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At Large: Keystone Kable

At Large: Keystone Kable

Barrel and shotgun at the ready, Matthew JC. Powell prepares to do a little fishing . . .

In my line of work (opinion columnist) there are a number of subjects you avoid unless absolutely necessary, simply because they represent no challenge. For finance journalists, it's banks. For IT journalists, Microsoft. For political commentators, just about anything. When we have a lazy day or can't think of anything else to say, it's dead easy to come up with some snipe at Westpac's interest rates, Bill Gates' ridiculous spectacles or Johnny Howard's, erm, well, just about anything. They're big, heavy, slow-moving targets with few friends. Just about anything you say about them is met with cries of "right on" and "go for the jugular" and the like. Too easy.

I'm hesitant, therefore, to launch into this week's tirade, simply because it involves one of these duck-on-the-water type targets. I thought about maintaining the anonymity of the company involved, but really it isn't possible. Here, then, is the story of my attempt to connect to Telstra Big Pond Cable. Before I begin, I'd just like to say that I use Telstra's telephone service often, and have found it a most satisfactory means of communication - much better than the Marconi telegraph. I also subscribe to Foxtel, in which Telstra is involved in one capacity or another, and have found that a worthwhile investment - although I wish they'd give The Incredible Hulk a consistent timeslot.

The story begins, actually, when I subscribed to Foxtel. The marketing bumf for that service states quite explicitly that once I have the Foxtel cable connected, I can use the same cable for Telstra's cable Internet service. The promise of downloading Web pages at twice the speed of light (or something to that effect) is understandably difficult to resist.

That's the way it is

Some months later, I thought I'd look into it. I phoned the number on Telstra's Web site to ask one of the helpful sales people for some details. The first bit of information that I got was that I couldn't use the cable that was already coming through the hole in my wall into the living room. A second hole would most assuredly have to be drilled.

"Why is that?" I asked.

"Because that's the way it is, sir." Honest, I'm not making that up. All of a sudden, I was talking to Brian Henderson.

Further probing failed to elaborate this singularly unhelpful answer, and the telephone call ended with me not a Big Pond subscriber.

I obviously ended up on a list of "likelies", though, since another person from Telstra contacted me only a few weeks after that.

"Are you aware of Telstra Big Pond Cable, sir?" he asked. "Yes, I am, actually. I'm a computer journalist, so I've made a point of becoming fairly familiar with what the service offers," I replied.

"Oh great, so you're already aware that it gives you wowie-zowie [marketing babble follows] and a super-duper [attempt to blind me with jargon]?"

"Yes. As I said, I'm pretty familiar with the technical aspects of the thing."

"And you'd know it's a thousand times more whizz- bang [marketing hype continues] than anything else?"

"Yes, I know. What I want to know is why I need a second hole punched in the wall of my house to use it."

"Oh, I don't think the Foxtel cable can carry Internet information at the same time as TV."

"But isn't it the same cable from the house to the street carrying both?"

"Yes."

"So, why can't the same cable carry both once it's inside the house?"

Basically, the answer is that there's a grey box outside my house that does "switching" and some other black magic that networking boffins find fascinating. This box makes the assumption (inaccurate in my case) that the computer and the TV aren't in the same room. I want to know what can be done to avoid punching too many holes in my walls, when in fact the TV and the computer are next to each other.

The person on the phone felt it best that I should speak to "a technician" who could come and visit my house. Three times I tried to line up appointments with one such person, and three times he cancelled the appointments. When a different person was assigned to me, she showed up, but could only offer the same marketing bumf I already knew. "I'm not a technician," she explained, "I'm in sales."

Hear that flutter? It's me throwing in the towel. There's much to be said for actually knowing the answers to questions you're asked. I have other questions, such as why do I have to own the cable modem for this service, when I don't have to own my telephone or the Foxtel decoder thingy, but I'm afraid to ask.


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