Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The trick which might get you off flaky DSL onto Telstra cable broadband

I had a similar battle to get cable access some years ago.  I had to write to politicians and threaten to cut the cable to get results.  Saddening to hear that nothing has been learned.  Telstra are animals -- JR

After years of saying no, Telstra finally decided I can access the 100 Mbps HFC cable in my street, and you might be able to do the same.

As regular readers might know, I've been stuck on flaky DSL broadband since I moved house eight years ago, reluctantly leaving behind Optus cable in my old home. The process of moving house turned into a farce that will be all too familiar to Australians who've battled with Telstra and Optus when transferring services.

When I moved into this house I was getting 8 Mbps on the copper line but it's dwindled to 4 Mbps over the years. Before I moved in I asked Telstra about cable broadband access in the new house, knowing there was underground cable in the street, but I was told I had to stick with DSL like the previous owner – a common story in my area where many blocks have been subdivided.

The rule of thumb seems to be one cable connection per block, regardless of the number of dwellings, which is why my next-door neighbour enjoys HFC broadband while I languish on DSL, even though our block was subdivided before the houses were even built.

Several times over the years I've checked back with Telstra regarding cable access, with friends in the know telling me it should be possible, but each time I've been shot down.

I'd resigned myself to the fact that decent broadband would have to wait for the NBN to reach my street, which I thought was coming next year. I'd likely be hooked up to the Telstra cable once it was under NBN control, or I might get shunted to fibre to the node (while friends in the next suburb enjoy fibre to the premises).

My broadband situation became more desperate two weeks ago when my DSL speeds dropped to an unstable 2 Mbps. In the process of getting a line fault repaired I also discovered that the NBN was still two years away from my suburb, not one year, so I started making plans for a high speed wireless broadband connection to supplement my DSL.

A ray of hope

It wasn't the first time I'd written about my broadband woes and lamented the fact that I was denied access to the HFC cable lying only a few feet from my front door, but this time I received a call from Telstra's PR team offering to check again on my behalf. A few days later I was told there'd been a change of heart and I could connect to the cable in the street, Telstra simply needed to update its maps so the system recognised that cable was available to my home.

It was finally hooked up this week – a Christmas miracle – but not before a string of set-backs. The Telstra installers went above and beyond the call of duty but the odds were stacked against them, a situation the NBN admittedly may have encountered regularly had it proceeded to run fibre to every home.

Firstly we couldn't find the pit in the street because the Telstra maps marked it in the wrong place, then we couldn't run the cable to the house because the fools who built my home damaged the conduit when pouring the concrete driveway. We ended up running a new conduit under the driveway, after which the installer struggled to run the cable inside to the wall socket due to the way my house is built.

In a final hurdle, we had trouble activating the cable modem which saw the installer on the phone to get it fixed. When we finally sorted it all out I was rewarded with speedtest.net results of 114 megabits per second – 29 times faster than my shoddy DSL connection.

What's the magic word?

My sense of relief and jubilation was accompanied by bewilderment and frustration – why had Telstra denied me cable access so long? What hope was there for other people in my circumstances with the HFC cable tantalisingly just out of reach?

I put the question to Telstra and was told the key is to ring the call centre and ask them to "submit a request for a service qualification test", if the cable is in your street and you believe you should be able to access it. Even if Telstra runs copper to your home, the cable access maps aren't updated after it's laid in your street so they don't acknowledge the existence of new dwellings. This means if 10 Main Road becomes 10 and 10A, only 10 is recognised as having cable access even if they both face onto the street and each have a copper phone line.

This workaround is no guarantee of success and I can't vouch for how long you'll need to argue with the person on the phone before they'll agree, if at all. From my experience no-one in the Telstra call centre will show any initiative and inform you that such a thing is possible, even when you explain your circumstances. It's up to you to know about it and to ask.

Your mileage may vary

As a test I wandered up my street to another neighbour's house, she's also stuck on crappy DSL and has previously been told by Telstra there's nothing to be done – even though the installer who hooked up my cable also looked at her house and said she should have no trouble accessing the cable.

