Greg
Greg's experience with Telstra's BigPond NextG Wireless Broadband service
second attempt
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This page is also available via the URLs http://tinyurl.com/BigPond-Mobile and http://tinyurl.com/bigpond-mobile. Note that it refers to Telstra's BigPond service, not Telstra business.

I have now tried twice to use Telstra's BigPond mobile broadband service to access the Internet. In both cases I had to give up in complete disgust. It is beyond my comprehension that anybody, let alone a leading telecommunications company, can provide such impossibly bad service.

This page describes the second attempt, in October/November 2010. I have a separate page describing the previous attempt, starting in September 2007.

The problem with the first attempt was that Telstra insisted on supplying a modem with terminally broken software that did not understand networking, and which on an Apple Macintosh caused a kernel panic every couple of hours. They were neither willing nor able to fix the problem. Since then Telstra has introduced new standalone modems and routers, and the alternative of satellite had proved impossibly bad, so on 5 October 2010 I decided to try again and bought a second hand wireless router on eBay.

It took me 15 days from the arrival of the modem until I got a connection. I was only connected for 9 days, and then, for procedural reasons, Telstra disconnected me. I was not able to get any connection, and promised technical support didn't materialize, so on 12 November 2010 Telstra agreed to cancel the “service” and refund everything I had paid.

Summary

Pros

Cons

My specific problems

There's a lot of material in the log below. Here's a summary of what happened:

Thursday, 7 October 2010

I went to the Telstra shop in Ballarat to buy a USIM card. They didn't have them: I had to order them by telephone. I called them up and was told they don't sell USIM cards: I had to take a device as well, but it would be free. The consultant's claims sounded contradictory and implausible, and I had to get him to confirm that he would send me a router, and not a USB stick.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Telstra package arrived. As I suspected, it was a USB stick. Despite my insistence, the consultant had send the wrong device. I called up and arranged to get the correct device sent.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Finally the correct device arrived. To avoid any issues in installation, I followed the installation instructions to the letter, on an Apple. The software installed but fails to find the device. I repeated the problem on Microsoft XP. The installation software crashed multiple times, but I finally get it to work. It failed to find the device.

I then connected to the modem using FreeBSD and a web browser. There's no software to install, just a configuration screen to fill out. Configuration was almost instantaneous. The system worked, but the signal dropped out. I tried the USIM in my own modem, and it worked. I was connected.

Monday, 25 October 2010

I finally drummed up enough courage to call Telstra and report the defective modem. After 50 minutes they agreed to replace it, apparently because their software didn't recognize the modem.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

I discovered that Telstra was blocking port 25. Given my previous experience, I decided to describe the problem, that data on port 25 wasn't getting through. The support person didn't understand: he didn't know TCP or IP, just networking. I had to ask to be connected to a supervisor, who didn't understand the problem either, but who took a formal complaint. I later discovered that the text he entered was “VoIP not working: Customer wants to configure postfix email client using outgoing and incoming mail server mail.venus.com

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Got a call from Telstra. It seems that the person who arranged for the return 3 days ago forgot half the details, so I had to give them again. That also delayed the return, of course.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Telstra disconnected my service. This is normal procedure, I was told: they have started to send me a new modem, so they have already disconnected the old one.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Picked up the new modem. It can't handle the signal levelss either, only the old modem. But this time I couldn't authenticate; either the new USIM card really wants to work only in the modem they've supplied, or there's something wrong with the user and password stored there. Got support to reset the password (yes, they're capable of doing that), but it didn't help. Support promised to get second-level support on it right away, and I would hear from them within 2 business days.

Friday, 12 November 2010

9 days later I had still not heard from the support people, only two different people both claiming to be the situation manager for this problem, and trying to explain that they don't support postfix. I've had enough of this stupidity. I asked them to cancel the “service” and refund all I have paid. The situation manager checked with the “technical support” and discovered that the modems couldn't work with FreeBSD anyway, so they agreed. Under the circumstances, I didn't try too hard to explain that they didn't have the faintest idea what they were talking about.

Log

This is a blow-by-blow description of what really happened. It contains lots of stuff that I didn't refer to above.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The satellite networking woes continue. Potentially I might be able to get the current connection problems resolved, possibly by changing ISP, but some things are invariant: satellite latency in particular. I think it's time to return to wireless.

But which network? I really only have the choice between Optus and Telstra. I've had terrible support from Telstra in the past, but a lot of that related to the equipment they were using at the time: it required proprietary drivers, and they supplied some of the buggiest software I have ever seen. But now there are alternatives, and people have told me that the services are relatively reliable. Telstra seems to have lower latency, which could be important when using VoIP. I also know that we don't need an antenna here, while I would for Optus. But it's good to have the option to change, and it seems that the best way to achieve that is through a router such as the NetComm 3G9WB. This is the unit that Telstra sells for $299, but they're available on eBay at prices starting from under $100, most with the advantage that they can also—apparently—be used for the Optus network. So that's what I'll probably do.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The wireless modem I bought yesterday is already here! That's the fastest I've ever received something bought on eBay. I bought it at 15:09 yesterday, and picked it up at the post office at about 10:10 today—a total of only 19 hours.

While in town, dropped in at the Telstra shop to pick up a SIM card. Blank look from the salesgirl. After I explained it to her, she went and checked. No, they only had SIM cards for USB dongles. I would have to order one by phone. A far cry from the speedy delivery of the modem itself.

Back home and investigated the modem. No instructions. None to be found anywhere on the web. But the underside contained most of the information I needed:

 
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Fired that up and was able to talk to it via a web browser, though it's very slow. But there wasn't much I could do without a SIM, so called up Telstra. I know why I kept putting it off. First I was connected to this HORRIBLE voice menu system (“So that I can direct your call, please tell me in a few words the reason for your call today”). My response: “I need a wireless SIM card”. The system seemed to understand that, and came back with “Is the enquiry related to the number you are calling from?”. No. “What is the number related to the enquiry?” None, of course. “Sorry, I'm having difficulty understanding that. What is the number related to the enquiry?”.

