Analogging Off

As the Australian broadcast industry reaches the end of 2013, it also reaches the end of another era – that of analogue broadcasting. After almost 13 years of dual analogue/digital free-to-air broadcasting, the country has finally unplugged from the past to embrace the all-digital future.

Through the remarkable, cooperative efforts of broadcaster, receiver manufacturer, Government and community stakeholders, Australia has made the adaptation to a new eco-system that will deliver wider innovation going forward – including the use of Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV).
With the final metro markets making the switchover, the next step is to manage the restack of spectrum, allowing capacity previously used by analogue services to be made available for other wireless-based services, including broadband Internet.

Let us hope the restack process is a digital dividend for all, not just for the telco companies, and it does pave the way for new broadband services because, without a coherent, forward looking broadband policy (as opposed to “NOT what those guys had in mind’ ) , access and the development of new online business models will be choked, not to mention the ability of business in general to become more flexible in its operational practices – i.e., embrace gains in productivity.
Now, that is not to say that there was no scope for budget cuts in the former Government’s policy and the roll-out of the National Broadband Network. Items such as the millions earmarked for “Digital Hub” NBN free advice centres could have been reviewed to say the least.
The real issue is not just what current savings can be made, but also how to best future-proof the network to minimise unnecessary expense down the line. Can components of the network be swapped out at a later date without having to reinvent the wheel?

Labor’s drive to implement the NBN rollout can be seen, in part, as a response to the failure of the telco market, unlike the free-to-air broadcast industry, to come together and deliver a standardised, future-proofed and equally accessible eco-system.
The one company with enough scale and clout to take a leadership position on developing such an eco-system, Telstra, labours under its own weight to effectively deliver copper-based services, let alone anything to do with fibre.

Some six years ago, I wrote of C+T’s inner-city Sydney experience of moving a phone and ADSL service to an adjacent office space, a process which took six weeks after the first sub-contractor failed to turn up and saw us gaffer-taping an extension cable from our original office into the window of the new digs. In 2013, it seems, nothing much has changed.
Getting an ADSL2 bundle activated at my home office on the NSW central coast (some 87.1 km by road from our old Paddington office) was even more arduous. The two-month process can be summarised thus:

  1. Order taken by phone for bundled ADSL2 Internet, Telephony and IPTV service;
  2. Modem, T-Box, T-Hub and SIM card arrive;
  3. Order fails to go through due to no ADSL2 capacity at local exchange despite assurances at initial order. This information only forthcoming after ringing Telstra;
  4. Order put through again with ADSL1 included in bundle;
  5. Second modem and T-box arrives;
  6. Order fails to go through due to exchange trying to put through ADSL2 again;
  7. Phone connected, works fine. No internet, order put through again;
  8. Third modem arrives. Still no Internet, order put through again. I joke with business partner I wouldn’t be surprised if number of orders meant I was no longer on the bundle plan;
  9. Fourth modem arrives. Courier pats wallet, laughs and says, “You’d be surprised how often this happens.”
  10. Internet is connected but interferes with phone service and vice versa;
  11. Four technician visits finally resolve issue – all working fine;
  12. Bill arrives – yep, not on bundle, charged separately for all services. Phone bill alone more than monthly fee for bundle.
  13. [Updated after original post] Phone call made to clarify bundle/non-bundle status. Consultant makes assurances that service is bundled and I won’t be charged separately for bundle components – over $700 as opposed to $155/month.
  14. Reminder bill arrives threatening disconnection.
  15. C+T co-founder Lucy Salmon phones Telstra on my behalf to clear up bundle issue (1.5 hours on phone). Arrives at agreement with consultant to pay $190 for use of “bundle” to date. Given assurance I am on bundle. 
  16. One week later, services cut off for not paying remainder of $730 bill for the “unbundled” services. I ring and speak to consultant who says it’s a mistake, assures me I am on the bundle and restores services.
  17. Christmas/New Year Truce.
  18. January 10, arrive home to find services disconnected. 1.5 hour phone call with “Ron” establishes disconnection due to the “outstanding” remainder of the original unbundled bill. Ron admits mistake has been made, but before anything can be done, I am suddenly transferred to robot survey lady. A score of zero is duly entered. 
  19. As it is 8.30pm on a Friday night, I withdraw to wine cupboard.
  20. Another 1.5 hour call the following day with “Anne” who informs me the December disconnection was merely a “barring” of services and this “actual disconnection” means they will have to create a new account, reorder the bundle and give me a new phone number – and $60 connection fee! Also informed that bundle no longer available despite fact I am looking at it on the Telstra website. I say fine, just don’t send me any new equipment.
  21. January 15, new SIM card arrives for mobile part of bundle. Now I have two SIM cards, two T-boxes and four modems. They tell me order should be “complete” by Friday.
  22. Off to stock wine cupboard.
  23. Friday arrives, phone working. Receive bill via email for over $800, again, for previously “unbundled” services. Relatively quick phone call establishes this is incorrect. Further email confirms new account and bundle arrangement.
  24. Sunday, January 19 (nearly three months after initial order), Internet reactivated, all services restored.
  25. Hopefully, end of the matter.

Foxtel has announced that, in 2014, it is to take the next logical step of offering bundled telephony, broadband Internet and IPTV services in a wholesale deal with its part-owner Telstra. Over the years, Foxtel has developed very effective CRM processes because it knows it can’t take its customers for granted. Telstra’s customer-facing operation, on the other hand, is a dysfunctional hydra of outsourced script-readers who defeat expectations, take little ownership of a situation and do damage to the brand. In moving to this next level of services, Foxtel should take note.

And, as to the underlying infrastructure, copper, like PAL television, is a throwback to the analogue era. Let’s leave it behind.

Thanks for Reading

Phil Sandberg
T: +61-(0)2-9332 2221