In a functioning democracy politicians need - many of us would say thankfully - to learn the virtues of patience. John Howard would be particularly aware of this. His road to the Liberal leadership and ultimately the prime ministership has been a long and often rocky one.
Similarly the full sale of Telstra remained tantalisingly out of his reach until his third term of government handed him control of the Senate. Even then there remained the obstacle of Barnaby Joyce. Now like Indiana Jones, he is poised to make the final leap across the chasm to claim his prize, while beneath him Sol Trujillo and friends circle the muddy waters of regulation.
The rest of us are left to peruse the prospectus (presumably downloaded at high speed from the Internet) and wonder what all the fuss has been about. But we should take a minute or two to ponder the unsatisfactory and uneven distribution of access to high-speed communication in this country and why many people are deeply cynical about the likelihood of a privatised corporation being willing, or able, to be regulated to deliver equitable access across Australia to communication technology and its maintenance.
Telstra has had a habit of being somewhat disingenuous and when it announces that 98 per cent of Australia will have access to the super new wireless broadband, people need to be aware that again it will most likely mean 98 per cent of the population rather than 98 per cent of the land mass.
After a lifetime battling isolation in remote Australia, and just when we had achieved something of a break-through in communication out there with satellite broadband, I have recently moved to south-east Queensland and now live one hour and twenty minutes from the Brisbane CBD. But I have to tell you that, communication-wise, this has delivered a giant step backwards in time, and what is worrying is that I am not alone in this. I suspect that a significant number of people live, and work - or attempt to work - in a similar sort of technological no-man’s land.
My Internet speed is 24 kbps on a good day and I have spent countless hours of frustration with a telephone welded to my ear, doing battle with Telstra, pursuing ADSL - even ISDN, please God - only to have to retreat to my antediluvian dial-up connection.
Each foray I make has a certain similarity; I speak with a Telstra customer service representative (different each time, of course, and probably in a different city - I haven’t been to the New Delhi front yet in my Telstra war but it’s probably next).
This person will ask me to wait while he or she consults his or her computer to see what should be available to me and he or she will come back and say that according to the computer I should be able to access ADSL broadband or at the very least ISDN (“anyone can get ISDN, Madam”). Further checks, will, however, need to be done to confirm this.
These checks - over several weeks sadly reveal that not only can I not have access to ADSL, but due to the poor state of the Telstra-owned lines between here and our nearest town, Toogoolawah, I am not able to have ISDN either. (Is this lack of maintenance part of the cost-cutting that Mr Trujillo says delivered him such a generous bonus?)
Telstra customer service representatives are not on the whole unhelpful; one woman to whom I poured out my tale of woe confided to me that she had a colleague who was an “IT whiz” and they, there and then, came up with a plan which they were sure would solve all my problems - a wireless mobile broadband card and a PC to PCMCIA adaptor which I could fit into my desktop computer.
I tracked down the said adaptor in Melbourne and arranged for it to be shipped. A computer expert agreed to come from Brisbane and install it for me - I was finally on my way to cruising the information super highway! He came - and $300 (plus the cost of the card and adaptor) later had to admit defeat too. The CDMA signal here, while good enough for a mobile phone, was too weak for a computer.
I retreated to lick my wounds, but not being one to give up easily, was soon back on the telephone warpath. This time I was informed that Telstra would soon be receiving another tranche of money to subsidise satellite broadband and if I liked to enquire at a later time, I might find myself eligible for the subsidy.
I did that just this morning and apparently the money is now available, but only to those who are unable to access ADSL. And guess what … “according to my computer, Madam, you should be able to get ADSL …”
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