Why John Linton’s not (that) crazy


opinion There is no doubt that Exetel chief John Linton is somewhat of an outcast in Australia’s telecommunications industry.

And when you start to follow his affairs and public statements, you quickly realise why.

Firstly, there’s his fiery opposition to the Federal Government’s $43 billion National Broadband Network project, an initiative which has garnered the almost universal support of almost every other ISP and telco executive in Australia since Prime Minister Kevin Rudd unveiled the plans 10 months ago.

On his controversial blog, Linton has variously described the NBN as “dreamed up by a total wanker (Krudd)”, “a Field of Dreams”, “Krudd’s NBN2 bankruptcy plan”, “the Krudd NBN2 face-saving plan”, “a monopoly which Telstra will end up controlling” and “the Krudd cover-up known as the NBN2”.

And those were just the phrases I pulled out of the blog in a quick five minute search.

You could forgive Linton for his views on the NBN. After all, Paul Broad, who runs the much larger telco AAPT, feels much the same way. As recently as November 2009 Broad described the NBN as “absolute rubbish”, a “political ploy” to break-up Telstra and “a complete waste of money”.

You could also forgive Linton for his controversial views on the future of 3G wireless, which he sees as a much more viable alternative than fibre for the future of broadband access in Australia.

“Most people that I know, including me, put a much higher priority on mobility than they do on speed,” he told ZDNet.com.au several weeks ago. “The average person needs a 100Mbps internet connection about as much as they need to have their arms amputated.”

After all, Broad shares Linton’s views on wireless too.

Finally, you could even understand Exetel’s novel approach to running his ISP. The company started selling residential ADSL broadband in January 2004, with — as its website clearly states — the sole objective of providing telecommunications services “at lower monthly prices than ALL other suppliers of similar services to Australian users”.

At times, this approach appeared to have resulted in, as some users have described it, an “our way or the highway” approach to customers, with Exetel appearing to prefer interaction via its excellent internet forum rather than through expensive call centre support.

You could write off this approach as being born from the need to keep costs low in a start-up business, and forgive Linton because recent blog posts show the company has been ramping up its support investment in this area, particularly through the use of a call centre in Sri Lanka.

Then too, Exetel’s web site also states, that it is not in business “to make as much money as possible”, only to make enough to ensure it stays in business. One third of all profits (almost $350,000 in 2008) go to environmental programs.

All of this, you could expect Australia’s telecommunications industry to forgive or at least ignore.

“Ultimately what the blog and John Linton himself represents is the pure, unadulterated voice of the liberal-minded traditional Australian small business owner.”

But what absolutely nobody can understand about Linton is why he consistently insists on using his blog to document and analyse the internal workings of the ISP industry in great detail.

For example, in recent weeks, Linton has variously debunked the idea that government funding is needed for ISPs to combat spammers, detailed his exploration of a potential merger opportunity and IPO, analysed the real estate costs of Exetel’s ongoing growth, almost obsessively ruminated about how 3G wireless plans should be structured and disclosed how Exetel is using staff in Sri Lanka to improve its customer support.

This kind of radical transparency is frightening to executives who keep so many of the details of their own businesses — especially pricing structures — hidden away behind closed doors. I can conclusively say that no other ISP executive in Australia has gone into as much detail over the past year on any one of those or similar issues as Linton has.

It’s this approach which has the earned Linton the outcast mark — but which also has the industry clandestinely reading his blog anyway.

Now there’s no doubt that the Exetel czar’s blog most definitely contains the sort of offensive language you would hear in the Coogee Bay Hotel. And Linton goes too far with his rants on occasion.

But ultimately what the blog and John Linton himself represents is the pure, unadulterated voice of the liberal-minded traditional Australian small business owner.

In short, Linton is one of the few people in Australia to honestly and loudly speak the truth about the nation’s telco industry’s business — or at least, the truth as he sees it.

This kind of “damn the topedoes” approach is a hallmark of Australian small business. Australians are known for favouring the rebellious underdog — and Australian SMEs love to talk tough and stick it to the giants.

If we are to believe that the NBN will provide wholesale opportunities for more players than just the major ISPs like Telstra, Optus and iiNet, it’s important that those making big decisions listen to unorthodox players like Linton.

That’s why I am going to continue reading Linton’s posts and even responding to them with my own commentary. I like a good rant, I like an executive who isn’t afraid to make his opinion known, and most of all, I like Australia’s telecommunications industry to be a hotbed of debate and competition. We need more unorthodox voices to keep the dialogue from becoming a one-sided chorus.

Image credit: Dez Pain


  1. I've been a customer of Exetel since 2004 on ADSL1, ADSL2+, Voice and HSPA services and they are a great provider who have repeatedly extended their offerings over the last 5 years as they become available.

    You know what you're getting with John and his team – no BS and great plans and pricing. I hope they stay independent and continue to innovate

    Good luck with Delimiter – hope it doesn't distract you from your Twitter posts!

  2. I can't help myself, these laxatives the doctor have me on are a known side effects of turning you into a raving old coot. I can't believe In write such drivel but that 's how it goes when yu can't shit properly

    • @Sean

      "Finally, they don’t choose fibre-to-the-premises they choose fibre-to-the-node"

      You missed the part where the government killed the Fibre to the Node and went with Fibre to the Premises. And not recently, quite some time ago. Try to keep up.

      The remainder of your post indicates that you need to revisit what the government is doing, because you'll find that a lot of what you are suggesting has been tabled. Get some current information before getting up on your high horse.

    • He's not crazy, he has a selfish agenda and mindset all tied to his investment in wireless. he refuses to acknowledge the fault of it as a stable broadband basis for all services as it is a shared degradable facility but he has too much invested to take a balanced approach.

