The Telstra saga (September 23rd 2008)

Remember how I said a while ago that the broadband situation in our area is dismal? Well, the biggest hurdle was not the availablilty of broadband, but the price. With Telstra's NextG wireless the only real choice of technology with a brand new tower a few kilometers down the road, we've been watching the prices with interest.

The first time we checked they had 3G of uploads/downloads for around $180. Then it dropped to about $110. Still far too expensive, given we use considerably more than 3G and Telstra charge $150 per gig excess. Then one magic day it dropped to $129 for 10G, with a deal that gave you the first year for half price on a three year contract. Broadband for $65 a month! So we signed up. And the saga began.

Signing up was the easy part. Just had to ring Telstra and ask for that wireless plan. Only one small glitch, my old Telstra account was a dialup one, and they wouldn't let us upgrade it from dialup to wireless, only dialup to ADSL. So we had to think of a new username (complete with trailing numbers) and they gave me three year's free parking for my old email address. This was back on September 1st.

Later that day I rang the ISDN exit number and asked for my line to be downgraded from ISDN to PSTN, but since we used our secondary ISDN number as a fax line we set it up to use Homeline Complete with Faxstream Duet for an extra $6 per month so we could keep the old fax number but not need a whole separate line. It took 3/4 of an hour on hold the first time I rang until I got cut off, but I got someone helpful within a few minutes the second time. The sales pitch sounded great, our monthly telco bill was set to dive, and they told me a tech would come out to my house to remove the ISDN line. But there was the kicker - they couldn't tell me when, and said it might not be before the end of the year. Say WHAT?!?!

So I rang Telstra Countrywide, who told me I didn't live that far in the middle of nowhere, and that they should get it done within a few weeks and they shouldn't charge us for ISDN after 10 working days. This sounded great. A few days later they rang back and told me a tech was booked for the 15th.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the wireless modem arrived, a pretty little glinting blue-but-trying-to-be-purple device. We set it up on a Windows box just to see if it would work before trying it on our Linux box, after much googling and kernel upgrading to be sure that this thing would go smoothly, as assured on many forums by many wise Internet users.

It didn't work.

The reason it didn't work is that Telstra wireless modems are very, very network locked. Their little magic number needs to be put into Telstra's system so that they are recognised by Telstra's magic network. And whoever sent us the modem had forgotten this step, or miskeyed the number. So many hours of hold to the Bigpond tech support line later, we were assured that they could fix it and if they couldn't, they'd ring back. This was Thurday afternoon, and we'd already had a few days without Internet as our old account had expired and we didn't renew. On Friday morning we rang back again, hit a tech that knew what they were doing after a surprisingly short time on hold, read the magic number to them over the phone and lo, it worked! And it even worked on Linux. The reception in the house was a little flakey (as you'd expect, given we live in a stone house with very thick walls) so we ordered an external antenna, which arrived a few days later and brought us up to a screamlingly fast 2-3 megabit, far more than the 64k we were used to.

Then the 15th came along and the tech arrived with a toolbox and absolutely no instructions on what he was supposed to do besides some vague talk of installing a new line. We told him we wanted our ISDN gone, and we were moving to Homeline Complete with Faxstream Duet. So he set to it, and within a few hours we were left with a shiny new 2-point plug on our skirting boards with the phone plugged into one and the fax plugged into the other, all with their correct phone numbers and all working nicely.

On the 19th we decided we'd ring Telstra just to check it had all been set up right. An hour or so of hold later, it turned out we were still flagged as ISDN customers pending a tech on the 15th (the tone of surprise was funny when the Telstra guy realised this date had already passed), the fax had been installed on a separate line with a line installation fee and monthly line rental charges and generally, we didn't have what we'd requested. A bit more time on hold later and he assured us that he'd disconnect the second line, remove all the charges, and we'd have faxstream set up on the first line within an hour.

It didn't happen.

On the 22nd we rang Telstra again to see why our fax line was now disconnected but not working on the primary line. After some time on hold, the first person told me we were still pending a line installation so we'd have to wait for that before we got faxstream, which should only take an hour to set up. I explained the situation, she transferred me to the 'right department' - ie, the Telstra main menu. More hold, another person, the same story but they said we'd need to book a tech for faxstream and it would take a few days. More explanations, I got transferred again. More hold, and I got yet another Telstra person. More explanations. This time I had hit someone who knew what they were doing. Turns out faxstream really does only take an hour or so to set up, but our account was 'stuck' pending the ISDN removal that had been completed, so nothing new could be done to our account. Apparently this was some bizarre and unexpected computer glitch. So back on hold for another half an hour, and when I came off he'd sorted it all out, put what sounded like a 200 word note on our file, changed our monthly plan to a better value one, credited us with a month and a bit of ISDN line rental to compensate for the hours and hours of hold, and got the faxstream booked to go through later that day - which it did.

So fellow ISDN users, beware. Switching from ISDN to Bigpond Wireless is not the fast and pleasant experience they lead you to believe.