After a few shouts of “Consultant!” “Consultant!” “Consultant!”, I finally got connected to Stefan, who told me that they don't have a procedure to supply a SIM. If the SIM card was defective, he should connect me to technical support. I managed to stop him doing that, and he put me back to the voice menu monstrosity with the information that the correct keywords were “Mobile SIM card”. That worked, but then the system went on with “Before I connect you, some problems can be solved without having to speak to a consultant ...”.

More “Consultant!” “Consultant!” “Consultant!”, and I was connected to Tony, who understood that this was a new account, and connected me to Grant, who spoke quietly and took what seemed an eternity (must have been 20 minutes), but finally said he had set up the account. I asked him about the SIM card, and he said it would come with the device (which he hadn't even mentioned). He said that the device was free. I explained that I had the device, and according to their web site, I would have to pay $199 for the model I wanted (there are at least two different devices to choose from (“BigPond Elite™ USB” and “BigPond Elite™ Network Gateway”), but he hadn't asked me which one I wanted). He told me that they're all free now, and on my explicit question said yes, I would get a free gateway box.

Should I believe him? Everything seems to be so vague. It'll take a couple of days before the thing arrives, but I'm not counting on it being correct, especially based on my previous experience. But it does look as if I was a little hasty in buying the modem yesterday. Still, it's unlocked, so I could use it on other networks, so it's possibly premature to try to get rid of it again—especially since I don't trust Telstra to send me the correct device for free.

At the end of the talk, I was asked to do a survey on my customer experience, including saying what I didn't like. Did that, of course, and then waited. Nothing happened for a while—I was thinking that their voice detection technology would time out when I stopped talking, but instead it went back to the beginning again. Everything seems so flaky at Telstra.

So why did I have so much difficulty? I think the Telstra people are like the voice non-recognition system. They all don't understand “I want a SIM for wireless networking”. Instead, I need to sign up for wireless broadband. But how am I to know what buzzwords they have been programmed with?

Friday, 8 October 2010

Talking about my 3G modem on IRC. What's a USIM?. I had assumed that it was a SIM with a different form factor, but it seems the difference is the information on the SIM. But if that's the case, why do they need special USIMs for this model? For the fun of it, put the SIM from the old BP3-EXT, after which it happily came up and found a wireless network, but of course it wouldn't let me log on. If Telstra had anything like technical support, they probably could have reenabled it while I was on the phone yesterday.

 
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On a suggestion from Jashank Jeremy, tried to ssh to the box. Surprise! It worked, and gave me a castrated shell-like utility (even with Emacs editing bindings). It seems that it's running Linux, to judge from the output of some of the commands:

> lan show
br0            Link encap:Ethernet  HWaddr 00:60:64:1B:4C:41
                inet addr:10.0.0.138  Bcast:10.0.0.255  Mask:255.255.255.0
                UP BROADCAST RUNNING ALLMULTI MULTICAST  MTU:1500  Metric:1
                RX packets:153683 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
                TX packets:186037 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
                collisions:0 txqueuelen:0
                RX bytes:16284916 (15.5 MiB)  TX bytes:154038265 (146.9 MiB)

br0:0          Link encap:Ethernet  HWaddr 00:60:64:1B:4C:41
                inet addr:192.109.197.5  Bcast:192.109.197.255  Mask:255.255.255.0
                UP BROADCAST RUNNING ALLMULTI MULTICAST  MTU:1500  Metric:1

That's good news. I should ask them for the sources for the firmware. I wonder if the other modems also run Linux.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

It's been a couple of days since I got a notification that I could pick up my Telstra wireless kit at the post office, and I was planning to do it today. But then I got a letter from them, with generic instructions. But one thing was clear: once again they mentioned that I would have to pay between $100 and $199 for a router. So I called up Telstra again, after finding the well-hidden phone number 137663, which they obfuscate as 13 POND, and fought my way through this HORRIBLE voice menu system:

Me:       Wireless sales.
Menu:       Would that be sales? Is this for home, business, mobile or Internet?
Me:       Internet.
Menu:       And what phone number does this relate to?
Me:       This one.
Menu:       Sorry, I missed that. What phone number does this relate to?

Gradually it went through a loop asking for the same information over and over again, while I shouted “Consultant” again and again. Finally I was connected to a human, Michelle, who confirmed that there is no way to bypass this brain-dead system.

She also confirmed that, despite my very clear stipulation last week, I had been sent a USB stick. There was no way to correct it: they had to cancel the order and enter a new one, which once again took about 40 minutes.

There is also no way to just get a USIM card: customers must buy a device. And the USIMs aren't transferable from one device to another. I was about to complain when she said—wait for it—she would send me a wireless router free of charge. But she sounded a whole lot more on the ball than Grant last week. In particular, the money would be debited from my account, and I would have to call and have it refunded, but that she had made a note in my account that this was agreed to. I'd still much rather have something in writing.

She went through a lot of things that he didn't mention, including user name (yes, indeed, they will send me mail to an address @bigpond.com), which I had to change, because the last one was tied to the previous order, and a password, which had to have both letters and numbers and be no more than 8 characters long. I also had to listen to and agree to some legalese, and then she asked:

Michelle:       Are you running Windows 98, Windows XP or Windows 7?
Me:       No.
Michelle:       Sorry? Oh, is it a Mac?
Me:       No.
Michelle:       OK, what is it then?
Me:       FreeBSD.
Michelle:       FreeBSD? What's that?

Clearly I can't expect sales people to know every operating system. But there are still two issues here: firstly, why does she need to know? This is a router. I can connect multiple systems to it, and indeed I shall do so, including Apple and (on rare occasions) Microsoft. And if she really needs to know, why not just ask what I'm running?

Then she gave me a URL where I could track my order: my.bigpond.comforward/tracking. I said that didn't sound like a valid TLD, but she had never heard of that TLA, so I went through the motions, even to the point of reading out to her: “Firefox can't find the server at my.bigpond.comforward.”

Finally I let her off the hook, after telling her that the superfluous “forward” in the URL was confusing. Maybe she'll think about that and understand. But probably she'll just think that I'm stupid.

