By ERWIN CHLANDA
Telstra’s service in the southern area of Alice Springs is clearly close to collapse as internet browsing, increasingly, is mostly slow or not available at all.
It appears Telstra is violating its Universal Service Obligation under the Australian Communications Authority which requires it “to ensure that general digital data services or special digital data services are reasonably accessible to all people in Australia on an equitable basis, no matter where they live or conduct business”.
The Alice Springs News Online, which has extensively covered the service shortcomings (google our archive) has now received information from several rural residents who have fought for more than a year for a much higher standard of service for which, they say, they are paying the same as people with a proper service.
The key problem is Telstra’s failure to adequately handle data traffic south of the MacDonnell Range. The company is continuing to sell plans – and charging the full price for them – that include chunks of data. These can be for mobile phones, or for computers using hotspots on mobiles with Telstra plane or Telstra supplied dongles for going online.
Telstra has said new towers planned for the next two years will make a difference.
However, a private expert speaking on the condition of not being named claims the new towers will make no difference unless the bandwidth is increased – something that can be done using the towers already in place, immediately solving the problems.
The expert is saying that even when users have “five bars” – i. e. perfect “full blown” connection – to the network when they are using their mobile for voice calls, data traffic can be impeded because of inadequate bandwidth.
Users, desperate to do online work, now take their laptops to the north of the range, from a 3G to a 4G service environment, where their equipment works flawlessly, or at least much better.
That is a clear sign that it is the Telstra equipment that is at fault for the problems in the farm areas.
The correspondence from rural residents shows Telstra is asking a flood of questions wile not doing anything useful. Clients find the statements infuriating and plainly hypocritical, such as: “Telstra is committed to providing you with the highest levels of customer service.”
Telstra’s questions indicate it has no idea what’s going on in Alice Springs on occasions such as the Finke Desert Race when the mobile as well as the data services collapsed: “Is there a specific time pattern when the issue occurs? May we have dates & time of the incidents when you were not able to access the internet even with good signal,” Telstra asks.
People are having to do their internet work in the middle of the night.
One user has correlated his and his neighbours’ problems in getting online, with the movements of school children. For example they use their mobiles on the bus, or when they get home, but not while they are at school (or if they are they are north of the range).
One rural resident was unable to get access at home to web-based courses to enhance her job prospects, and had to go to north of the Gap to do it.
It took a news cameraman 36 hours instead of three to feed out a sport TV report from his office in the rural area. He missed his deadline and Alice Springs missed out on free promotion overseas.
One user described the Telstra service as “horrendous”.
All this occurred, says one user, while bush communities were getting optical fibre connections without even knowing it’s there, let alone how to use it.
He says: “I finally got onto the contractor who told me, ‘our job was to get it to the Hermannsburg connection point, not to notify them it was there’.”
There is still uncertainty about access to the NBN south of the Gap: Rural residents are getting this message when they check online (at the infrequent moments they have access): “Sorry we are unable to check your address at the moment.”
People are then encouraged to phone 1800 993728. I did, and after a three minute wait the operator answering was friendly but, alas, unhelpful:
• NBN is still not available at my Petrick Road address.
• There is no “ready for service date”.
• When that date arrives NBN will be able to tell me when the service will become available.
• And that could be years later.
PHOTO below: Is NBN the answer? Don’t hold your breath.