Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Dinosaur Telstra puts the squeeze on again

Dinosaur Telstra puts the squeeze on again

OPINION Telstra reminds me of all those companies which are on the wrong side of the copyright debate.

I'm referring to the firms that continue to hang on to 1950s thinking, and come up with ideas like DVD zoning to squeeze the customer as much as possible. These are the firms that cling to the belief that the customer can be held hostage. Reality has yet to dawn.

Yesterday, Telstra raised its mobile and fixed line rates. This is an anachronism in a world where communication rates are coming down and enterprising operators are offering every possible incentive to try and snag customers. For example, just yesterday, I got a free SIM from a mobile provider whose rates are rock-bottom. And this wasn't given to me because I am a journo; no, every Tom, Dick and Harry can avail of the offer. Not to mention Sue, Maggie and Eugenia.

But Telstra? It goes in exactly the opposite direction. The company is aware that there are older people who still want the comfort of having a landline. So it just increases the rates and tells them to suck it.

The vestiges of its monopoly power are still around in the services it can offer. But there are plenty of alternatives these days, to the point where Telstra has to send Indian students to your door, often promising the world to try and get people to come back.

At times, the world isn't within Telstra's scope. But, what the hell, a few outlandish promises are par for the course, what?

I have a standard line which I use with Telstra folk who call me at least once a year, or visit my home, to try and get me back as a customer: I will sign with Telstra over my dead body, I would rather not use the internet than use it through Telstra. They generally go away.

My reaction is probably extreme. It is based on one experience which I never thought I would have in any country, from any company.

In 1999, I took a fixed IP from Telstra to experiment with Linux and run my own web server. I was charged by the MB for downloads but that didn't bother me as I was hardly downloading anything. My children were too small to use the internet for any length of time. All I needed at that time was mail.

Then I moved house. My details had to be set up at a new communications centre - for those who live in Melbourne, my connection had to be reconfigured in Lonsdale Street in the city, whereas earlier it had been in Cranbourne in the south-east.

I asked for the changes to be done. Two months before I moved, I received a notice from Telstra - in duplicate - saying that everything had been done, the settings had been configured and I had to merely come to my new house, connect up and continue from where I would leave off at the old one.

This seemed too good to be true. It was.

The morning after I settled in at the new house, I set up things early after just a couple of hours of sleep. But there was no joy. No internet.

I called Telstra around 8am. I was on the line with various people right up to 4.30pm, in various parts of the country. It ultimately hinged on one guy named Jim who worked in Perth. He was the only person, I was told, who had the UNIX skills to reconfigure things.

But what about the papers I had received - in duplicate - telling me in writing that everything was hunky-dory? Oh, those service people at Telstra said that it meant nothing. They had a good laugh at my naivety.

I had to sweet-talk any number of people and listen to a lot of promos on the line, while waiting. By 4.30, bleary-eyed and furious, I had internet connectivity. I had paid for this service but I was made to feel like Telstra had just done me a big favour.

Telstra has a cultural problem that won't go away until a lot of its staff leave and new people join. People who are willing to acknowledge that the world has moved on and that the customer has to be given his/her due.

Anyone who has been bitten by the rates rise should look for a new provider. There are plenty of providers around who can give you what you need. Leave the dinosaur behind. Extinction is just around the corner but Telstra doesn't know that. The dinosaurs didn't either.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.