      Appearing to be nutty as a coot sometimes disguises a darker reality and if his approach was adopted industry wise you can kiss your desktop based services like gaming and next gen streaming video goodbye.

  3. I have a narrow minded view of the world and am thinking short term, the NBN will slow the growth of exetel and I am wanting to sell it in the short term and retire. I would rather see australia with a 2nd class ISP services that I can make huge profits on than a 1st class ISP that I can't make money off

  4. Oh come on, how many people carry a laptop around with them and need net access on the go? Not bloody many. The vast majority use broadband from their homes or places of business.

    Yes, it may be nice to take it to the coffee shop from time to time, or if you are a frequent business traveler.

    Otherwise you don't need it. Linton's just a nutter.

    Wireless is shared bandwidth and cannot compete with optical fibre, full stop.

    Simon Shaw

    Systems Administrator.

  5. The Sri Lankan office is more than a call centre. They're doing some of the back-office work too in addition to support. Plus, unlike most "call centres",they're actually IT educated staff rather than "phone-script-customer service" staff.

    Exetel worked with Austrade and the Sri Lankan govt to setup a scholarship also, and ensure the staff are extremely well paid (compared to other local employees). This was all part of their "give back to society" basis on which Exetel is built, including the flora/fauna project support and their overall pricing.

    For those who talk about Exetel being "small" an "2nd rate" – they may be small but they are much bigger than "tiny" with well over 100,000 customers. And those customers include some large business, corporate and govt customers.

    I disagree with John re wireless, however agree with many (not all!) of his other views on the NBN and KRudd.

    Disclaimer: I am an Exetel agent and sell their products.

  6. Rob: "Plus I don’t have to fear the Exetel’ “3 strikes and you’re out” policy approach to “downloading content” ."

    If you don't steal content, you have nothing to fear. Exetel don't have a "3 strikes" policy anyway – IF they receive a copyright accusation against you, they redirect you to a page whereby you either deny the accusation or accept and declare they you've removed the item. That means they are simply passing on the accusation, and allowing you to respond to it (they are neither Judge nor Jury in this process, merely the messenger). Regardless of your thoughts of the current AFACT case (and I also agree that the courts should be deciding guilt!), Exetel is covering their arse legally to avoid themselves being drawn through court.

    Can't say I blame them, and I would do the same (and if you think about it, I'm sure you'd rather not risk a multimillion dollar law suit for the actions, perceived or otherwise, of your customers either!).

    • Rob: As for the outsourcing matter, Internode supports Australian Jobs!!! (unlike Exetel)

      1. No-one lost their job. The foreign workers (STAFF, not "outsource" – they are Exetel staff and are not contracted to an agency etc) was an addition to Exetel's existing service and allowed longer support hours.

      2. Exetel continues to hire staff, in fact have added a large number of staff in the last 12 months alone.

      • AL: "Should have said this first would have saved me reading the rubbish."

        1. At least I say who I am – you hide behind internet anonymity

        2. "the rubbish" is a list of facts – maybe you believe in the old adage of "never let the facts get in the way of a good story"

  7. John Linton is crazy. His destroyed more teleco's then any man alive.

    Only reason why Exetel is surviving is because its his own business and he can't exactly rip himself off

  8. Err…

    Mr Linton. Is that really you?

    Reminds me a little of the fake Mr Conroy, minus the funny.

  9. I love the fact that he's seen as an outcast for his recent commentary, yet his hand in the downfall of a number of companies and poor business practices fails a mention.

  10. Liam Dixon

    >Jan 29, 2010 2:18

    >I love the fact that he’s seen as an outcast for his recent commentary, yet his hand in the downfall of a >number of companies and poor business practices fails a mention.

    Liam Dixon, do you have links to support this?


  11. I was a big part of the One.tel success, in the short term you can sell below cost till the seed money is spent. We all had an awesome time, lets just say that one days sleep every fortnight was not enough. We where youngish and we thought that more seed money was coming.

    I then copped a lot of criticism for apple internet and also swiftel turning bad as well as I was the senior architect. Then when I realised that I couldn't find a new bunny to work for I realised it was time to play the game for keeps.

    My genius stroke was to appeal to cheap asses and warez freaks at the same time. Pure genius as I could offer dirt cheap internet with massive download limits. I was a legend, I proved the doubters who's the crazy old coot now!

  12. Leon,

    Short of doing it for you simply looking into the collapse of One.Tel and the buy out of Switfel by People Telecom has a great amount of information on the business dealings leading upto it. From memory there was a press release from PT regarding the reverse buy out and why it was done the way it was.

    I take it you're not famailar with Mr Linton. Maybe I should post some of the conversations I've had with his son James. Although to be fair it was more him calling me a number of names. So although entertaining doesn't reflect any worth.

  13. @seeknbuy.com.au – They want you to think that nobody in the Australian office lost their job as a result of off-shoring, but in actual fact that's not the case. You shouldn't be so sure and confident of the things that you don't know much about. While JL may appear to have a very transparent operation, there is quite a lot that goes on behind closed doors.

    @Liam Dixon – Believe it or not, you are not the only one that has gotten offside of James. I have heard of quite a number of people that have had the misfortune of dealing with him on a bad day.

    JL's attitudes, practices and logic behind Exetel is quite unique in the industry and he certainly is doing something right from all accounts (awards, better pricing etc..).

    It should also be mentioned that the only staff being hired nowdays are sales staff, have a look at the Exetel staff page and the sales department is growing… The technical staff have had the kiss of death put on them and will start declining in the next 12 to 24 months as they all go overseas to train the off shore staff members, and then moved on.

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