My friend called Telstra and then put me on the phone, determined to play dumb and see how it went. The Telstra rep initially offered a $10 per month speed boost, which didn't sound right for a DSL connection, but then said he'd check for cable availability before I could suggest it.

After a few minutes on hold he said "sorry, cable is not available". When I pointed out the house next door had cable he insisted there is "no way around it" and when I suggested checking he said it would be "a waste of time".

At this point I played the "service qualification test" card and his tone changed slightly. "Okay, I'll double-check that" and I spent the next 10 minutes on hold before he told me it can't be done. "We can't provide cable if they don't already have cable," he insisted. When I pointed out the cable was already in the street, he actually had the audacity to insist "it must be someone else's cable" – a desperate claim considering he knew full well that Telstra cable runs down the street.

The call centre's solution was to offer to upgrade my neighbour to a new DSL modem, which would do nothing to improve the condition of the copper line, followed by an offer to boost her smartphone mobile data allowance so she can run a hot spot at home.

Talking to Telstra's PR people again, I was told the call centre operator had not followed the correct procedure and if you call you need to insist that they lodge a "service qualification test form" or "dispute form" on your behalf, which takes 24 to 72 hours to process. A 10-minute check while you're on hold doesn't cut it.

My experience in dealing with Telstra over the years is that you can call three times and get three different answers, so your mileage may vary. Across the country there are many thousands of homes in the same situation, stuck on DSL while 100 Mbps Telstra cable runs past the front door. I can't make you any promises, but insisting on a service qualification test could be the key to your own Christmas miracle.


Take note: Australia does secular democracy well

“The world is a fine place,” said Ernest Hemingway, “and worth fighting for.” We would tend to agree, even if the past 12 months too often have seemed more about the fighting and less about the fine. This has been a turbulent year for so many in Australia and around the world, but the nation has just safely and peacefully celebrated Christmas despite the threat of an alleged terror plot in Melbourne.

The fear that church celebrations could be targeted on one of the central days of the Christian calendar was chilling to Australians. The realisation that terror knows no borders is one that must increasingly inform our judgments, just as it colours the politics of societies around the world.

More than ever, it is time to take stock and reflect on the gifts that we as a nation can celebrate together. We speak particularly about the strong values and civil society that not only tie us together under the oft-used rubrics of “mateship” and “a fair go” but also mean that our polity is well equipped to meet the coming year’s challenges head-on. Yes, 2016 is closing with scenes of chaos abroad (Berlin, Ankara, Aleppo) and at home (an ever wobblier budget position, the rise of minor parties, the prospect of a burn-it-down populism bubbling just under the surface, not to mention the increasing threat of terror). But allow us still to make the case for optimism.

To start with our politics: the fact is that we as a nation do — as we have always done — secular, moderate, representative democracy very well. This goes back to well before Federation. Some would say it is in our national DNA. NSW gave all adult males — regardless of property holdings — the right to vote in 1858 when the principle of “one man, one vote” wasn’t fully gained in Britain until 1918; in 1902, Australia was the first nation to give most women the right to vote and to sit in the national parliament.

While the threat of a fine from the Electoral Commission is surely a stick that encourages our high voter turnout rates, the much-celebrated “democracy sausage” of election day is also, so to speak, a carrot. In a society of many and no faiths, the ritual of voting makes for something of a secular feast day. And for all its faults, Australia does social cohesion very well indeed. Since the era of John Howard, who presided over historically high immigration rates while being seen to be firmly in control of the nation’s borders, thus anticipating and neutralising the concerns of Pauline Hanson during her first tilt at politics, we have been a nation on the increase, and with barely a fraction of the sort of friction seen in Europe or the US.

While some were quick to leap on the comments of the UN’s fly-in, fly-out special rapporteur Mutuma Ruteere to the effect that Australia was afflicted by “populism” — a catch-all word increasingly used by those who are uncomfortable with robust debate and democracy — and falling into the snares of “hate speech” and “xenophobia”, the facts would indicate otherwise.

Social cohesion studies undertaken by the Scanlon Foundation show that, overall, ours is a stable and cohesive nation, with positive attitudes towards immigration, multiculturalism and anti-discrimination.

