The Pathetic State of Internet in Australia

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As I write this, my Google Chrome browser wheel is on spin.

It’s been that way for the past five minutes. I’m diverting over to my Windows Live Writer to catch up on writing while I wait.

Waiting on Australian internet happens a lot.

We’re in Yallingup, a coastal town not far from Margaret River. Margs is a decent size town and very touristy. The facilities should be in place, just like they should have been in Cairns – Australia’s most popular tourist destination.

We stayed nearly two weeks, thinking we could mix up fun exploring the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, with a bit of online work at the Caravan Park.

But, we couldn’t get on. It was one of the worst services we’ve experienced so far – that is in the places where you get service.

When we signed up to Optus – because they were cheaper – they told us they had 95% of the coverage that Telstra did. They don’t. We’ve travelled the country to verify it.

We had to buy a Telstra mobile broadband device to cover us for that long stretch across the Top End where an Optus signal could not be found. Yep. If you want to fail in business in Australia, travel the country and then choose Optus as your internet provider.

It infuriates us for two reasons

1. We live in a wealthy country. If I can get high-speed internet for $20 a month and unlimited data in the hills of Chaing Rai Thailand, I should be able to get online in Cairns!

2. Even though I understand our country is vast and unpopulated, so there will be places internet won’t be, I’m infuriated that I have to pay over $330 a month for a substandard service. If you give me quality less than par with the hill tribes of Thailand then charge me a price that matches that.

Three hours ago, the internet went from working fine to that painful spin, taking me 15 minutes to send out a tweet.

I am not kidding you – 15 minutes to send out a one-sentence tweet.

I try hard to control my rage and frustration. Thoughts of the next tweet being, I hate Optus, I hate Optus, I hate Optus until I took up the 140 character limit. The internet will be like this now until about 10 pm tonight. No joke. I tested it yesterday.

We have such limited time to work on our online business. When we do get the hours we have our list of things to do, and we know we can get through them as we’re super focused and very efficient at getting things done quickly.

So when you rock up to get the shit done and the internet fails you, you just want to sob – and sometimes you do – because you’ve lost that small window of work time for the day and now you’re further behind and completely stressed out.

Can you imagine the frustration?

Think about your job for a second. What is the most vital tool you need to be successful with your job? How do you feel if you’ve got one that doesn’t work? What does it do with your productivity? How do you earn an income? What happens to your family? Do you want to cry and rage too?

The thing is, if you have a job you might still get paid even if your tools don’t work. if we don’t produce, we don’t earn. If we don’t have internet we can’t produce or earn.

Instead of paying 5 star prices for 1 star service, I want to send Optus a big fat invoice for the amount they have cost us in loss of productivity and income.

Of course, we’re still with them because it costs a lot to get out of our contract. We thought being out of the Top End things would be better. See what an optimist I am. I forgot about Cairns.

I forgot about often not being able to send a Facebook update in the streets of Sydney.

I forgot about the time we attended a world surfing contest in Newcastle to promote their event, sponsored by Optus, and we couldn’t get service! In Newcastle!!

Oh, and try making a Skype call to family and friends whilst you’re on the road. Or to call your web designer while you’re redesigning your website.

And if you’re in a town that swells during the busy school holidays, forget trying to get online, the towers can’t handle the extra demand!!!

AND climbing to the top of a hill with your laptops trying to get connected is common practice out here.

I kid you not.

Location independent Australia

I reflect back on those two weeks we just spent in the US. God life is easy there. I didn’t even have a sim or a phone plan. I just walked into the supermarket and connected to free wi-fi.

See, here’s our Instagram update enjoying the free wine tasting at Whole Foods, using their free wi-fi.

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And it was fast. It didn’t matter how many people were using it. I tested it, like at LAX and busy cafes and bars and laundromats, and…Super fast and FREE!!

ARGH!

I was having an issue with my Spotify account recently. There was some bug that was deleting all my downloaded songs. We have the premium version because there is no way we can continually stream with the high data costs in Australia.

But, if I can find a place with fast connection, I can generally download an album here and there to stay within my data amounts and have music to listen to offline.

Spotify’s customer service was excellent and they gave me a month’s free subscription to make up for the loss of my songs. They heard my pain when I explained how much I would be charged if I had to download those songs again.

“You have no idea how expensive internet is in Australia. I can’t go over my data limits.”

“You do know that you can download songs over free Wi-Fi? So you don’t have to worry about that.”