Finally finished, and once again was asked to rate my “experience”. This time I said that my issue hadn't been solved today (last week I said it had, but I proved to be wrong). So they asked me why:

Recording:       Can you please tell me why you think your query was not resolved today?
Recording:       (silence)
Recording:       Sorry, I didn't catch that. Can you please tell me why you think your query was not resolved today?
Me:       Last week I thought that the issue had been resolved, but it hadn't. This wee...
Recording:       Thank you for your help in maintaining our high quality standards. click

What a company!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

How to set up a router without Telstra's broken software

Finally got my Telstra wireless router today. It's a long story, so I'll start with the setup instructions:

And that's it. Well, first you need to find out how to do it. Clearly that's too difficult for a beginner, so Telstra have a “user friendly” way to do it. Based on my prior experience with Telstra, I first tried it that way:

How to set up a Telstra wireless router, Telstra's user friendly method

Today's package really contained a wireless router. Last week they had sent me the wrong device, a USB stick, despite very clear instructions that I wanted a specific wireless router, the 3G9WB, which I already had. So what arrived today? The wrong device again, a “BigPond Elite Wireless Broadband Network Gateway”, more easily identified as model 3G21WB. That's a better model, so I shouldn't complain unless they want money for it. The software (and the instructions above) are equally applicable to either box.

So: how do I install? There was a sticker on the bag containing the router:

WARNING- Insert the USB key into your PC before you set up this device.

Isn't that over the top, having a separate key for the box? And what use is it if it's shipped in the same package? Anyway, did that:

umass0: <CHIPSBNK v3.3.9.7-7, class 0/0, rev 2.00/1.00, addr 2> on uhub5
cd0 at umass-sim0 bus 0 target 0 lun 0
cd0: <CHIPSBNK v3.3.9.7-7 5.00> Removable CD-ROM SCSI-2 device
cd0: 40.000MB/s transfers
cd0: cd present [125440 x 2048 byte records]
(cd0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): READ(10). CDB: 28 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0
(cd0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): CAM Status: SCSI Status Error
(cd0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): SCSI Status: Check Condition
(cd0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): UNIT ATTENTION asc:28,0
(cd0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): Not ready to ready change, medium may have changed
(cd0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): Retrying Command (per Sense Data)

This repeated until I removed the stick. So it's some kind of CD substitute. Maybe it's a good idea to put it on USB, but clearly it's not legible on all machines. So I looked at the single sheet quick start guide, which didn't even tell me to connect the router to the network. It made it clear that the stick wasn't a key at all, but it contained the “software” for the router, and that it would run on Microsoft Operating Systems (yes, that's really what it says) or Apple. I chose the latter.

The first thing that comes up on the screen is an overview:


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I clicked on “STEP 1”, but nothing happened. The link to the right is help. What I had to do was note the tiny “Start >” button at bottom right. But I suppose this is intuitive for beginners. Next I had a joke:

 
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That's really clever, putting the EULA where you can't find it until you've finished the installation. But nobody reads EULAs anyway. Then there was the inevitable “there can only be one”, which I ignored, and a choice of what to install.

 
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It went and did things, then told me to plug the modem “into the computer”, and went looking for it. In vain:


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Round about this time I took a look at the label on the base of the device, which gave me default IP address, user name and password. I established that I could communicate with the device with no difficulty with the web browser. So: another Telstra/Apple breakage, like the ones I had 3 years ago? Decided to bite the bullet and try it on Microsoft. That was even better. The program crashed on starting:


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The message in German isn't Telstra's fault. It's Microsoft's: for some reason my keyboard mapping switches to German at random and without any obvious cause.

What was causing it? I still don't know, but Daniel O'Connor pointed me to a Microsoft support note that suggests it's a Microsoft bug, fixed over 3 years ago. I suspect it's related to one of these horrible things about GUIs: how do you know when you have started a program? Sometimes they get started automatically, sometimes you need to click on a pretty picture, sometimes you have to click on the picture twice in succession. This can also happen if the thing is slow to show that it's starting, as it appears is the case here. I suspect I may have tried to start it multiple times. Finally I got one instance of the program not to crash, and continued with an installation very similar to the one on Apple. And then I got this message:

 
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Yet another “there can only be one”. They don't say why the IP address range 169.254/16 is invalid (nor why they didn't bother to check if it was really in use; it wasn't), but the “more than one network” gets me. Isn't that what routing is all about? And this is a router, even if they call it “network gateway”. In any case, the installation failed with the same “can't find device” message that I got with Apple.

Still, I wanted to get things working, so I disconnected pain (the Microsoft box) and the router from my home network and tried again with just the two devices connected by the supplied Ethernet cable (no, it wasn't crossover). Still no joy. Then it dawned on me: “static IP address”. The whole installation software makes the unstated assumption that I'm running DHCP, and that—in an existing network—I will get it from the gateway box I'm installing. In other words, all this excessive rigmarole can't work. But who know, maybe normal users find this easier than my version.

Then Andys came up with the instruction manual, which describes in excessive, fuzzy and inaccurate detail effectively what are my setup instructions above:


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“Type the APN into the APN field”. Where's the APN field? There is none, not even in their image, which apart from the fuzziness is pretty much what I had. It proves that they've changed the title to “Profile”, which might even make sense, but they haven't completely updated the documentation.

The whole business of setting up the modem took over an hour, most of which was completely unnecessary. But wait, there's more!

Signal strength issues

After configuring the gateway, I got a connection which told me it was HSPA+. That sounded OK, but while I was looking, it went away again. Further investigation showed that I barely had enough signal to stay up more than some of the time. But the 3G9WB modem had been showing signal continuously. It has an external antenna; the new one doesn't.

So: if the other gateway has a steady signal, maybe I should use that. But last week Michelle told me that the SIM cards won't work in any other device. Still, it wouldn't be the first time I had heard nonsense from Telstra, so I tried it, and of course it worked.

