Small value in Big Pond

Small value in Big Pond


There's an old maxim that when three people feel compelled to tell you the same thing, it must be true. I don't actually think there is a maxim like that, but there ought to be. I think Dale Cooper said something like it in Twin Peaks once.

A few weeks ago I spent my half-page in ARN discussing my renaissance of interest in Telstra Big Pond Cable. In the days following the publication of that column I received more e-mail from readers than I have received about any other column. After a week or so I basically lost count of them. Unfortunately I was unable to respond to them all, but I read each and every one.

And each and every one told me the same thing: don't do it. Some told me about poor customer service, others concentrated on uncompetitive pricing, others spoke of the unrealistic usage cap of 100MB per month, inadequate for serious use.

Not one single e-mail I received told me that the Big Pond Cable service was worth the price.

Well, being part of the ARN team, I'm a champion of the channel. And I wouldn't be much of a champion if I weren't prepared to take the channel's advice. I called Optus to discuss its cable Internet access.

It's worth stating as a sideline that this wasn't the first contact I'd had with Optus. After the ugly thick cable was hung in my street, a fellow in a suit came to my door one night wanting to discuss the wondrous opportunities it offered. Tragically, I was on my way out, so I asked when he might be in the area again.

He suggested the following evening, when I already had plans. I told him so, and he smarmed something about how I was just lying to get rid of him, and wasn't really interested in saving money.

So I was a little reluctant to phone Optus again. Nonetheless, the channel had spoken and I do essentially trust you good folks not to steer me wrong.

The conversation started off reasonably enough, with brief descriptions of plans and pricing structures. The one thing Telstra had that Optus didn't was an offer of free installation, including the modem. Optus' installation charges were up in the several hundred dollars region, which is steep compared to free. I asked what was included in the installation charge and was told it included the cabling, installation of a wall bracket (can't get away from drilling a hole in the house), a cable modem and an Ethernet card.

That's when the fun started. "I have a Mac with built-in Ethernet," I said, feigning naivete, "so I don't need the Ethernet card. Can I knock a bit of money off the cost of installation?"

"No," said the Optopus, "if you don't want the Ethernet card we'll have to connect using USB."

Now, I'm as dyed-in-the-wool as any Mac person out there, and I make no secret of the fact. But I haven't yet followed the Cult of Steve into multi-coloured candy Macs. My machine is as beige as porridge and proud of it - therefore it lacks USB. I explained this.

"It's not that I don't want the Ethernet card, it's that I don't need it. Can you just plug the modem into the Ethernet port on my machine and not charge me for the card I don't need?"

"No, we have to use the USB port on a Mac because we can't open up a Mac like we can with a PC." Now it's getting silly.

"You don't have to open up my Mac! Just plug the modem into the Ethernet port. Forget USB!"

"With a normal PC we'd open it up, install an Ethernet card and plug the modem into the Ethernet card. We can't put an Ethernet card into your Mac because it already has Ethernet, so we'd have to connect using USB." I swear this conversation took place.

So I'm sitting there with my hopelessly over-specified abnormal Mac, unable to communicate to the person on the other end of the phone what I thought was a simple notion. I considered offering to let their technician open my Mac then close it again, pretending with a knowing wink that they'd installed an Ethernet card. I thought better of doing so, lest it break the sales rep's brain.

So I'm not connected to Optus, and I'm not connected to Telstra. Someday a gigantic thick pipe will bring high-speed Internet into my home, but obviously it won't be any time soon.

Matthew JC. Powell will connect to the first broadband Internet provider that will talk sense to him. Contact him on

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