“Dude. I live in Australia. You don’t get free anything!! If any place advertises free wi-fi I just laugh and turn my own dongle on because it won’t work or it’s so freaking slow I can’t even update a Facebook or send a text message.”

He commiserated and laughed along with me.

That’s running a business in Australia.

It causes us a hell of a problem and a lot of stress and is the single biggest reason why I’ve wanted to quit this road trip.

Telstra’s coverage is better. Their service is faster and more efficient. But they are more expensive and their customer service is crap. They’ve had the market from day one and they know it, they don’t give a shit. Optus are pretty quick to respond and help if you get your cranky pants on over Twitter.

I wear my cranky pants a lot

Like now, waiting for the wheel to stop spinning and just load the goddamn page!

There was this one time at the mining town of Tom Price in Western Australia, after returning from Karijini National Park and learning we missed out on a contract worth good money because we didn’t have internet access and couldn’t respond to a timely email, I launched a sale for our eBook.

There was a glitch in my Ontraport set up, which meant no one could buy the book. Yep. Troubleshooting that one in a quick manner was an exercise in how many times you could swear in one sentence.

Of course the service was shit, so I couldn’t troubleshoot and my connection to my Ontraport helper kept dropping and we’d have to start the chat over again. I begged him to fix the issue for me because I couldn’t even log into the site.

He wasn’t allowed to do that. I finally managed to get it fixed in spurts of when the Chrome wheel stopped spinning and actually worked for five minutes. But, the next morning another issue sprang up and people couldn’t buy the books.

I wanted to die of embarrassment. I felt so unprofessional and again so stressed out. I had to drive around the town at 6am to find the spot where I could get decent service. It was like those advertising commercials that came out ten years ago about finding the spot where your call wouldn’t be dropped.

Except this is fucking 2015. Am I stuck in a freakin’ time warp! Wake up Australia, it’s no longer the industrial age, it’s the information age!

I had to sit in the car with the hot sun beating down on me (it’s damn hot near Karijini) for two hours while I fixed it. I’ll add that to the Optus bill.

There’s the constant problem of having to download an app, or training video, or podcast. You know the stuff that is essential to your business. It gets halfway through and then the internet drops and you have to start again.

So on the first attempt it got downloaded 20mb of data. Then you attempt again and it gets through 35mb of data an then on the third it finally downloads all of it before the internet drops, but instead of downloading only 40mb of the original file, you’ve used 95mb because the internet is so bad. Oh yeah and you’re paying for that. At 10cents per mb should you go over your limits!

You can see how easy it is to go over your limits when you’re having to do things three or four times.

[Update: Just yesterday I had to download a 287mb file. It got halfway through and it fucking dropped. Ended up turning into half a gig file to download. Yeah, I’ll pay for that one. Btw, this post is taking awhile to write. Too many drop outs.]

This one was great. There was that time when my account was registering that I was using 8GB a day. Can you imagine my heart attack?!

On a heavy duty work day, Craig and I would use at most 1.5 GB. I am very good at monitoring my data usage because I don’t want to pay excess fees. (But get this right, data recording can be up to 48 hours delayed, so tell me how they can charge you excess data when you can’t properly monitor your usage?!)

I knew it was impossible that we were using this amount each day because we were out exploring Broome and doing things like our Horizontal Falls tour and left with only about two hours of work time a day.

We rarely download anything that consumes a lot of data. I checked to ensure nothing was running in the background several times on both computers. We each have our own separate device, yet they were both still running so high. There was some huge tech bug going on.

On one of those 8GB days we road tripped for 6 hours and had no internet service. Then there was the five day period over that space where we couldn’t get service. Yet still they had our data usage at close to 80GB for that month. Our biggest to date and we were hardly on it.

Totally loved that $1,000 bill.

I was firing verbal bullets.

Thankfully, I had begun the complaint process when I first noticed something fishy was going on and had plenty of screenshots and data to back up what I was saying.

Optus customer service can be good and they did not charge me for it. But, the dude did tell me that it was probably an email file that did not get sent and so every time I logged on it was trying to send it and was stuck chewing up data.

Oh please. A stuck email chewing up 80GB of data? We don’t send big email files. We use Dropbox for that.

Then one morning in Broome, both our 10 month old phones broke. Mercury Retrograde wreaking havoc. My phone wouldn’t connect to the phone charger properly so I couldn’t charge it. Craig’s screen just went black and it couldn’t be used. We had a work around solution. I’d charge my battery through his phone and then pop it in mine when done. A slight pain in the ass, but something we had to do for weeks.