But what's the issue with the new modem? Took one of the antennas off the old BP3 modem that Telstra doesn't want back and tried it out, measuring the signal strength as I went. When that didn't prove to be enough, went looking for the old rod antenna that Telstra didn't want back last time, and plugged that in. The results were interesting, and I tried them for the old router as well. Here's a summary:

Gateway       Antenna       dB       bars
3G21WB       small       -86 - -90       none
3G21WB       big       -92       2
            -88       none
3G21WB       none       -88       none
3G9WB       small       -94       1
3G9WB       big       -89       2

The strange thing here is that the signal seems to get lower when I add better antennas to the 3G21WB, though the signal bars seem to get better. Have they messed the thing up? In any case, there's plenty of fun to play around with in the next few days.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

So finally I have my Telstra wireless connection up and stumbling. The connection itself is straightforward enough: all I needed was the SIM and the configuration. But it has taken over two weeks:

Clearly this is another incident of incompetence. It must refer to the USB stick, which had to be cancelled. I had refused to accept it, but they sent me a bag anyway. And of course—there can only be one—there's no need to refer to which contract they're talking about. But I do have a couple more addresses to add to my collection.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Making progress with this Telstra 3G21WB modem is hampered by reception problems. Yesterday reception was flaky; today I got nothing at all, even under the circumstances where it worked yesterday. I wonder if it's defective. As soon as I can drum up courage to call Telstra, I'll do so. Maybe I should just put it in the envelope they sent me yesterday.

That wasn't the only wireless issue: I've already noticed that the power meter is as good as useless, and I suspect wireless connection problems there. And the external transmitter of the weather station I bought yesterday also seems to have problems. The Telstra modems run in the 850 MHz band, and the power monitor broadcasts at 433.92 MHz, so they can't be interfering with each other. I haven't been able to find out what the frequency of the weather stations is. We'll see what happens when I return the power monitor.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The 3G21WB has been turned on continually now, and I have both devices running syslogd to dereel (to configure that, you need to go to the Diagnostics tab, not Advanced settings). It seems that the 3G9WB lost the connection no less than 6 times in the night from Friday to Saturday, logging messages that remind me of the early 1990s:

Oct 23 09:13:24 pong-gw pppd[466]: Modem hangup
Oct 23 09:13:24 pong-gw pppd[466]: Connection terminated.
Oct 23 09:13:55 pong-gw pppd[466]: Couldn't restrict write permissions to /dev/ttyUSB0: Read-only file system
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]: abort on (NO DIAL TONE)
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]: abort on (NO ANSWER)
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]: abort on (NO CARRIER)
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]: abort on (DELAYED)
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]: send (AT^M)
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]: expect (OK)
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]: ^M
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]: OK
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]:  -- got it
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]: send (ATZ^M)
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]: expect (OK)
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]: ^M
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]: ^M
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]: OK
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]:  -- got it
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]: send (ATD*98*1#^M)
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]: expect (CONNECT)
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]: ^M
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]: ^M
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]: CONNECT
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]:  -- got it
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw chat[7992]: send (^M)
Oct 23 09:13:56 pong-gw pppd[466]: Connect: ppp0 <--> /dev/ttyUSB0
Oct 23 09:14:09 pong-gw pppd[466]: Could not determine remote IP address: defaulting to 10.64.64.64
Oct 23 09:14:09 pong-gw pppd[466]: local  IP address 124.180.39.220
Oct 23 09:14:09 pong-gw pppd[466]: remote IP address 10.64.64.64
Oct 23 09:14:09 pong-gw pppd[466]: primary   DNS address 61.9.133.193

That was the last dropout, and since then there had been no more. Hopefully I'm not going to have the same kind of problems here. SkyMesh, not to be outdone, dropped the satellite connection from 2:31 until 4:36, one of the longer outages. Doubtless that's a modem fault too.

But the other 3G21WB hasn't reported anything since Friday. I suppose it would be typical that it doesn't report loss or gain of signal (which might have been the cause of the problems above with the 3G9WB), but at the moment it looks more like it hasn't received a signal at all.

That's not the only lack of signal. Spent more time looking at the new weather station, which had lost its connection with both outside units again. It could be the position, of course, though it wasn't obvious. This time I swapped the two units. No, it wasn't the position. The new unit still lost connections, and the old one kept them. Looks like at least the internal unit needs to be returned.

Monday, 25 October 2010

It's pretty clear that my new 3G21WB is not performing as planned, so I should return it. Finally drummed up the courage to call Telstra and tell them so. Fought my way through the emetic voice menu system with relatively little pain:

Menu:       So that I can direct your call, please tell me in a few words the purpose of your call today.
Me:       3G sales.
Menu:       Would that be Internet over the mobile network?
Me:       Yes.
Menu:       Is the number linked to the number from which you are calling?
Me:       Yes.
Menu:       Bong Bong    Bong Bong
Menu:       To know I'm speaking to the right person, please tell me your date of birth or type it into the phone.
Me:       28 September 1948.
Menu:       Sorry, I missed that. Please type your date of birth into the keypad.
Me:       [Silence]
Menu:       Hold on while I connect you.

Maybe next time I should just say nothing and see what happens. I suspect that this Bong Bong means that something has gone wrong with the system, though it's not clear why the customers should hear it. And again I was asked to leave feedback at the end of the call, though maybe that happens on every call; it certainly does in my case.

I was connected to Ellie, who confirmed that the price of the modem would be refunded, and told her that the new modem (3G21WB) didn't get any signal, and that the old one (3G9WB) worked fine, so it had to be a problem with the new modem. She spent some time trying to tell me that the old modem can't work because the USIM will only work in the modem for which it is designed. She asked me what was written on the old modem—clearly she didn't know the model numbers, just the buzzwords—and who it was made by. I finally explained to her what the 3G9WB was, and that it was still in their product range, but she told me it wasn't, because it was too slow. Telstra, she says, has “upgraded its signals” (and not, as I suggested, the protocols) and now has the fastest mobile data network in the world. Wikipedia disagrees: Telstra has up to 21 Mb/s, while Swisscom and Vodafone (in the Netherlands) offer 28 Mb/s. And the 3G9WB can only handle 7.2 Mb/s. But I don't get anything like that, so the comparison is meaningless.

