Is There A Limit?

If you have an Internet connection and you’re as addicted to it as I am, you’ve probably experienced a time when it was behaving badly or stopped working. Usually at the worst time possible, such as when you need to send in a report or when the only thing on television is Master Chef. Usually if you try again a little later it will mysteriously work.  Or you may need to reboot your computer and modem and that magically fixes things as well.  But when all those arcane steps have failed you’ll need to contact our Customer Service team.

Every day, for more than seventeen years, iiNet has been here to help customers facing connection problems.  Today we employ more than 2,000 people and more than 80 percent of those staff are in Customer Service.  That’s the core of the business.

I see technical support as a joint effort between the customer and the staff member to diagnose and fix a problem.  It can’t be adversarial.  Both parties want the same outcome – to fix the issue, so the blame game is pointless.  The problem is that the fix is rarely obvious.   When a customer calls up and says “my Internet is not working” there is no button we can push to fix it instantly.  We have to diagnose it step by step and try to work out where it’s broken.  Just to give a few examples, the issue could be:

  • A problem with the application that you are using (eg. the web browser)
  • A virus or other problem on your computer
  • A fault with the computer itself
  • The cables connecting to the modem or the wireless device used to tune into the wireless network
  • The actual WiFi network (which can be affected by interference from other devices)
  • Other devices connected to telephone sockets in another room (security alarm, Foxtel, unfiltered phones)
  • A configuration problem on the modem/router
  • A hardware fault with the modem/router
  • The cables from the modem/router to the phone connection
  • The internal wiring in the house
  • Any part of the copper line from the house to the exchange (which can be affected by weather or many other things)
  • Simply trying to push the link beyond its capabilities (which can change over time)
  • Our equipment at the exchange
  • Configuration issues with authentication or similar
  • The links from the exchange back to the city
  • Lots of potential issues inside the iiNet network
  • The links to the rest of the world
  • A problem with the site that the customer is trying to connect to

That’s not even a complete list!  So you and the CSR need to go through and try to rule out each issue.  It can be particularly hard when the issue might be intermittent or caused by two or more issues coinciding, or caused by an external factor like weather or interference.

If your Internet has stopped working it’s often easy to start by thinking “but I haven’t changed anything”, so the steps you’re being asked to go through may seem pointless. But the CSR really does need to go through and test as many pieces of the puzzle as possible to try and build a picture of what might be causing the problem.  For instance, our staff members might ask you to move your computer next to the modem and connect with an Ethernet cable. Now you’re thinking “that’s a waste of time” because you don’t want the computer there at all!  But doing this can allow us to rule out any issues with your wireless network or WiFi configuration.

If there is a particularly niggling issue it can mean many hours of work by both the customer and our CSR to find the answer.  It can also mean going back and trying earlier tests again as later issues are ruled out or corrected.

Sometimes staff will try something that may “fix” the problem but really turns out to just be a placebo.  For example, if other issues have been ruled out staff may conclude the modem is faulty and suggest a replacement.  If the modem was supplied by iiNet we send out a new one and ask the customer to return the old faulty unit. The customer and staff member are now happy because they have a solution: let’s replace that pesky piece of hardware.  Faulty units then go back to our test lab where we try to analyse what the fault was so we can reduce the incidence of faults in future releases.

Here’s the disappointing bit: of all modems returned to iiNet as “faulty” during 2010, only 3 percent turned out to be actually faulty.  A staggering 97 percent were perfectly OK.  The replacement of the modem may seem to have fixed the problem, but that’s pure coincidence.

On rare occasions the issue won’t be found and the connection will continue to be dodgy due to factors that may evade diagnosis no matter how much time and stress is invested by you and our staff.  There may need to be a point where both parties say “you know what, I reckon we’ve done all we can here”.  At that point, we need to be mature enough to accept that the connection is not perfect but it’s usable. Or even just shake hands and go our separate ways.  If we have tried all the usual tests, send out line technicians, replaced and still been unable to get a reliable connection, then a penalty free separation should be offered.

It’s not you honey.  It’s actually not me either. At least I don’t think so.  It’s just that this isn’t working out for us…


  1. Richard says:

    As the neighbourhood tech guy I know what you mean by this.
    I know there is a problem with the system and trying to limit it down to something is time consuming and frustrating for both the client and repairer.
    It just makes it more frustrating when the client does not understand how complex computing systems are.

  2. Damien says:

    Is the decision to give up, stop troubleshooting and part ways due to it no longer being technically feasible to provide the service or no longer profitable?

  3. And this is when it is helpful to know a good local “computer guy”. They will have the skill and knowledge to work through all the issues outside of the scope of the ISP and get you running again asap. this is what we do. Lester Langford Aspiring Computer Services Covering Sydney North Shore from Turramurra

  4. Shane says:

    Yay for the voice of common sense and the olive branch. Unfortunately being in the tech support/service desk industry for 8 years now, the day when a customer doesn’t argue the point with you seems to be that one day in paradise.

    We’ll continue working our butts off and supporting the technology though, because it’s what we love doing 😛 We’re not immune to tech faults either. Still remember a few occasions where I’ve been put back in my box by a thorough CSR…

  5. @ Damien:

    Honestly, in most cases it’s going to be a case of it no longer being technically feasible. Internet services in Australia are not legally considered a utility – as such, there’s limited recourse that any ISP has with their wholesalers to repair a line that works just fine for voice but may have issues maintaining a consistent ADSL service.