We couldn’t get replacement phones. Why? Because we were in Broome and there’s no Optus store in Broome! (There’s a Telstra one) The nearest Optus store was Geraldton – a distance of 1,900km away and we weren’t meant to arrive there for five weeks.

Did I mention we use our phones for business?

This didn’t seem to matter too much to the customer service rep I spoke to on chat. I basically got a “too bad you have to go to Geraldton to hand in your own phone before we can send you a new one”. So all Broome residents, if you’re with Optus and have a problem you now have to go to Geraldton.

Rural Australia you’re screwed.

Thankfully the team on Twitter responded when I blew a fuse.

They were more understanding and we agreed the chat lady didn’t know what she was talking about. But, we were still screwed. Despite having a business account and really needing our phones, they seriously couldn’t help us much.

We were due to leave Broome and, because of our transient nature, they couldn’t figure a plan to work around the rules that say you have to pick up your replacement phone from the place you sent the broken one from.

They eventually decided they’d let us send it in from where we were and arrange to have it sent back to us at a different address.

We finally get our phones sent in for warranty repair and then we’re told warranty won’t cover it because there’s a scratch on the screen. Both screens have hair like scratches on it, and have for months and have worked perfectly fine with it. The problem was not with the scratched screen but a phone malfunction.

Too bad. Scratch on the screen. You can’t do a warranty claim. You have to go through Insurance. We pay the insurance excess and they send out the new phones.

So a couple of MONTHS after the phones bust, we both get new phones. Mine couldn’t make it until after our White House trip, even though I pleaded with the Optus guy on the phone, something like this

“Okay so we’ve been invited to White House as one of the top digital travel influencers in the world, and I’m going to be arriving without a working phone!! Do you know how embarrassing that is?”

Of course he could do nothing about that. He did give me $100 credit to buy a crappy Sony smart phone as a sub.

Craig’s new phone arrived a few days before so we weren’t too embarrassed. We get to the States, he buys a $50 data pack on a sim card. I have my dodgy replacement sony phone and don’t buy any data package. I’m connected the entire time because you walk into any freaking store in the states and you have free wi-fi AND fast!

And, even after Craig used his data pack, we didn’t get any excess charges. How’s this? They still let you connect to the internet!!! Just at a slower speed, yet still faster than Optus most of the time.

So I pick up my new phone from the store when we arrive home from the States. It came without a battery or a back cover. “What is this?”

“Did you not keep the battery and back cover of your old phone?”

“No. Nobody told me I had to do that, I sent it in with the broken phone. “

“Oh they shouldn’t have done that.”

The guy finally decided to give me the battery and cover of one of his shop phones.

Then my phone doesn’t work. It’s a brand new phone and I go to the nearest Optus store. Sure enough, it’s dodgy and I discover it’s a RECONDITIONED PHONE!!!

“Huh? Why is it reconditioned?

I pay my monthly insurance premium and I expect a new phone as a replacement, not a second hand dodgy one!”

No answer was really given, but they sent away for me to get a new one.

A week later, I pick up the new phone. This one has a back cover, but no battery!

I ask that it be checked to ensure this one works. I ask why I’ve been given a reconditioned phone AGAIN!

She says, “it’s nothing to do with Optus, it’s the insurance company.” I’m confused because as far as I know I pay Optus the monthly premium for my phone so they should have something to do with it.

“Well it’s the one you chose.”

“What do you mean?”

“They would have given you the choice whether to pay the excess for a new phone or a reconditioned one.”

“Ah. No they didn’t. She told me to pay the excess and they’d send out a new phone. There was no mention of reconditioning or of different excess payments. My husband put his insurance claim in the week before and he got a brand new phone. We pay the same excess.”

“Well I don’t know. It’s an insurance thing, it has nothing to do with us. You’ll have to phone them.”

To which I said, (not out loud),

Fuck it. I’m so fucking tired of Optus and speaking to them at least once a month about their appalling service and never ending billing issues. I can’t stomach having to go through this drama for another six months and tell my story to five different people, multiple times, before I get NO ANSWER!

Which reminds me, we have to ring them on Monday as our phone bill is once gain $140 more than it should be. Trust me, we monitor our data usage carefully and we have not gone over.