In any case, she wasn't able to replace the modem. That's a technical support job. So, 10 minutes into the call, she connected me. 7 minutes later Mel answered. I told her what the problem was, that the 3G9WB worked and the 3G21WB didn't. She put me on hold for a while and then told me that she couldn't open my account, which is why my Internet connection wasn't working. I asked her to listen very carefully, explained again and asked if she understood. Yes, she said. The problem was that I had “lots of connections”, which appeared not to refer to TCP sessions (I suspect she doesn't know what TCP is), but Telstra devices mentioned in my account. I pointed out that I had only the landline phone and the 3G connection. She repeated the phone number (correctly), and then put me on hold again, 20 minutes into the call.

Five minutes later I was connected to Jeremy, who had been supplied no information, but who seemed to understand the issue. Unfortunately, he was in activations. It seems that, despite everything I had told her, Mel had thought that the account hadn't been activated. Jeremy couldn't help me and needed to connect me to back to technical support. I explained that they didn't seem to understand normal problem descriptions, so he offered to confirm with somebody who would understand the issue. He also left me his direct phone number in case I needed more help. I'm reminded of the xkcd cartoon, just that this time I really did get a phone number.

At 30 minutes into the call he connected me with Laurel, who listened to the same story and said “I'd like to see the status of the modem”. I told her I had a connection to the built-in web server, and asked what she wanted to know. First question: “Is the power light on?” So much for understanding.

By this time I was getting quite irritated, and told her that she should confine her questions to the device status. But in retrospect I don't think any of the “technical support” people know anything about the web server. She said “just a moment here, OK?” and put me on hold, 33 minutes into the call. Next thing I saw was:

Oct 25 17:10:26 pong-gw pppd[466]: Modem hangup
Oct 25 17:10:26 pong-gw pppd[466]: Connection terminated.
...
Oct 25 17:10:58 pong-gw pppd[466]: Connect: ppp0 <--> /dev/ttyUSB0

This is the first time the modem was disconnected since Friday, so it's pretty clear to me that Laurel did it. How people infuriate me when they do that! When I got off hold I was connected to Marie, who claimed to be a supervisor (I thought Telstra didn't have them). She wanted to know the IMEI of the device, and that it wasn't available on the web server (I later discovered it is: tab DiagnosticsNext G network), so I got the modem and read it to her. She told me it was connected. I told her that it was on my lap with no cables connected, but that didn't matter to her.

How can that happen? Does the USIM also contain the IMEI and claim to be the wrong device? Or does the monitoring software jump to conclusions? One of the issues might be that “locked” devices can really not use other USIM cards, and that mine only works because it has been unlocked. But if that's the case, what a triumph of bureaucracy over technology that would be!

Then she asked me what operating system I'm running. “FreeBSD”. “Sorry, I'm not sure what it is”. Never mind, not important.

What operating system are you running? “FreeBSD”. “Sorry, I'm not sure what it is”. Never mind, not important.

Went through a couple more iterations of this, with me trying to break out, and then: “What operating system are you running? Is it Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7?” “No. It's FreeBSD.” “Sorry, I'm not sure what it is. Look for ‘My Computer’ on your desktop”. “Sorry, I don't have a desktop”. “Look for the Start button at bottom left”. “I don't have a Start button”.

Finally she asked me to spell FreeBSD for her, and said “So, this is your operating system, right?” Well, it might have taken five times, but finally she understood. “Did you try it on a Microsoft operating system?” Yes, and the installation crashed and didn't recognize the modem. I explained that the crash was due to Telstra using old, buggy Microsoft libraries, but I think the fact that it didn't recognize the modem was enough for her, and so she finally, after 50 minutes on the phone, agreed to replace the modem.

So, what went wrong here? Maybe I was trying to be too helpful and give them information that would shorten the diagnosis. But they have scripts they need to go through, so maybe next time I should get them to go through them and see if it works any better. It certainly can't be any worse. In summary, though, I think Telstra technical support is much worse even than the appalling standard they had three years ago.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Discovered today that a message has been hanging in my mail queue for over a day:

Oct 26 00:15:25 dereel postfix/smtp[80940]: connect to mail[208.86.224.149]:25: Connection refused
Oct 26 00:15:25 dereel postfix/smtp[80940]: 74812A1090: to=<nospammer@gmail.com>, relay=none, delay=36325, delays=36325/0.01/0.08/0, dsn=4.4.1, status=deferred (connect to mail[208.86.224.149]:25: Connection refused)

A quick check with tcpdump showed that no connection requests were making it to the MTA on mail.lemis.com, which was functioning normally (and has been doing so for 16 months). I seem to remember that Telstra blocks port 25, but I thought this would be a good idea to try out whether their support scripts would be more effective than me telling them what the problem was. Summary: no. After over an hour on the phone, they hadn't even understood the problem to the point that they could give me an answer. One of the problems is clearly that I'm not using any software that their scripts understand, and at the end of it, I think they still thought that it was my software (“Can you spell ‘postfix’?”). Clearly next time I'm up to a run-in with them, I'll do the whole thing with the Apple.

Telstra pain: the details

In more detail, it took me three phone calls before I finally gave up.

Call 1 was abortive:

Menu:       So that I can direct your call, please tell me in a few words the purpose of your call today.
Me:       I can't send email
Menu:       So that would be email, right?
Me:       Yes.
Menu:       Hold on while I connect you. Feep

The Feep was some kind of noise in the line, reminiscent of a modem. But it wasn't that, and it didn't go away when I hung up. Spent some time fighting my way back via the VoIP ATA and other places before I traced it to the headset connected to my phone. When I disconnected it and reconnected it, the problem went away. I've never had that before, and it's about the last thing that I would have expected given the circumstances of when it happened.

Call 2 got me to a second-level voice menu that at least asked questions that I could answer with “yes” or “no”. Got connected to a Dan pretty quickly, and told him I couldn't send email to my external server. He asked me for the email address, and I gave him the address (nospammer@gmail.com in the messages above). “Sorry, gmail.com is not hosted through Telstra”. I explained that this was a connection between my machine, via Telstra, to my external mail server. He suggested I should contact BigPond premium technical support, which costs money. Looking (later) at the price list, it costs a lot of money, starting at $99, and none of the services relate to “Debug Telstra network”.

