[LINK] Canberrans confront Telstra over broadband hell

Bernard Robertson-Dunn brd at iimetro.com.au
Tue Jul 20 09:49:28 AEST 2010

Canberrans confront Telstra over broadband hell
By Brett Winterford
Jul 20, 2010 6:56 AM

Telstra faces the prospect of compensation claims from hundreds of angry 
Canberra residents after admitting that it shaped ADSL services to under 
50 percent of advertised speeds to deal with congestion issues - without 
informing customers.

Chris Taylor, general manager for Telstra Countrywide in the Australian 
Capital Territory and South Eastern New South Wales, delivered the news 
whilst confronted by frustrated customers at a community meeting in 
Gungahlin, a suburb synonymous with broadband troubles.

Taylor told customers affected by the shaping of ADSL traffic - a policy 
Telstra instituted in an attempt to cope with lack of backhaul 
investment in the area - that they could apply to the telco on a "case 
by case basis" to be granted service credits.

The Gungahlin Community Council meeting - postponed in June 2010 - saw 
Taylor bombarded with horror stories from residents crying out for 
better broadband services for the better part of 15 years.

A history of problems

One by one, residents from the suburb told their horror stories - 
beginning with ACT Broadband activist Russell Gillon, who described how 
a lack of adequate broadband services in the area had crippled its economy.

Gillon claimed - and Telstra denies - that the company had promised to 
spend $20 to $30 million on laying fibre optic cable in Gungahlin 
(specifically for schools) in 1995.

"Many people moved into this community hoping they'll get access to that 
[network]," he said.

Gillon complained that the area never attracted office workers as a 
result - "local businesses didn't flourish," he said, leading to a 
"flagging economy in Gungahlin."

The dreaded RIM

For most of the last 15 years, Gungahlin residents were served by RIMs - 
remote integrated multiplexers - that Taylor said were a "good 
cost-effective way [for Telstra] to meet its Universal Service 
Obligation (USO) and deliver fixed telephone services" during the 1990s.

The USO, he explained, didn't require Telstra to offer anything beyond 
dial-up speeds. The rest was at the company's commercial discretion.

The limitations of the technology - which is connected to exchanges via 
fibre but to homes via copper - became apparent at the turn of the 
millennia, as Australians began to enjoy the higher speeds of ADSL 
services - beginning at 256k and quickly rising to theoretical peaks of 
1.5Mbps and later 8 Mbps.

But residents in Gungahlin, like other areas serviced by RIMs, were 
unable to upgrade.

"RIM technology couldn't provide ADSL," Taylor explained. "Unless you 
were on copper directly from the exchange, you couldn't get ADSL."

It "took two or three years" for Telstra to develop a hardware fix 
(adaptor card) to allow ADSL to be delivered from RIMs.

Gillon, speaking for the residents, complained that it took eight years 
for Telstra to roll out that fix, leaving Gungahlin residents stranded 
on RIMs while other Australians enjoyed ADSL and later ADSL2+.

But Taylor said that Telstra was still spending millions on upgrades - 
experimenting with rolling out CMUX (customer multiplex) technology - 
which would again allow Telstra to meet its USO, but could also offer 
around half the residents a version of ADSL.

Congestion and shaping

Once Gungahlin residents were finally granted access to ADSL, the 
service became congested due to a lack of backhaul.

"Working from home exploded this decade," Taylor said. "With only 8 
megabytes of backhaul available, and everyone using it together, people 
would have seen the speed deteriorate."

Taylor insisted that this was "not a fault in [Telstra's] exchange" as 
commonly reported at the time. "It's purely an issue of take-up versus 
backhaul on that RIM or CMUX."

By February 2009, Gillon said, residents that had paid for ADSL 
technology started noting the congestion issues.

Taylor conceded - whilst he wasn't working in the area at the time, that 
Telstra "had a series of RIMs and CMUXs go into congestion.

"We have had to develop that fix over the last 18 months," he said.

Telstra again developed an adaptor card. But they also took a decision 
to "alleviate" the congestion issue to provide "some semblance of 
tolerance" for customers connected to these RIM and CMUX devices.

"Anyone on an 8 Mbps plan - services were shaped," Taylor admitted. "The 
decision was taken to shape them to 3 Mbps."