AND, because I had to take the battery from a phone in the Optus shop, it’s completely crap and doesn’t last long before needing charging.

It’s now a few weeks after I first started writing this post – it takes that long because of the spinning circle.

The other day, my spiritual teacher, Belinda Davidson, who has made such a difference to my life this past year wanted to chat over Skype. I was so excited to talk to her.

But, of course the internet was playing up. I had to run through the campsite with my broadband device up the air until I found the spot where I had enough bars to sustain a Skype call, without video. It’s so 1980’s.

Yes this is a whingey rant post. We rarely put them on the site, because we do like to focus on the positive and we’ll get back to that soon enough. But sometimes life’s a bitch and it’s good for us to show you the reality of what we do.

Yes, we chose to do this road trip around Australia, but c’mon. Australia is not Sydney and Melbourne! You should be able to see the joint AND run an online business!

It’s no secret

No, it’s not just us, we peak to a lot of foreigners traveling around Australia, and other Aussies, and they are SHOCKED at the high prices and appalling state of the internet.

Not to mention the expats who relocate and it takes FOREVER to get the internet connected in their new homes!

Oh, and what about still having to have a god damn land-line at home to get connected in Australia. Who uses a land-line these days??? Lol.

A reader contacted me the other day asking for my advice about Australian internet. He’s arrived in the country and ready to embrace being a digital nomad and share this beautiful country with his community. But, how could he manage the high expenses and poor quality?

“Oh I am so sorry. I want nothing more than to give you some positive advice here. But, Australian internet is appalling. My only advice is don’t be a digital nomad in Australia.”

Don’t ever. Go to the hills of Chaing Rai in Tailand and pay $20 a month for unlimited fast Wi-Fi rather than $330 for pathetic service that causes you unlimited stress and makes you decide to pack your suitcases and move to America.

For real.

Ah, I suppose I should offer you some helpful tips about Australian internet I guess.

Hmm. Let’s dig real deep here.

Tips for using internet in Australia

  • Optus is cheaper. Telstra has the best coverage. Yeah that.
  • If you’re going rural – which let’s face it is most of the country – Telstra is your only option.
  • Believe it or not, Optus service people are nicer than Telstra. Optus customer service gives me angina, Telstra customer service gives me a heart attack.
  • We have a pre-paid Telstra mobile broadband that we use in the areas we can’t get connected to Wi-Fi. And because Optus still charge you whether you get service or not, our data bill then goes through the roof. We’re adding an extra $100 on this month now we are in the outback again.
  • We have flexible plans with Optus meaning, if we know we’re going to go way under our data allowance, or over, we can phone Optus and change the data limits and pro-rata the cost. This is extremely handy. I do thank you for this Optus! It’s just a headache to maintain. So just phone and say you want to upgrade or downgrade your usage for that month.
  • You need a friggin degree to read a phone/data bill. It just does not make sense and impossible to know what you are being charged for nor how much data you have used. Sorry no tips here.
  • Do as much of your work as you can offline.
  • Use free Wi-Fi. I’m seriously laughing so hard here as I type that. Do not hold your breath, nor rely on it. We don’t even bother connecting any more when we see it advertised. But, you might get lucky so you might as well try. If you do then quickly do as much downloading of your apps and things you need.
  • Our friends at Travel Outback Australia recently reviewed an iSavi Wideye iSatHub as an option for people to get connected when they are out bush away from Telstra or Optus service. Read more about it here
  • Sorry, I just don’t know what else to tell you.

I know there will be some people who’ll like to tell us Australian internet is not so bad and we’re ungrateful and traitors for writing this BUT, this is the truth. We’ve travelled the entire country to find the proof and we speak to many travellers who say the same thing.

It’s no secret, internet in Australia is a joke!

The Truth

We were chatting about it the other night with another Aussie who said something really interesting, yet quite frightening:

“In the past, countries who have kept up with infrastructure have slipped into first world status and thrived. The future is not highways and transportation routes, but internet highways. If Australia doesn’t start getting committed and investing in fixing this we are going to slip way behind”.

Our stupid governments won’t see past their four-year term and selfish pursuits so refuse to see the importance of improving the internet for our future and so won’t invest the money right now as they see it as being too risky for their budgets.

Don’t get me started on Tony Abbot. Time to end this rant!

P.S. It just took me 15 minutes to hit the publish button on this post. Yep, we’re in Yeppoon, it’s the school holidays, and the internet sux!