Some of you have been wondering where we (waggadventure) have been for the last couple of months, so we’d like to take this opportunity to apologise. We’re sorry to be so quiet, but in June of last year we moved house. We thought we were moving to a new suburb in Wagga; apparently, we relocated to the outback of Australia… that dry, red desert of no internet connections! Yes, you read that right. We have been without reliable internet access for more than 6 months. Now, the important thing to remember here is that we live in a town of 65,000+ plus. We are not in the outback. In fact, service in the outback is probably pretty good — better than pockets of Sydney, Melbourne and Wagga, certainly. So, let us tell you about this longstanding adventure of the past few months.
Once the initial shock wore off, Lisa went into overdrive problem-solving mode. Our house is brand-spanking new, completed and put on the market by the builder in November 2011 and we moved in mid-June 2012. It’s all very modern and energy efficient, so we have solar panels on the roof, modern air conditioning and a contemporary open-concept kitchen/living design. This is a new development, but the suburb got its start about 10 years ago. We have neighbours; new houses are still being built. We are not in the middle of an empty paddock of sheep, but it sure feels that way.
In our last (rented) house, we had unlimited high-speed ADSL. We could download movies, Skype with friends, email at all hours of the day…you know, normal behaviour for many people. And essential behaviour for people like us, who work in internet-intensive industries. Lisa quite often major grant reviews using an online reviewing system and with a very tight deadline; not having the internet isn’t only restricting access to cute cat videos, it’s putting a major crimp into our working lives. Here’s why we’re in this mess…
Our house is on a system called “pair gains” (sadly, we’ve learned more insider language from the telcos than we ever wanted to know!). Basically, the developer didn’t run enough lines into the neighbourhood, so our house shares one line with the house next door, split in half to provide “service” (can they really call it that??) to both homes. These half-lines can only handle one service – i.e., a home phone. Now, we could really care less about having a home phone. We both have mobile (smart) phones and Dan doesn’t even know the number for our home phone. We have one, so that we can benefit from cheaper long distance to call back to Canada, but that’s not an essential service. So, when we first called Telstra to transfer our home phone/internet package, we were informed that we were SOL (shit-outta-luck) and could only have a phone. Here’s how the conversation went:
Lisa (L): Wait…we don’t need a phone at all! We want to use our half of the line for internet.
Telstra (T): Nope.
L: Well, can you run another line… since, you know, it’s the 21st century and since, you know, there are a ton of new houses being built and we’re all going to need internet?
T: Nope. That’s too expensive. And since the government is bringing in the National Broadband Network (NBN) to hook up all households to the grid, we have no interest in paying for new lines.
L: Can we pay to have a line trenched into our house? Not sure what that might cost… but we’ll consider paying for that. We’ve been advised by the NBN that it’s a multi-year process and may take anywhere from 2 months to 7 years (!) to get to us.
L: So, what can we do.
T: Move (laughs… Lisa’s blood pressure rises and Dan thinks he can see smoke coming out of her ears while her eyes turn a deep, blood red). No, seriously, we have mobile broadband, so you can flip over to that.
L: Well, no… that doesn’t work. Because not only am I living in the internet outback but my mobile service is really crappy too. Mobile broadband works off towers and there aren’t enough of those. After 7am (you know, when everyone’s awake) the system cuts out and may not come back until after midnight. So mobile broadband doesn’t work for us.
T: Well, according to our online service map there is great coverage in your neighbourhood. So you have to flip to our mobile system and continue with your contract; if you choose to break the contract you’ll have to pay $800 in fees. And that’s only if we allow you to break your contract. [Dan notices that Lisa’s starting to pace, voice rising, red eyes getting more intense…]
Another 30 minutes of arguing; supervisor gets involved; Lisa walks away having been released from the contract with no fee, but vowing never to sign on for Telstra internet if/when she gets on the grid; agrees to keep basic home phone to allow for long distance calls to family.
We start to wonder – who’s to blame in this situation? Telstra, for being so unhelpful and cheap? The developer, for being so cheap? Wagga Council for not treating internet services the same as other core utilities and demanding appropriate infrastructure? So many people have said to us… ‘But, you have water, right? You have electricity? How can you not have internet??’ Think about your own home… if you’re reading this, you have internet (duh!). You might be on your smart phone or on your home computer. We’re not. This is being written in a hotel lobby using their free — unlimited! — internet.
Once the blame game ends, Lisa gets back to business. Okay – Telstra’s not the only game in town, right? There’s Optus, iinet, TransACT… there are a ton of companies out there. Yeah, well, guess what? The telco monopoly is alive and well because they all rely on Telstra’s infrastructure, piggy-backing on lines that are already there. Some of them talk about other possible systems… but none of them are available in our neighbourhood. We even investigated ‘naked internet’ (not what you think… this doesn’t mean that Dan stands on the roof naked with his smartphone, hoping for a signal); this would allow you to use the existing line for internet instead of phone (i.e., a ‘naked’ line, stripped of its home phone). Yeah, well… Telstra stopped offering that a couple of years ago. Probably wasn’t profitable or something…other companies say they offer it, but not on this kind of line.
After contacting every company that services NSW and the ACT, Lisa hangs her head in defeat… and waggadventure goes silent. All internet access is devoted to work, just to be able to keep up with things. Funny cat videos go unwatched; the family back in Canada will miss seeing us on Skype on Christmas Day. Finally, Lisa loses it… 20 December, just when Australia is winding down for the holiday break, she sends an email complaint to the NBN and to our local political representative. She mentions moving to Wagga from Canada, where even the polar bears have internet. She mentions her internet-intensive work and how this all makes Wagga/Australia look like a 19th century backwater (but using nicer language).
The very next day (who’s even working on the 21 December?) she receives a message from the NBN. They’ve investigated their files on our neighbourhood and determined that we won’t see internet here until at least 2015. However, based on the info provided (including her attempts to resolve with various telcos) they believe that we qualify for Interim Satellite Service (ISS) and we can call if we want more details. Lisa does this, immediately, and works through their eligibility interview. And yes, indeed… just like people living in the real outback, we qualify for ISS. What this means is that the government will pay for the installation of a satellite dish on our roof and the electronics to go with it, and we will just have to pay for regular internet fees, like every other person on the planet! This is an ‘interim’ service, so will be in effect until we can flip over to a regular NBN service.
Installation is planned for this week… so, with luck, we’ll be back on the grid and surfing the web very soon. Lolcats, here we come!
Dan’s addendum: I’m posting this over our new internet connection! Dish was installed this afternoon…dish isn’t quite as big as the one used to track the moon landing, but it dwarfs the television dish that is also on the roof.