"The thing I am disappointed about from a Telstra perspective is that 
our ISPs were notified of this, but we didn't notify our BigPond 
customers on 8 Mbps plans. We didn't notify them that their plans were 
being shaped, and we should have done that a lot better."

Taylor attempted to justify the shaping.

"You understand that when you buy a plan, you aren't guaranteed that 
speed," he said. "It's 'up to' 8 Mbps."

That statement didn't go down too well - with one customer complaining 
that today he achieves only 715 kbps on an ADSL2+ service that 
supposedly offered peak speeds of 20 Mbps.

"I am paying top dollar for this," he told the Telstra representative. 
"And you're telling me I am entitled to less than 1 percent of 
advertised speed?""

Taylor said that 17 of the 43 RIMs in the area were found to have 
suffered from congestion, and all but four to five have been fixed.

Where to now?

Telstra said that the Federal Government's plan to build a national 
broadband network has made any plans to upgrade services in the 
Gungahlin area uneconomical.

Gungahlin was named as a second release site in the mainland national 
broadband rollout last week, after representations were made by local 
ACT Senator Kate Lundy.

"The only way to guarantee direct speeds is with fibre, and that's why 
the NBN is the way to go," Taylor told the residents. "Long term, it is 
the right solution. It will stop those issues of congestion because 
you'll have a direct connection from the exchange to your house."

"From here, Telstra has been fully supportive of the NBN process," he 
said, admitting that the former "American bosses didn't give us the 
greatest relationship with the government at the time - [but] they built 
some magnificent networks."

Taylor said Telstra "won't be investing in fibre direct to the premises" 
as it is in Greenfield housing developments. "It's not mandatory that we 
do [connect homes with fibre], it is done purely on a commercial basis," 
he said.

Nor will Telstra upgrade RIMs.

"We're not going to replace them at this point in time," he said. "At 
this moment in time, moving to fibre to the home, Telstra is going to 
make decisions that are commercially sensible. At $150,000 a unit, [an 
upgrade] is not an investment we are going to make."

Telstra will offer service credits to BigPond customers affected by its 
shaping policy, but will only provide these on a "case by case" basis.

This angered many of the residents at the meeting, who argued that 
Telstra needs to be transparent by compensating all customers affected.

"That's pretty ordinary," said one customer.

"You shaped [the customers] across the board, not on a case by case 
basis," said another.

But Taylor argued that each customer would have been affected 
differently - some used connections for business purposes, for example.

Residents replied that Telstra had successfully ignored their individual 
pleas for over a decade - and would likely continue to ignore them. One 
resident described Telstra's customer service - which had allegedly 
described broadband services as "more a luxury than a necessity" - as 

"I don't agree our customer service 100 percent of the time is 
disgusting," Taylor said. "But I do accept that we have provided poor 
service in the past."

Read on for support from an unlikely Telstra ally...

CCC: Don't blame Telstra

Taylor was backed from an unlikely corner. David Foreman, chief of the 
competitive carriers coalition, told the angry residents that Telstra's 
underinvestment was "completely understandable" for an incumbent telco, 
whose business model revolved around outlaying "the cheapest possible 
capital cost to deliver the minimum requirement of the day."

RIMs, Foreman said, were the "technology of the day" when introduced.

"It was perfectly adequate to provide the service required by law," he 
said. "That and nothing more."

He also understands why Telstra won't invest more in the area.

"You can only retrofit this stuff so far. Gungahlin - you can do that, 
but it is not cost effective to pull out RIMs and build exchange 
buildings," he said.

Foreman said it was the result of a broken competitive environment.

"A competitor chooses to invest in tomorrow's technology to win 
business," he said. "An incumbent will follow the demand and get a 
payback in the shortest possible time. It is a legitimate commercial 

Foreman asked the residents to aim their fire at successive Governments 
- for creating a Telstra with retail and wholesale arms in 1991, right 
up to those that seek to block the passage of the Telstra split bill today.

"Get on the phone to any Senator and tell them you want them to support 
the legislation stuck in the Senate to require the separation of 
Telstra's retail and wholesale businesses," he said. "You will benefit 
and everyone in the country will benefit."



Bernard Robertson-Dunn
Canberra Australia
email:	 brd at iimetro.com.au
website: www.drbrd.com

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