Some subjects require no opinion, or comment. Just the facts.
According to the most recent annual report of the Australian Communications and Media Authority, Australians continue to slowly give up on their telephone landlines: "The number of fixed-line telephone connections continues to decline (by 1 per cent) to 9.08 million."
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More than 90 per cent of consumers now have access to fourth-generation mobile networks, but the report also notes: "Eighty-nine per cent of adults are satisfied or very satisfied with their fixed-line telephone services; 88 per cent with their mobile phones; and 81 per cent with their internet service."
That means nearly 1 million customers did not tick the satisfaction box. This column is dedicated to them.
Last Thursday, after my household had received a quarterly bill from Telstra of $137.64 for a landline phone that has not worked for a year, I embarked on a determined effort, unlike previous attempts, to persevere with whatever the helpline throws at me.
It says on the bill, next to the phone number, "We're available 24 hours a day, seven days a week". It sounds seamless, but the term "available" is evidently a loose one.
Here is the chronology:
1.54pm: I call and am asked by a recorded voice to choose from a menu of topics. When I answer, the recorded voice says, "Sorry, I missed that." I speak, and the voice again does not understand. I hang up.
1:55pm: After being asked again to choose a subject, I keep it simple and say, "complaint". The phone goes to recorded music. After six minutes, my call falls into a conversation between two women, neither of whom can hear me. I hang up.
2:01pm: I make a third call. I choose "no service". A recorded voice informs me: "Sorry, all our consultants are on the phone." After a musical interlude, the voice comes back: "Queue times are up to 10 minutes." I hang up.
2:03pm: I make a fourth call. I am advised by the recorded voice to go to a trouble-shooting website to register my problem. But my internet is not working – thank you, Foxtel – which is why I have the time to make such a determined run at trying to speak to a human being. I hang up.
2:05pm: I make a fifth call. I keep it really simple, and say one word: "Complaint". The recorded voice responds: "So you're calling about a complaint?" Yes. "If you hold on, a consultant should get to you in three minutes."
Three minutes! I make a mental note to never again call any phone company during the lunch period.
2:08pm: A human voice comes on the line. His name is Milo. He is friendly and attentive. I ask: "Are you in the Philippines?" He replies: "Yes."
I tell Milo the landline is dead. He replies: "The truth is, I work as a mobile billing agent myself." I tell him I have already been trying to access service via the help number for some time. He concedes: "The general number can take a long time."
He says he will connect me to another area. After about a minute of silence, a woman's voice comes onto the phone. Her name is Lea. She is also in the Philippines. She, too, is friendly and attentive.
After detailed explanations, during which she asks me to unplug the phone jacks, then plug it in again, which I do to three jacks, she says she has booked a Telstra technician to visit my home on Saturday. I ask that the technician could call on approach, in case no one is home. She says he will, and that it is highly likely the fault will be found outside the house.
It is now 45 minutes since my first call – it seems so much longer – and I tell Lea that, as I have been on the phone for so long, and the house has coped well without a landline by using mobile phones and the internet via Foxtel Wi-Fi, I should just terminate the landline. Was that something she could do?
"No, she informs me. "You will have to call the billing department."