fact that our case had been lodged as a complaint. A manager needed to review the complaint, a process that takes weeks apparently.

This saga is to be continued…

A consumer has no chance of apportioning blame between the wholesaler and the retail internet provider. Both Telstra and the NBN companies seem to be unmanageable and both need a monumental shake up.

Now, it seems Telstra could clean up its act by purging 8000 staff. Mr Penn says it will lead the way with the 5G mobile rollout, offer unlimited data free and split its infrastructure and retail operations. Who then would want the NBN? The government will undoubtedly write off its $74 billion taxpayer-funded lossmaking misfortune and Telstra will possibly pick it up at a bargain price. Those of us who have been coerced in acquiring the Turnbull hybrid will need, when the projected roll-out is complete in 2020-22, to have all the old copper wiring replaced to ensure reliable broadband access.

Welcome to Turnbull’s innovation nation. What is it I am missing?

[Editor’s note: 5G mobile will not make the NBN redundant, as is explained here. However, it will show up the inferiority of the copper-based FTTN network, which NBN Co will need to replace within 5 to 10 years.]

(Patricia Edgar is a media sociologist and the producer of the television series Round the Twist. This article first appeared in John Menadue’s “Pearls and Irritations“.)