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PIPEDREAMS: The War Room

PIPEDREAMS: The War Room

Dedicated followers of Telstra fashion will fondly remember the "War Room", from ages past.

This was a motley yet officially sanctioned team within the giant telco which had the job of identifying critics of the carrier and setting them aside for "marginalisation".

Sounds painful.

This all happened back in 1996. One of the journalists targeted, Pete Young, worked for me at the time on Computerworld.

The other journalists with their pictures pinned to the dart-board in Telstra's tea-room included Charles Wright of the Australian Financial Review, Sue Lowe of the Sydney Morning Herald and John Hilvert of The Australian -- a rogue's gallery of rapacious and festering exception if ever there was one.

Telstra dismissed, denied, ridiculed and attacked anyone at the time who suggested the company should be so daft as to set up anything like a War Room, let alone that it would set out to denigrate and damage the reputations of four professional reporters.

So it must have been especially irritating for Telstra War Room administrator Elaine Brown when a memo she wrote to the fourteen (yes fourteen!) other members of the War Room made its way into the hands of opposition politician Kim Carr, and was subsequently read into Hansard.

Caught behaving in a manner described in parliament as probably not entirely ethical, the response of Brown's superiors was pretty much along the lines of, "What War Room? Oh, that War Room."

The recent performance of Telstra's ADSL team and the disingenuous propaganda it is peddling in the market-place made me mindful of the War Room earlier this year when Pete Young and I reprised our Laurel and Hardy routine for The Industry Standard.

Despite its many denials, Telstra has created a pricing regime for its wholesalers that doesn't allow them to make a profit.

To sustain its arguments, the company compares only line charges and ignores all the other costs it whacks on wholesalers. These can include the client software interface from the customer's PC, which allows connection to the ADSL service, installation cost per access link per customer, and interconnection to Telstra's DSLAM, which is a monthly fee believed to range between $30 and $45, depending on the bandwidth.

Adding these costs to the mix, the various and continuous gripes of the DSL wholesalers become more understandable.

But is it anti-competitive? If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. Telstra's wholesale pricing regime quacks!

Telstra took great offence when we first reported on pricing policies (and no doubt will again), adopting an eerily War Room-like strategy of attacking the reporter whilst being economical with the truth.

Right now, Telstra is making the DSL market difficult for everyone, in part via a pricing policy that cripples competition and in part through a technical infrastructure that is proving itself hellishly unstable and is hurting the whole industry through its failure. The first problem can be solved by regulation - the ACCC should issue Telstra with a competition notice immediately. The second problem is purely technical - caused by among other things an interface glitch between a service management centre product sourced from Alcatel and a Shasta server. Guys, either fix it or nix it.

As for the enduring issue of the credibility of Telstra's public pronouncements, who knows what can be done?

IBM used to have a policy by which it was a sackable offence to lie to a journalist. That would be a nice start.


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