“Tel-struck” My neologism for being “awe-struck” by Telstra.

Not too many years ago a prominent Telstra director famously stated that he would not recommend Telstra as an investment to his grandmother.

Over the decade from 1997 to 2007 the Howard government progressively privatized Telstra after ending its monopoly by opening the telecommunication market to competition. It was a smart move, which greatly enriched Treasury coffers.

The government can thank unsuspecting “Mum and Dad” investors for paying up to $7.40 per share, a price the market was never going to sustain for long.

Although the government relinquished all ownership of Telstra with the sale of the residual 17% of Telstra to Peter Costello’s brain-child, the newly established Future Fund, they retained full, and rather suffocating, regulatory control of its operations in the interest of a competitive market. This restricted profitability, and steadily depressed the share-price as the conflict with Labor over the proposed National Broadband Network grew.

The New Telstra

Cinderella like Telstra has now become a market darling, delivering stunning new Apple developed mobile technology and delivering digital age advances in learning, new ways of doing business, and bringing new horizons in  entertainment and communication.

It is Australia’s genie’s lamp instantly materializing the wonders of a new age. With the click of a mouse, incredible tools materialize for use wherever you may be. With my new iPhone 5s I no longer mind being kept waiting, I can find the answers for my wife’s questions before I forget what they were, keep her on the right road when she is driving, listen to my music through the car’s audio-system, check on my investments, research available local services, and even locate my mobile phone if I misplace it. And, it is the perfect camera for my shaky hands, and an effective entertainer of the grand-children when baby-sitting, and….

Is it any wonder that I would pay $1000 for one of these magic wands, plus $59 each and every month ad-infinitum – money I probably can ill-afford as a retiree. But I am caught. Addicted to the aps, and to the internet!

Too big to Worry?

If this were my only indulgence, it would be manageable.  However, encouraged by Telstra’s smart marketing, our telecommunications bill has been steadily mounting peaking this last month in a bill of $527 swollen by $195 of extra mobile charges my wife incurred whilst we were visiting family over Christmas.

Time for some cost-cutting! Do I really need the Platinum Foxtel package, introduced when charges on our home phone were reduced. It is really only the History channel, and AFL footy that I wanted. Free to air television is now offering greater choice than ever before, some in High Definition, whilst now Foxtel has almost as much advertising as free to air. Then too, 200G of data on our bundle is really only needed by movie viewers and gamers.

You might think Telstra would provide perhaps a token pensioner discount. But not so for what is after all a discretionary spend on entertainment and communications.

Telstra’s accounting system maximizes their revenue. Subscriptions and Plan Contracts tie customers into continuing payment, even when for one reason or another services are not used.

An incredibly complex, and impossible to remember raft of usage charges selectively implemented promote subscriptions and increase revenue when usage is high. Plan conditions may lapse with time or be changed without notice.

Some plans may offer conditional bonus option(s). All too often the conditions are too restrictive to be of much help. eg to particular family members, or at a particular hour of the day.

What I dislike most about the new Telstra is a growing streak of meanness:

  •  a $2 fee for issuing an account by mail, penalizing many elderly customers and those without access to or ability to use a computer. The substantial savings they make with those who do pay online should more than compensate them for those who can’t.
  • a punitive $15 a month late payment fee which bears no relation to reasonable interest charges. The concession offered me when we were confronted with such a large monthly bill, was an extension of time for account payment, but the late payment fee was not waived.

I admire the progress Telstra has made, and the benefits it has delivered for Australians. However the new world it is bringing has a down-side in over-use and addiction, in scams and profiteering, and abusive and bullying activity. A growing problem is the incurring of unforeseen and often unaffordable charges sometimes by children without parental authority.

If I could, I would ask Telstra to devote some of its profits to  dealing with the unpleasant side effects of the internet revolution. And to cultivate a more socially responsible image.

About Kenneth Robson

I studied at Adelaide Boys' High School, and the University of Adelaide, Medical School. graduating in 1961. My field of specialisation was Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Prior to establishing my practice in Adelaide, I spent 5 years working in India, and Papua-New Guinea, in the field of reconstructive surgery for leprosy. In retirement I joined the Australian Technical Analyst Association and passed the two examinations for a Diploma inTechnical Analysis, and the designation Certified Financial Technician (CFTe) by the International Federation of Technical Analysts.
This entry was posted in Community Issues. Bookmark the permalink.