I told him that I was not prepared to pay money to fix a problem that existed with their network. After a while he asked the name of the external server, so I gave that to him and pointed out that the only connection difficulties were via the Telstra network. He asked “what is the incoming mail server?”. I didn't understand the question, and told him again that I was trying to connect to mail.lemis.com. His answer: ”bear with me”, and he put me on hold, 7 minutes into the call.

8 minutes later he came back and told me I should use mail.bigpond.com. I told him I didn't want to use it, and that I have my own mail server. His next question: “Is this Internet or email?”. I asked him what he meant by “Internet”, and didn't get a conclusive answer; later I think he meant web. His next question: “Are you connected to the Internet?”. Sometimes I wonder what goes on these peoples' brains.

Then he said that he would connect me to the web service people. I told him that this had nothing to do with the web, and explained again that no TCP packets (yes, he claimed to know what TCP is) were getting through to the remote server, so they were getting lost in the Telstra network. He said “hold on, I'll put you through to the right area” and put me on hold again, 20 minutes into the call.

I waited in a queue for about 10 minutes until CJ came in and wanted to talk to me, so put Yvonne on the phone to wait for a response. That happened almost as soon as I got outside, so back inside and spoke to Rahul, who was in... BigPond Premium Hosting. To his credit he sounded like he knew what he was talking about, but it had nothing to do with my problem. 35 minutes on the phone and nothing achieved.

Finished my talk with CJ and then back in and tried again.

Menu:       So that I can direct your call, please tell me in a few words the purpose of your call today.
Me:       I can't send email
Menu:       Is that something to do with your bill?
Me:       (silence)

Somehow I got connected to Technical Support, where the voice menu noticed that I had called recently and wanted to know whether it was about the same problem. At least that is a useful feature. Got connected to Ron:

Ron:       Can I have your user ID, please
Me:       groggy@bigpond.com
Ron:       Are you using a desktop or a laptop?
Me:       Desktop.
Ron:       Which Windows version are you running?
Me:       I'm not running “Windows”
Ron:       Oh, is it a Mac?
Me:       No.
Ron:       Sorry, then we can't support you. We're not trained in the software.
Me:       This isn't about the software, it's about the network, specifically TCP. You do know what TCP is, right?
Ron:       Sorry, no.
Me:       What about IP? Do you know that?
Ron:       Sorry, no.
Me:       Can you put me through to somebody who understands networking?
Ron:       I understand networking.
Me:       I'm seeing packets going into your network and not come out the other end. Somewhere in between they're getting lost. How can I explain this to you?
Ron:       I don't think you can. I'm not trained in this software.
Me:       Please connect me to your supervisor.

7 minutes into the call I was connected to somebody who claimed to be his supervisor, and whose name proved to be spelt “Rome”, though it was difficult to establish this: his English wasn't the best. He did seem to understand the issue a little better, though he seemed unclear on terminology, and continually referred to the servers as clients. He, too, told me that I should use mail.bigpond.com, and asked me why I didn't want to. I told him I needed control of the MTA, and that I didn't want to be affected by blacklists, which he accepted. But he still wasn't able to handle the packet loss issue, and once again wanted to connect me to BigPond premium technical support. I told him that I did not want to have to pay for fixing problems in Telstra's network, and asked him to take in a formal complaint, which he did (reference number SR1-51041273695). And that was all for 26 minutes on the phone, a total of over an hour.

Interestingly, this time I didn't get any Bong Bongs from the voice menu system, and at the end of the call I wasn't asked what I thought of my “support experience”

Working around Telstra breakage

Yes, I consider blocking port 25 to be deliberate breakage of the network connection. I can understand the concerns (don't spam; wouldn't you want to use an expensive wireless connection to spam?), but there need to be other ways to ensure that that doesn't happen. In my case, of course, the solution is simple: a tunnel.

Not for the first time, I restarted my mailtunnel script:

#!/usr/local/bin/bash
# Set up and maintain mail tunnel to mail
# $Id: nextg.php,v 1.30 2011/01/23 23:56:33 grog Exp $
while :; do
  logger Restarting SMTP tunnel
  logger `ssh -n -N -L 2026:mail.lemis.com:25 mail.lemis.com`
  sleep 5   # don't flood
done

Then /usr/local/etc/postfix/transport contains:

lemis.com    :
* smtp:localhost:2026

The only irritating thing about this is what the outgoing headers look like:

Received: from w3.lemis.com (w3.lemis.com [208.86.224.149])
        by mx1.freebsd.org (Postfix) with ESMTP id 75F888FC16
        for <flog@freebsd.org>; Wed, 27 Oct 2010 00:12:20 +0000 (UTC)
Received: from dereel.lemis.com (1032.x.rootbsd.net [208.86.224.149])
        by w3.lemis.com (Postfix) with ESMTP id 58C953B795

Wednesday, 27 October 2010


Telstra blocking port 25: breach of contract?
Topic: technology Link here

It's clear that Telstra is blocking port 25, and today Callum Gibson—again—pointed me to a FAQ describing the matter—they call port blocking “managing”. In principle it's not much of a problem to work around it. But are they allowed to do it? Spent some time today reading the terms and conditions of service, nearly all of which seem to relate to my obligations. Nothing to do with what service they're really offering, and given that they seem to think that the Internet is a program, it's not clear what they really are offering. But section 4, “limits of the service” makes no mention of blocking specific ports. It does mention the possibility of supplying my own modem, something that the sales people say is impossible.

Thursday, 28 October 2010


Telstra: the story goes on
Topic: technology Link here

I have an outstanding complaint with Telstra, so when I got a call from Obbie at Telstra, I thought it was that. But no, he was following up on my call on Monday. It seems that Marie, the “supervisor”, had not filled out any details for the request for a new modem, so it hadn't been sent, and Obbie wanted to start the diagnosis all over again. I explained that the 3G9WB worked and the 3G21WB didn't, which was enough for him. But there's another issue here that has been nagging me: what if the 3G21WB is just not as good as the 3G9WB in weak signal situations? I asked him about that, and he said, no, there's no problem with the 3G21WB in general, so it must be the unit. And, as Marie said on Monday, I'll have it in 3 or 4 business days. He wasn't able to give me an alternative contact who actually knew what they're talking about.

