Oh dear: ACMA chief’s broadband “nightmare”


Chris Chapman, the chairman of the Australian Communications and Media Authority, yesterday went into a fair amount of detail about his personal household broadband connection.

Chapman had, he said, been enmeshed in “the telco experience from hell” over the past few months.

On the first hour of the first day of each month, Chapman (pictured) told the Communications Day Summit in Sydney, his broadband connection started frantically downloading data at 10Mbps. This went on until his download quota expired that month, he said. And the problem continued from one month to the next.

The ACMA chief’s first port of call to solve the problem was his 17-year-old son’s bedroom, where some “harsh words” were dealt and the poor kid was put through what Chapman called “the Star Chamber”.

With his son continuing to plead innocent, Chapman’s next port of call was his neighbour — was someone else piggy-backing on his Wi-Fi connection? This also came up a blank.

The public servant then called his ISP, who maintained it wasn’t their fault Chapman’s internet connection was being eaten up every month. You can’t blame the poor tech support for feeling a bit nervous due to Chapman’s high rank within the telecommunications sector — although at least it wasn’t an irate Communications Minister demanding a broadband fix.

Most geeks would have been able to sort this out fairly quickly by turning off various household computing devices and finding the downloading cuplrit, but Chapman said it took him a while to find the culprit.

“I’m just an average punter, but it took four months and a great deal of frustration,” he said.

And the culprit? A synchronisation tool that several of the PCs in Chapman’s house had installed on them. The data was actually being funneled from one PC to another — through the household’s broadband connection and the internet.

The only problem for Chapman was that it wasn’t the ACMA chief himself who had installed the tool. And it certainly wasn’t his 17-year-old son.

It was his wife.

Oh dear.

Image credit: ACMA


  1. So, the chairman of the Australian Communications and Media Authority is basically so ignorant he shouldn’t be allowed near a computer . Fantastic. I know I should be surprised. But I’m not.

    • I’m not surprised either — most speeches I have listened to by high-ranking government bureaucrats (with the exception of chief information officers) have revealed how little they generally know about technology.

    • I don’t see where Chris Chapman’s ignorant in this story. The problem was the unintended consequence of a software package he didn’t install.

      These sort of stuff ups happen to anyone using technology, including experienced professionals. Accusing Chris Chapman of being too ignorant to use a computer is silly and unnecessary.

      The point of the story is telco disputes and IT problems are often not as easy to resolve as we’d all like.

      • Fair point Paul — but listening to Chapman’s speech myself, I don’t think it was as simple as that. He referred a number of times to the pace of change. Overall I felt that he appeared himself to be a bit lost in the vast river of change and so on. At one stage he noted there were still people who preferred the old world where they just had a TV and a house phone.

        I’m not myself really alleging Chapman doesn’t understand technology — he obviously reads widely and does have a grasp on it. I guess what I was saying in my comment is that he’s not a “geek” who could easily troubleshoot this kind of household problem.

        I would personally prefer to have a “geek” in charge of ACMA — but that’s not to say Chapman is doing a bad job either.

      • “I don’t see where Chris Chapman’s ignorant in this story”

        To me it seems obvious that he’s ignorant of the sorts of things that could be causing his problem.

        1. Problem: lots of downloading going on
        2. What devices in the house require downloading? The computers.

        OK, so step 3 should be “examine the computers”, right?

        Of course not, step 3 is “have harsh words with the nearest teenager”.

  2. This just demonstrates that as a society, local, national or global, we won’t ‘solve’ a lot of technology issues until we’ve cycled through a few more generations to get todays ‘net and tech savvy kids into places of power and influence…

    That’ll be about 2040 I expect….

  3. Sounds like his ISP wasn’t very helpful. The basic advice you mention should really have been given to him by the helpdesk, sounds like it’s a fairly common problem. ISP helpdesks vary wildly in quality though, you seem to get either a geek on his part-time job, an uncaring slob, or a foreign flowchart.

    • It would be interesting to know who his ISP is — given it’s the ACT, I would suspect TransACT, they have a stranglehold on the market there with their fibre.

  4. Here’s a crazy thought. Instead of going Spanish Inquisition on his totally innocent teenage son, maybe Chapman should have, you know, said “Hey son, there’s something funny going on with our Internet use, can you please have a look at the computers and see if you can find out what’s causing it?”

    I know. I can’t picture it happening either.

    • Maybe his son didn’t know enough about the internet either to troubleshoot the problem ;) In fact, from the fact that she was installing a synchronisation tool, it sounds like the person who knew the most about the whole situation was Chapman’s wife!

  5. Hang on, it’s not the ISP’s job to troubleshoot customer networks. Nor should they be drilling down into the customer’s traffic. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable that a bureaucrat doesn’t know how to troubleshoot a network. It’s specialist work.

    Geeks, I reckon, are too eager to pay out someone who doesn’t know about geekery, but far less willing to call themselves idiots for not understanding or respecting the complexities of, say, telecommunications policy development or chairing a government agency. I believe that’s called arrogance.

    That said, what I think is unreasonable is that someone who’s meant to be in charge of the internet industry regulatory body doesn’t know where the boundaries of responsibility lie between his network and his ISP, and that a well-paid executive didn’t just call in an expert to sort it out but instead pfaffed around for four months.

    • The question this comment begs is, why can’t we have a head of ACMA who is both a geek and understands the complexity of telecommunications policy development? Surely one feeds into the other?

      • It would be nice Renai, however the skills to run an agency like ACMA are largely different to those most geeks possess. Two of them being diplomacy and patience as we saw in this article’s first comment.

        I’m with Stil on the point about the geek community being too quick to pay out on people who don’t understand computer and Internet concepts. I’d suggest that arrogance is one of the reasons why we’re losing the battle on Internet filtering.

      • The redoubtable Mr Wallbank beat me to it. someone combining geekery and policy development? Rare beast! I’m having trouble even thinking of someone…

        • Um .. Senators Ludlam and Lundy come to mind? Both are clearly both. And I’m sure public servants could also be found with similar skills. People with multiple skill bases are not that rare — take me for example, I have skills in both technology (a science skill) and journalism (arts).

          I agree the technology community can be quick to pay out on those that don’t have geek skills … but I would also point it’s not just the technology community that does so — it’s also young people, who simply don’t understand that not all older people are that familiar with technology.

          And I’m not sure it’s a bad thing. Yes, I personally do feel the head of the Australian Communications and Media Authority should have geek skills. Just as the best chief information officers and IT managers have skills in both using and administering technology. The combination lends insight.

  6. Renai commented “It would be interesting to know who his ISP is — given it’s the ACT, I would suspect TransACT, they have a stranglehold on the market there with their fibre.”.

    1. TransACT isn’t an ISP its more of a bandwidth wholesaler. We pay them directly for speed (400K only for me) of connection as part of a phone bill. Then there are many ISP’s that meter the downloads and charge us. I am an iiNet customer over TransACT. Its a bit odd eh. Not sure if that happens any where else in Australia. I could have several ISPs!! Some do.

    2. There are lots of DSLAMS also in ACT. So his ISP could be any of the usual suspects. iiNet has DLSAMS in ACT too. Of course they would like us using them ;-)

    So its easy to make a generalised assumption, but dangerous. Based on TransACT’s own advertising, it seems their consumer customer base isn’t really very large.

  7. Renai. In mobile mode I can’t view the comments. Of course it may be an operator error. Indeed highly likely ;-)

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