Internet Not As Open Down Under

While sitting at Melbourne International Airport waiting for my flight back to the States I assumed a Wi-Fi hotspot would be have an open unsecured network available to so I could get online and get some work done while waiting for my departure.

Peter Beare, BeareWare

And as happened throughout my visit to Australia – from a Wi-Fi access point of view I was once again disappointed.

Home & Business Services appear comparative

So before I scare you off to much the overall broadband and cable options for residents and small business in Australia seemed relative similar to that in the US. Most of my time visiting my family in Australia I had Wi-Fi access in each residents I was staying at (secured wireless networks) – and I have to say that was very enjoyable to use. But outside your residence or work environment the internet openness down under disappears quickly.

Getting Online At Mickie Dee’s

While staying at my parents holiday house in Rosebud (around 50 miles from Melbourne) – their house had slower access (ADSL). Having plenty of work to do and requiring high speed access to do it – I was informed by a family member that all McDonald’s Restaurants in Australia have Wi-Fi.. I was extremely happy with this discovery – a Mickie Dee’s was only a 10 minute walk from where I was staying and the McDonalds stores in Australia are second to none so I was happy to plan my afternoon around some good food and drink. (McCafe being a really big part of the stores success in Australia)…

So I arrive at McDonalds and order my “value” meal – and then find a comfortable place to sit, eat and surf. Before ordering I confirmed that the restaurant did in fact have Wi-Fi which was confirmed with a smile. I was feeling good – everything going to plan. So I thought…

I fired my laptop up and then immediately found the Telstra Unsecured Network (Telsra being the AT&T equivalent in the Australia). Immediately I landed on the Telstra Website which immediately made me realize I was going to need some form of additional access to get online.

OK – I have to pay to get online

So after quite a bit of searching and verifying that I was not a Teltra customer (which still had fees associated with the access) I found the option to simply purchase time to get online. For $29.00 dollars I could buy 2 hours. I have to admit this did not float my boat. But I wanted to at least get a bit of work done so I selected the 2 hours option. I entered my credit card info in – and then – I waited – AND – waited – AND waited.

The https call (secure call) to process my payment simply froze on my screen. It did not particularly please me to have my credit card numbers sitting on the screen as they were – (as people were walking by with the McHamburgers and McFries) but I knew that a refresh of the page may actually repeat the transaction. So I sat and waited. After approximately 10 minutes I decided to close the processing page and try again. So I go back to the payment screen and try again – and sure enough the same problem happened. After 10 minutes I knew I wasn’t getting online.

I had a hunch that the folks actually working at McDonalds would claim that this was a Telstra problem – (not a McDonald’s problem) – so I was prepared when I went to the counter to inquire as to what I could. Of course I was told immediately that this was a “Telstra” issue but I quickly identified to the girl that the sign out front stated “McDonalds” not “Telstra”. This logic eventually landed me with the manager. The real problem I had was the double processing of my credit card. Not getting online was a pain – but potentially being charged twice for not getting online was an outrage.

We only work here

Ultimately I did end up with the store manager and explained my situation and requested a note from her (on letter head) stating date and time and store number so I had some form of proof that I clearly did have a problem using the service. After much convincing the manager gave me a “napkin” receipt and was very happy to have me out of her hair. The separation between McDonald’s and the Wi-Fi system continued as a theme throughout the conversation. It was apparent a support number for this store could have really made a difference to both the customer and employee in this case. Maybe this will come in the future. As of this date I have not seen the charge come thru on my credit card so at this stage my napkin remains close at hand as my trusty receipt.

Please Starbucks Say it Ain’t So!

So after that experience I went back and worked as best I could on ADSL. Not great but at least I could e-mail people. The next day I was off the MCG (The Melbourne Cricket Ground) to see my beloved Kangaroos play an Australian Football game.) I got dropped off early to pick up some special tickets and had around an hour to kill so I decided to walk into the city. A lovely 10 minute walk along the Yarra River had me in down town Melbourne. I finally found (a very empty) Starbucks. Upon ordering my coffee I inquired about Wi-Fi. The initial answer was yes we have Wi-Fi – but upon further questioning I established that access was thru “Telstra”. Imagine Starbucks charging you get online!

Then as stated in the opening of this blog – my final Wi-Fi destination was Melbourne International Airport. Surely this would be an open unsecured network that I could use. And again the answer was NO. This really surprised me as the amount of passengers that travel thru Melbourne for business must be in the millions over the course of the year. So again I thought I would check the cost – $20.00 for 2 hours online.  Without sounding like a big bragging American (Bigger is better) – I have to say that this was really eye opening for me. Having access online (without paying constantly for it) is critical to my business operations.

It Costs You More To Stay Connected Down Under

So the reality is to stay connected in Australia you will be paying fees while in any form of transit. And when I say cost I mean cost. Let’s take the average business trip that lasts 1 week. Folks like myself would require around 3 hours access per day – and probably an hour or so in the evening. Without actually staying at hotels this time round in my trip to Australia I will assume the access in hotels is also the same (Thru Telstra). So lets take 5 days time $60.00 a day ($29.00 from Telstra for 2 hours) – and budda bang – budda bing – you have spent $300.00 in your week of business. If you are international visitor then you may be looking up to $420.00 per week – and that is with limited access.

Of course you can always use your mobile device (instead of Laptop) – and maybe there are some traveling plans that Telstra offers – but you cannot do that many things on a mobile device. It is primarily for communication – you cannot update websites (which many business people work from or thru today) or work on sales and presentation documents. Frankly this really makes a business trip much more expensive (and possibly less productive).

The Internet Should be Open To The Little Guy…

From the day the internet was invented (Thanks again to Mr. Al Gore) – small business has been able to make themselves more competitive on the internet than with any other medium. And it has come at a very small cost. When you charge access fees (as is the case in Australia and is not the case currently in the US) you really reduce the opportunities Australia has to be competitive in this arena (POINT BLANK).

I also must say that when you consider the small cost of providing Wi-Fi in a store (or location) – wouldn’t the first Australian chain – such as a coffee house or restaurant or hotel be absolutely packed to the rim if they offered free Wi-Fi. What a small cost to pay for a full house of business. It is good to understand this as lots of companies in the states will sell products and services to Australia in our merging global markets and in the States you just assumed the internet is the same playing field.

But being a proud Aussie (and one that does plan to develop a business presence in Australia in the future) keep in mind if form follows fashion with countries emulating business trends and behaviors from the US then maybe sometime in the future Australia may be a bit more internet friendly to the business traveler and the playing field will be once again even.

With Australia being such a great country to do business with so I sure hope so…

Cheers Mate,

Peter Beare – Webmaster
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Peter Beare, BeareWarePeter Beare is CEO of BeareWare, a Website Design & Development Company located just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Since building his first website for a local sports club in 1998 Peter has been a webmaster. Over the last 10 years Peter’s duties with BeareWare have included website planning, design and development, website marketing and sales, as well as database application programming & project management. But when all is said and done, Peter is still a webmaster and this is “Interview with a Webmaster“.

Peter Beare

Peter founded Bear Web Design in Nashville, Tennessee in May of 2000 and has been actively involved in web design & development, web content management & education, web hosting & management as well as internet marketing. His experience gained by working with clients from the sales cycle to launching a new website to overseeing a client’ s second generation redevelopment has given him a unique understanding and perspective of the internet. This allows him to serve our client base with expert leadership & service with a completely hands on approach.

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