Those such as Ruteere (and many in Australia) who criticise debate about matters such as section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act perversely undermine this sort of trust by forcing difficult questions into the shadows rather than the light where they belong.

None of this is to be Pollyannaish or suggest that we will all be fine with a healthy dose of “she’ll be right”.

Far from it. The bedrock of our society is strong but we can do better, as seen by recent surveys suggesting that Australians, like citizens in so many other countries, are concerned about whether the system works for them. This is particularly the case when it comes to economic participation.

The growth of the urban, hi-tech, knowledge-based economy must not come at the expense of those who live in the regions, work with their hands, and without whose efforts in industries ranging from agriculture to resources society would grind to a halt.

These are not challenges to be shied away from or put in the too-hard basket. We are a fortunate nation — in the genuine rather than ironic “lucky country” sense — but we must ensure that all share in the bounty. Which is why, as Australians go through their rituals today — using up the leftovers from Christmas Day lunch, braving the crowds at the sales or settling in for the Boxing Day Test — we think it is more than appropriate that the optimistic spirit of the season be embraced, despite the challenges. As complex and contentious a year as 2016 was, there is no sign that 2017 will grant any respite. Let us take this holiday period as a time to reflect on our shared values and strengths, which will sustain us as we head into the new year.


Big electricity price rises soon

Thanks to Greenie policies

AUSSIES are about to be whacked with a huge increase in their household bills, with some states forced to pay more than $100 extra a year.

With electricity bills are expected to skyrocket in 2017 due to the closure of Victoria’s Hazelwood Power Station.

The latest Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) 2016 Residential electricity price trends released on Wednesday has warned of price increases across the nation.

South Australians will be hit the hardest, with $150 a year expected to be added onto household bills and Victorians will have to face paying an extra $99 while Queenslanders will pay an extra $28.

Other states could be whacked with a $78 price hike.

NSW residential electricity prices are expected to increase by 3.9 per cent on average for each of the next two years largely due to a 16 per cent increase in wholesale energy costs, AEMC chairman John Pierce said.

Electricity prices are also affected by the price for gas through gas-fired power stations, which is expected to play a larger role in the market in the future.

“Any future increase in the price of gas will result in higher input costs for generators, flowing through to higher costs in the wholesale electricity market,” said Mr Pierce.

The Council of Australian Governments energy council will meet in Melbourne on Wednesday to look at regulations around new interconnectors, and efforts to ensure cheaper gas supplies.

“Across the national electricity market the generation mix is changing — with the large-scale renewable energy target leading to substantial investment in wind generation. This is contributing to the closure of coal-fired plants and increasing wholesale prices,” said Mr Pierce in a statement.


Green deaths: The forgotten dangers of solar panels

In recent years, thousands of solar panels have been placed on Australian roofs, and millions installed around the world. But how safe are they?

According to Safework Australia, each year about 30 Australians die in falls from a height, although the number of people involved in installing or maintaining solar panels is not broken down.

Some falls involving people installing or maintaining solar panels are not reported as part of work-related statistics, and then there are people electrocuted when they come into contact with power lines.

In California, where solar panels have been embraced enthusiastically, there has been a rash of deaths like this one, this one, and another three in quick succession. However, it is a worldwide phenomenon, so much so that statistics show roofing is more dangerous than coal mining.

Because of our propensity to put panels on roofs, solar is in fact, far more dangerous than many forms of power generation,  three times more dangerous than wind power and more than 10 times more dangerous than nuclear power, by comparison to the amount of power produced.

This study puts it in perspective, using figures from the United States:

The fifty actual deaths from roof installation accidents for 1.5 million roof installations is equal to the actual deaths experienced so far from Chernobyl. If all 80 million residential roofs in the USA had solar power installed then one would expect 9 times the annual roofing deaths of 300 people or 2700 people (roofers to die). This would generate about 240 TWh of power each year. (30% of the power generated from nuclear power in the USA). 90 people per year over an optimistic life of 30 years for the panels not including maintenance or any electrical shock incidents.

There is an argument, however, that solar power may ultimately be safer than coal-fired generation because of the reduction in pollution. Ironically enough, however, solar power is far more dangerous than nuclear, even in a year when an accident like the disaster at Fukushima occurs.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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