A Fault Like Any Other Fault

Old Pit

I dare say this is what the pit out the front looks like.

Living in Melbourne has some great benefits: the Queen Victoria Market, small bars in secluded corners, great restaurants, & a diverse public transport system. It makes the city quite liveable, & the cost of living far from excessive. I live in a suburb called Essendon, full of 1930′s/1940′s houses, & lots of schools, & a major train station. All these things lead to a comfortable way of life, not quite as fun as when I lived in North Melbourne, but with it only being 15 minutes by train (on a good day) from the city, it’s not such a problem.

The main drawback of living in such an established suburb is the telecommunications infrastructure. Now, I know my country cousins are going to say “but you live in a big city, it has to be better than ours”. While this is true, to an extent, we still suffer the same problems as the you guys. In fact, it can be worse due to higher population & the limited number of technicians.

I’ll explain why.

Recently we’ve had a bit of rainfall, quite welcome as our lawns are all looking quite nice for summer, & the dust that’s built up over the last year is washed away. The only problem with a bit of rainfall is that the same dust that’s washed away turns into sludge in drains, causing them to overflow. The same happens in telecommunications pits & ducting.

While copper telecommunications infrastructure is supposed to be water resistant, it isn’t waterproof. Lead-in joints, pair repair joints, CV joints, & gel filled joints all fair badly when they are completely submerged. There’s not much you can do to mitigate these problems with copper, the medium itself is vulnerable to corrosion caused, & even the slightest amount of moisture will (NOT can) cause problems. Ask any tech who’s spent time in the field, they will tell you the same thing “we’re always busy when it rains”. Not with fixing fibre, but with fixing copper.

Now that I’ve covered some basics, here’s my story on a general run of the mill fault.

I run naked DSL (ADSL2+ without an active phone line) from iiNet, their service is great, latency is low, & the technical support is something to write home about. I’ve not had a problem with the iiNet end at all since I signed up over 3 years ago. This is the 2nd premises I’ve had the service at, with a minor synchronisation speed change happening in the move due to the variable line lengths. This not abnormal with a xDSL service, & would be a common problem if FTTN was deployed over FTTH.

When I moved to Melbourne 6 years ago, ADSL was great, it was fast enough to handle 700MB .iso files I use to install linux (now most are 4.5GB), Youtube was still using 480p (not 1080p like it is now), & game installers/updates were in the 100′s of MB (not GB) range. Things were fine for the short term, but there was always the thought that the long term strategy was to upgrade from xDSL to fibre optic communication.

In my North Melbourne I achieved around 12Mbps at around 2km from the exchange, not bad for the distance, but also not mind blowing. In Essendon I’ve topped out, albeit inconsistently, at around 17Mbps, marginally better than North Melbourne, but still nowhere near as fast as ADSL2+ is capable of, & a far cry from the NBN’s starting speed of 100Mbps (which is now 1000Mbps).

For the past 2 years the service has been ok, nothing to note other than the odd outage due to software/firmware upgrades from iiNet, or my modem dying (ADSL modems tend to die rather rapidly). It’s only since the rain we’ve had recently that my service has dropped from 17Mbps to 1.7Mbps (the upload sync speed has dropped from ~1Mbps to 200kbps), yes, that’s a 90% drop in sync speed because of a bit of rain. We’ve not had rain anywhere near what Queensland or NSW has had recently, so I can only imagine how services up there are reacting to the additional moisture.

I logged a fault with iiNet, going through the usual resetting modem, changing cables, etc, which I had already done prior to calling. Years of working in ICT (for Telstra programming ADSL/ISDN/PSTN at one stage) has taught me to do the legwork first so I’m not wasting technical support’s time chasing a fault that was with my equipment. iiNet agreed to send a tech out from Visionstream, who came out yesterday (approximately 1 week from when the fault was reported).

The tech was pleasant & spent a long time testing the line & trying to narrow down the fault. He replaced the socket just to be sure it wasn’t the socket, to no avail. Synchronisation speeds were still a far cry from what they should be at 1.5km from the exchange. He explained to me that there was both 4volts of foreign battery (voltage leaking from another service) & a short on the line was not being seen from the exchange indicating there was a break or high resistance on the line, more than likely the latter due to being able to actually synchronise.

The tech was rather matter of fact when he finished explaining the outcome, “Telstra will not fix this line as it doesn’t fall within the criteria for a fault”. I was flabbergasted, had the policy changed so much that 4v foreign battery & high resistance wasn’t acceptable? The answer is, yes. Only when foreign battery is above 6v & high resistance causes a complete loss of service will Telstra repair the line. He tested the line from the exchange end & there was no problem with the card, so the problem was 100% with the copper, not anything else.

Fibre Splitter

A fibre optic splitter: no electronics, no copper, no worries with water

So where am I left now? Well, iiNet called to advise me they will have to pay (in the order of $350) to send a level 2 tech out to do data testing, only after a technician can show that there is a problem with data on the line will Telstra actually send someone out to change pairs, replace joints, or repair the copper. This could take upwards of a month due to Telstra not prioritising competing providers.

At this stage my fault is still unresolved, so I’m not sure what the outcome will be.

I can only imagine what this would do if I was running a business over my ADSL, I would be losing thousands of work hours to slow connectivity (at the moment if my fiancée is watching streaming video I can barely browse, let alone play online games). This is the solution that Malcolm Turnbull claims is better for Australia.

If I live in an affluent suburb, 1.5km from the exchange, & what should be a minor fault is taking weeks if not months to resolve, I can only imagine what happens when someone far from town hanging off one of the current FTTN cabinets reports a fault.

These kinds of problems happen every time it rains for most Australians, & to attempt to resurrect copper that’s already failing is a mammoth task at best, being costly & offering no return on investment. If Malcolm Turnbull thinks copper is good enough, he’s never used copper.

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A Fault Like Any Other Fault by Sortius is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported
  • Ros Envall

    Very interesting article – except for the slap at “country cousins”, who by the way would love to have naked ADSL – we agree iinet is great (been with them for 8 years), and we can’t wait for the NBN, although our area isn’t on any radar for the rollout!

    • sortius

      I meant “country cousins” as a term of endearment, just highlighting that if it’s this bad in the city, it has to be worse in the bush. ;)

  • Lord Anubis

    I had the same problem in Highfields (Toowoomba) before the 2010/11 floods. That suburb is ‘new’ in the grand scheme of copper. As soon as it started raining, nonphone, no DSL service. Had no issue with iinet getting it sorted though (9yr customer). Was a country cousin at that location so had techs falling from trees, lol.

  • Bighead1883

    And to the policeman I asked “what are pennies made of?.

  • MWS

    I’ve just tested my (Bigpond) ADSL2 speed and the best was 3.3 and the worst 1.5. I’m not surprised, because the phone line has plenty of crackle on it. Are you saying that Telstra won’t repair a line until it actually stops working?

    • sortius

      Pretty much. I’ve had family & friends in similar predicaments, the only thing you can do is log fault after fault, complaint after complaint, & finally contact the Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman. It’s a sorry state of affairs, but that’s what happens when an essential service is sold off.

  • Trevor

    I have had problems with Telstra’s ‘phone lines in every place that I have ever lived, worked or volunteered. I couldn’t open a page for hours this morning. 0.47Mb/s down. 0.28Mb/s up. Ping 918ms on 4 year old copper in a metropolitan area. Bring on the NBN.