    If the wholesaler decides to mark the line as a “dirty ticket”, it’s game over.

  6. Scott says:

    I must confess, that at the outset it might appear that I to am one of those 97% of iinet subscribers that have returned supposedly fault modems, although in my own defense.
    My original iinet supplied Belkin modem did stop working one bright and sunny day, and true to the form of a serial fiddler, I tried to do a little at home repair but after several unsuccessful attempts to resurrect our much loved family member.
    I turned to the incredibly helpful iinet support team, who also after a robust Q and A session pronounced our beloved D.O.A To, which I was then referred to Belkin, as iinet’s one-year warranty for replacement of faulty goods had run it course.
    Again we (the Belkin service rep and I) repeated almost verbatim the same Q and A session as with iinet, and again our beloved was D.O.A at the scene, and a replacement was ordered.
    I was told to expect it with 5-9 working days, by the nicest customer service rep I have ever had the privilege of speaking with.
    5-9 working days later there was no modem as promised, but plenty of action in the house, as this length of time I’m assured is an eternity from being disconnected from your friends, your social networking sites, and X-box live death matches with Nazi Zombies.
    I again looked at our dearly departed friend, and being the resident tech nerd in our family that I am, I again took up the task to see if I could raise our own Lazarus admittedly with a healthy dose of wailing and gnashing of teeth, sprinkled liberally with highly descriptive adjectives, but in the end I finally got our modem to work (don’t ask me how, I’d only be lying if I said I knew.)

    It must have been the heady mix of happy and finally content teens and pre-teens alike, plus a personally satisfying return to iinet’s freezone, that initially dismissed any notion of a return phone call to our lovely yet hard to understand friend at Belkin, that eventually lead to a complete absence of intent and total forgetfulness on my part.
    That was until 5-9 working weeks later when a courier truck dropped of a very small carton with rather large lettering that screamed Belkin from its sides, to our front door.
    Surprise gave way to embarrassment initially, but I rationed that if it happen so spectacularly once before who says it could not do so again so our precious was bundled up and sent away to be dissected and analyzed and possible found to be in perfect working condition, thus accounting for some of iinet’s 97%,’s returns.
    But since then BoB lite has worked faultlessly in our well connected home since it’s instillation, and therefore in that vein we have had no more upset children, therefore no stressed out parent (dealing with upset children and faulty tech in tandem), and ultimately no tense (and sometimes counter productive) tech support phone call to iinet.
    And in the end we couldn’t be happier, it has even made me fall in love with Windows all over again, but that’s a story for another day.

  7. Neil Slattery says:

    As a former employee of iiNet I can certainly attest to the many diagnosis’s we as Technical support staff had to go through. Even when you have been thoroughly instructed on how to diagnose various issues, be it “No DSL Sync”, “No Authentication” etc. no 2 lines are created equal.

    It is therefore safe to assume that when 2 different customers have the same plan eg. ADSl2+ Home 1 with a standard POTS line and are even using exactly the same hardware. The service will not work exactly the same as there are so many dozens of factors that influence the performance of a connection.

    I have to say I appreciate a well written article by the CEO of iiNet that will certainly have benefit for any reasonable individual.


    • Tal Waterhouse says:

      Hi Neil,

      Thanks very much for the feedback! It’s definitely true that no two lines are alike, which is exactly why the general troubleshooting process exists to identify and resolve any issues.


  8. Jason says:

    Dear All

    I appreciate the fact that no two lines are the same and that a process of illimination is necessary.

    However, the bonds of reasonableness are truly tested when you have a perfectly running internet access from one ISP then change over to iinet and get no access and spend 6 hours on the phone in the following circumstances.

    First the tech guy says after a quick assessment that he can see some code issues at his end and will call back in 5 to 10 minutes. No call back was ever received.

    So after patiently waiting for 2 hours and telling my kids that I can’t play as promised I call iinet tech back. I get a new tech guy who spent the first hour trying to assert that I did not even have a modem. I have a brand new Bilken AC1800 Wireless Modem Router.

    Finally the tech guy reluctantly conceded and then we went through a painful process of him reading forums and making suggestions of which many were just simply repeated. It was after about 2.5 hours the tech guy started to talk about which cables were plugged where at which time I started to get very annoyed as these were always right. Essentially the tech guy had no idea about my modem.

    Finally I mention that I can still access the internet if I use my outgoing ISP credentials. This is met with an assertion of impossibility due to iinet having its codes on the line. Finally after hours of wasted time, the tech guy suggests I call the outgoing ISP. I did this and was met with surprise when told that iinet access will not work until their codes were removed as this would cause a conflict. I note that when I signed up to iinet I was told that I did not need to contact mt outgoing ISP because iinet did everything for me.

    I was then concerned that instructing my outgoing ISP to cancel their codes would mean that I would be without any internet access for a period of time until iinet sorted its side out. However the iinet tech guy assured me that there would be no delay as their codes were already in the line. Well if course you guessed it, as soon as I cancelled I was told by iinet that I would have to wait 5 days before I could have any internet.

    In summary, my experience to date with iinet has been very unsatisfactory. I have wasted significant time when the issues should have been immediately apparent to any tech person with experience. This is and continuos to be a frustrating process.