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Open Letter to Senator Stephen Conroy on the state internet access in Australia

Hello Senator,

I have recently relocated my IT business from outer metropolitan Melbourne to country Victoria. The state of the internet in this country is a joke.

A professional associate of mine in Paris has access to 100Mbps down and 10Mbps up unlimited fibre. This costs him 45EUR p/m which includes line rental for a POTS equivalent phone service and basic cable TV. Setup is throw in if you take it for 1 or 2 years - he couldn't remember the term of the commitment.

I have a contractor in Hong Kong who has access to a network many times faster than people living in similar conditions in Melbourne.

In Tecoma I had access to business grade Naked ADSL2+ for $85 per month with 25G of data and a fixed IP address. Not included in the download quota was access to streaming radio, Linux and other Free/Open Source software (and some not so free), and some ABC content. If I exceeded my quota I would be shaped. The setup fee was $129. With this service I could use a high quality VoIP service for cheap calls overseas, where some of my clients and contractors are located.

Now I am living in country Victoria I am unable to even get ADSL1 - despite being informed by Telstra on 2 occasions that it was possible - "it won't be a problem just call us once you move in".

I am now stuck with a very sub optimal solution.

I am using currently using 2 HSDPA modems on the Optus network with directional antennas. During the week at best I can get 1.5Mbps/150kbps from each link. Each service has a 6G usage quota for $50p/m each, with excess usage charges of $153.60 per Gb (or 0.15c per Mb). All traffic is counted (both up and down).

The Optus network is stretched and even worse on weekends and evenings. The service is also unsuitable for VoIP, so I have to pay more for my calls too. Optus doesn't offer fixed IP addresses or an accurate tool for measuring usage. In every way their service is inferior to ADSL.

The equipment I used to set this up properly cost me close to $1000. I also spent several days setting it all up and paid for professional assistance with the project. As the service is not eligible for the Broadband Guarantee scheme I have to wear these costs as part of running a business in a rural area.

Satellite is completely unsuitable for my business due to the latency, slow speeds and a requirement of a minimum 2 year commitment. The claim that satellite offers a "metro-comparable level" of service is laughable - 1024/256kbps with 5G of data for over $100 per month and a $3000 setup fee is extortion.

My only other option is Telstra's Next G service which requires a 3 year commitment and costs considerably more than the similar service from Optus.

I am located near Newstead, less than 2 hours drive from the centre of Melbourne, not 200kms west of Uluru. I expect that I should be able to get reliable phone and internet services at reasonable prices with a choice of carriers. Based on my (somewhat limited) knowledge of the area less than half the connections from the exchange here can access ADSL. The current situation here is reliable, value for money or available - pick 2.

Anecdotal evidence would suggest that many businesses in rural areas are constrained by the lack of quality data services in their area. The lack of proper broadband services in rural areas must cost businesses millions of dollars every year. Local economies also suffer as people are unable to establish businesses which rely on reliable and affordable internet access and so the jobs and investment goes to the larger regional centres or metropolitan areas.

Based on overseas trends the National Broadband Network will be out dated before it is finished. Even with 98% coverage some 400,000 people in Australia will not have access to reliable high speed internet services.

Instead of wasting money on an filtering system which most people don't want, will slow down access and has the potential to cause major head aches for system administrators (not to mention making us an international laughing stock), you should consider investing in the future of rural and regional economies by giving us access to high quality, high speed internet services. My views of the filter scheme are best summed up by a comic.

Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing about how you plan to fix the state of internet access for tech businesses based in rural and regional Australia.

Yours Faithfully,

Dave Hall

Managing Director

SKWASHD SERVICES PTY LTD

pfSense and Routed Subnets

I have a few clients running IPCop firewall appliance boxes, but for more complex setups (such as multiple WAN connections) I use pfSense. pfSense is a FreeBSD based firewall appliance. pfSense comes in 2 flavours, one of which is designed to run on low spec embedded hardware, such as that sold by Yawarra Information Appliances. I know that I could just use a bash scripts or Shorewallbut not all my clients are command line ninjas, and I have better things to do with my time.

Until recently in Austalia, "residential grade" ADSL connections used PPPoA/PPPoE (aka Layer 3), while "business grade" services were almost exclusively RFC 1483 bridged connections (aka Layer 2). Earlier this year, Telstra Wholesale have stopped offering Layer 2 connections, and are they are now in the process of migrating all resellers' customers to Layer 3 services. For customers with a single usable static IP address this is unlikely to mean any real change. For customers with larger IP allocations (say /29s or larger) they will switch from an IP block being available from the modem to PPPoE with additional IPs being available via a routed subnet.

After some discussion and playing, I found out there are 2 ways to get a routed subnet working with a pfSense box.

Option A - Firewall handles PPPoE and subnet used on DMZ

This is the solution I went for recently for a new connection setup for a client.

  • Configure ADSL modem/router to run in fully bridged mode
  • Configure pfSense's WAN interface to use PPPoE and fill in the appropriate information.
  • Configure the DMZ to use the routed subnet
  • Assign the first usable IP address to the DMZ interface (usually OPT1) on the pfSense box
  • Allocate the remaining IPs to the boxes in the DMZ
  • Setup your rules appropriately

Option B - Modem handles the PPPoE and subnet used on WAN

This method seems to make more sense for people moving from Layer 2 to Layer 3 connections. Please be aware that I haven't tested this, but I am told it should work.

  • Configure ADSL modem/router to work as router connecting via PPPoE
  • Configure the Ethernet port on the modem/router to use the first usable IP address from the routed subnet range
  • Configure pfSense's WAN interface to use a "static" connection and fill in the appropriate information, with the second usable IP address being assigned to the interface.
  • Assign any left over IP addresses as "Proxy ARP" addresses under Virtual IPs
  • Setup your rules and NATing appropriately

I hope someone find this useful.

Most homes don't really have broadband in Australia

I am bashing out this post on a unreliable 384/64kpbs UTMS (3G data) connection, which feels painfully slow at times compared to my 8000/384kpbs (which is more like 6500/300) ADSL connection at home. Even when I had 1536/256kpbs at home I felt like I was better off than a lot of other people. Most non geeks I know have 512/128kbps.

According Democrats in the US congress 2Mbit/s should be the minimum speed for "broadband". Although that is now available to many homes in Australia, the cost of anything faster than 512/128 isn't seen as value for money by many people. I know several people who would like a lower quota and higher speeds for the same price as they are paying now. Even for many businesses (less than 5 people), they see 512/128 as being good enough for email and web browsing. 2048/512 would allow business to use new services such as VoIP and cheap video conferencing, which could improve the level of service they offer to their customers while improving the bottom line.

The biggest barriers to affordable high speed connections in Australia is Sol Trujillo and the other untrustworthy Wiggles at Telstra. Hopefully if there is a change of government at the next Federal election, the "Group of 9 Fibre to the Node network might get built and be open to competition.