On the positive side, looked at a FAQ which tells about “unmetered” traffic (traffic that doesn't count towards the monthly allocation), and discovered that http://mirror.aarnet.edu.au/ is supposed to be on it. That's better than last time, when there was nothing useful at all, and I note that they have FreeBSD, NetBSD and OpenBSD there, so that's some advantage.

Friday, 29 October 2010


Telstra: breach of contract
Topic: technology Link here

Despite all my problems with Telstra, the network connection has been relatively stable. And then, in the evening, I noticed this in the log files:

Oct 29 18:14:14 pong-gw pppd[466]: Modem hangup
Oct 29 18:14:14 pong-gw pppd[466]: Connection terminated.
...
Oct 29 18:14:46 pong-gw chat[16007]: send (^M)
Oct 29 18:14:46 pong-gw pppd[466]: Connect: ppp0 <--> /dev/ttyUSB0
Oct 29 18:14:49 pong-gw pppd[466]: Modem hangup
Oct 29 18:14:49 pong-gw pppd[466]: Connection terminated.

This went on and on in a loop, so called Telstra (13 7663—I'm beginning to remember this number). Spoke to Chris, who told me I had been disconnected because another modem was on its way—maybe. So now they expect me to do without a connection for at least the weekend. Demanded that he reconnect the service immediately, but he said he couldn't do that: the modem was on its way. Asked him to connect me to his supervisor, and he hung up on me.

Swore violently, then called again and told the stupid voice menu: “Complaints”. Bong Bong. That word doesn't seem to be in its vocabulary. Finally did get connected to Steve in complaints, who sounded saner than most people I've had to deal with at Telstra. He took my details, said he'd contact second-level support, who are better than the first (they're on-shore, for all the difference that makes), but there's no way for customers to contact them. He also discovered that Telstra have changed their tariffs (“plans”) since I signed up, and I can now get 1 GB per month more for $20 less, so he signed me up for that.

That was, however, the only positive outcome. He also connected me to Matt, who took the details, but after a bit of fiddling around discovered that the system wouldn't let him reactivate the modem. I suspect that this is part of the bureaucracy that insists on having the USIM card matched to the modem for life.

But we have a contract: Telstra sells me networking services, and charges good money for the service. There is no technical reason, nor any fault of mine, why they should disconnect the connection. So I consider it breach of contract. Back to satellite, at least for the weekend.

Monday, 1 November 2010


Telstra BigPond: we don't do networking
Topic: technology Link here

Call from Simon at Telstra complaints today, referring to the complaint I put in last week. First, he wanted me to give him my date of birth to confirm who he was. I pointed out that “security” is a two-way thing and asked him how I should know who he is. His reply: “I'm Simon from Telstra”. He refused point blank to give his date of birth, and said that he would close the case if I didn't give him mine. This infuriates me, but the information is available on the web, so there's no security issue.

Simon then claimed that I wanted Telstra to configure some settings that are outside the scope of my support. As I suspected, “Rome” didn't understand the complaint enough to formulate it correctly:

Wants to configure postfix email client using outgoing and incoming mail server mail.venus.com.

I had already commented on the fact that he didn't understand the difference between clients and servers, and I had repeated, forcefully and several times, that this had nothing to do with postfix, nor with incoming mail. I am continually baffled by the complete lack of knowledge of these people.

I got very little out of Simon in a phone call that lasted 75 minutes. I pointed him at the terms and conditions of service (http://my.bigpond.com/pond/oct/Part-A.pdf), which he agreed was the contract we had. I then pointed at the FAQ stating that Telstra does block port 25. He asked how many messages I sent at once, and I told him that didn't make any difference: the problem was in their network. He then came up with the amazing claim that they don't support customers using networks. I asked him what they did do, but he didn't have the understanding to answer that question.

Clearly he was confusing networks in general with LANs, but even then it doesn't make sense: the device that they sold me, 3G21WB, has the buzzword title “BigPond Elite Wireless Broadband Network Gateway”. If that's not for LANs, what is it for? I asked him where in the contract he found that claim, and he put me on hold for some time and came back with a page http:forward/forward/telstra.com.auforward/customer-termsforward/home-familyforward/bigpond-servicesforward/additional-servicesforward/index.htm, which he claimed was also part of the agreement. I asked him where in the contract there was a reference to that supplement, and of course, once again, he wasn't able to tell me.

And once again he continually told me I should contact BigPond premium technical support, who would solve the problem for me. I told him that a third party can't do that, that the problem was in Telstra's network (whatever that may be), and he said that they could contact Telstra under those circumstances and do something about it. I pointed out that the problem has already been identified, and he said that he was neither willing nor able to do anything about it.

Since I had him on the line, I asked him why my service had been disconnected last Friday. He told me that my connection was still up and running, and that I should contact Telstra Premium Support. I had to walk him through his notes before he finally found comments from Matt last

Unable to use network due to pending return status. Was hoping to use existing modem until replacement came.

I asked him once again how Telstra Premium Support could help there, and he came up with some nonsense that I didn't listen to. He explained—again—that Telstra deactivate USIMs when they send out a replacement. He didn't have an answer to my question why they do this, only that normally the equipment is defective, so it doesn't make any difference. But last week Obbie only sent out a replacement because I told him I had another modem which worked.

There's still no excuse for this behaviour, and it has cost me another month with SkyMesh. I told him I expected Telstra to pay for that, and he conferred with his superiors about this, but came back and said “No”. They're prepared to offer 3 days refund on my tariff (never mind that it will be at least 5 days), but that's all. So it looks as if we're off to the TIO again. What an appalling company!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010


Telstra internet: the pain continues
Topic: technology Link here

In town also picked up the replacement wireless modem. Back home, connected it up and got a signal, briefly. But it didn't even try to connect, or at least, it didn't log the fact. The 3G9WB logs the entire PPP connect script, but this thing said nothing and also didn't connect.

Decided once again to try a direct connect between the modem and pain, my Microsoft laptop. Last time I came to the conclusion that the problem was that I had to be using DHCP, and I wasn't. But that's easy enough to change, so did that and tried again, and this time I didn't get the warning about static IPs. But it still didn't find the modem:


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Diary entry for Thursday, 4 November 2010

 

How do I “ensure the power light on the front of the network gateway is a steady green colour”? It's blue at the moment. Clearly yet another indication of incorrect documentation. On the 3G9WB it's green, but they don't sell that one any more. Further experimentation showed that pain had somehow got an IP address in the range 169.254/16, the one that the installation had complained about last time. How is that even supposed to work when the modem has the fixed address 10.0.0.138? I wasn't able to communicate, anyway. After a while the modem lost its signal, so gave up, took the USIM card out of the device and put it in the 3G9WB, which still had a signal and made a connection, but couldn't authenticate:

Nov  3 14:36:32 pong-gw pppd[480]: Connect: ppp0 <--> /dev/ttyUSB0
Nov  3 14:36:34 pong-gw pppd[480]: Modem hangup
Nov  3 14:36:34 pong-gw pppd[480]: Connection terminated.

That almost certainly means “PPP login refused”. But why? Did they change my password, or have they really restricted the new USIM to only work in the modem they delivered? The only way to find out is to call Telstra “Technical support”.

Did that, and found that the brain-dead voice menu understands “Technical Support”, so got through relatively painlessly this time. Spoke to Vin, who wanted to know whether the other modem was Telstra or BigPond. I was surprised about that and asked what the difference was; it seems that there's a separate Telstra service. Possibly they have less brain-dead support. Up to about 2001 I had a dialup connection called “Telstra BigPond Direct”, with service people who knew what they were doing. Even in those days, “Big Pond Toy”, as I called them, were brain-dead. Asked him for contact details, and was given the number 125111. He then wanted to know whether I had a prepaid or postpaid “plan” (i.e. tariff). I told him I didn't have a USIM for the device, but he kept trying to tell me that I was probably connecting to a different network, and that he would check for outages. I had to ask for his supervisor before he broke out of the loop.

He did then decide that maybe the problem was with the password, so he reset it for me, but I still couldn't connect with the 3G9WB, so it's beginning to look like the USIM really is locked in this time. He did, however, say that he was going to escalate the issue and get somebody to come out and take a look at the problem on-site, so maybe we will get something this time.

A little later a call from Au (female), who walked me through some of the stuff that I had already done with Vin, but which (it seems) he forgot to document. Frustratingly, the 3G9WB lost its signal too. Is there a second problem here?

In retrospect: if I had known what a problem this was going to cause, I should have just kept quiet and used the 3G9WB. Now, after four weeks of trying, I still don't have a connection,

Thursday, 4 November 2010


The other Telstra
Topic: technology Link here

No call back from Telstra technical support today, but I did get round to following up on the concept of a different Telstra offering. And yes, it exists: it's called Internet Direct, or maybe Telstra Business now, and it appears to be the successor organization to “Bigpond direct“. I'm sorely tempted to try them, but I should first give the current clowns a chance to get their act together.

Friday, 5 November 2010


Telstra level 3
Topic: technology Link here

The promised technical support people from Telstra didn't contact me today, but I did get a call from Robert , the case manager for the incident. He makes a more sensible impression than his predecessors, and he even gave me his surname, a first with Telstra, but the lack of organization is showing badly: it was about the same thing that Simon called me about on Monday. About the only thing that I got in addition was the claimed subject of the complaint: “T VoIP not working”: “Customer wants to configure postfix email client using outgoing and incoming mail server mail.venus.com”. How can anybody be so stupid? I didn't mention VoIP. And, for the record, it works fine on the Telstra network.

There's not much he can do, of course, until the technical support people deign to attend to the problem. I got connected to Telstra on 20 October 2010 and disconnected on 29 October 2010, nine days later. It'll be at least 10 days after disconnection before I get reconnected—an up time of less than 50%. Robert tells me that the issue has been escalated to level 3, the highest they have. He has offered to let me terminate the contract early with no financial impact, as if this were unusual in the circumstances, and even not to charge for the time without service. I still think I'll let the support people do their thing.

Friday, 12 November 2010


Telstra BigPond: enough is enough
Topic: technology Link here

It's been a week since I last heard from Telstra BigPond about my non-functional network connection. I had planned to get back to them on Monday, but the support people who were supposed to contact me by the end of last week still haven't shown any sign, so I decided to wait a little longer. No response. As of this morning, I have had the “service” for 23 days, 14 of which were without service.

Got a call from Jarrod Taylor this morning. No, not a support technician. A colleague of Bob Lynch, the situation manager. But Jarrod is also the situation manager; clearly the term doesn't mean very much. And again he wanted to talk about “Customer wants to configure postfix email client using outgoing and incoming mail server mail.venus.com”, though I had told Bob that I could live with that. No mention of the fact that my service is disconnected. I suspect that all my problems have been lumped together in one report, and that's the first paragraph.

Last week Bob Lynch made a sensible impression. Jarrod did not. I explained to him, as I explained to Bob last week, that the report was almost completely unrelated to the problem, and that blocking port 25 was not my main concern, that the lack of service was, and the fact that they had disconnected me for procedural reasons was breach of contact. I had to explain it three times, and the third time he told me that my service was up and running.

I told him that I no longer wanted to have anything to do with their shambles of an organization, and that I wanted the refund that I had been offered last week. He said he couldn't do that. I pointed him at http://tinyurl.com/bigpond-mobile, which he entered and then said “that's not relevant”. On further investigation it proved that Telstra blocks tinyurl.com, and he wasn't able to access it. He also told me that the problem is certain to be a minor technical issue at my end, and that he would get technical support to contact me.

Finally I got it through to him that I had no connection at all, and he said something like “that's not a serious problem”. He again offered to get the support technicians to contact me, so I gave him until this evening for them to do so and left it at that.

20 minutes later he called back. He had spoken to a support technician, who said “there's nothing to do. His operating system doesn't support the connection”. I wonder what he said to the techie. venus.com? Or is the techie another of these script-book toting idiots with whom I have had far too much to do?

In any case, he's prepared to refund everything, even the time when I used the service. So I'm back in the same position I was at the beginning of last month, but at least I still have my sanity.


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