We need regulations to hold our telecoms companies to reasonable standards

I’m so annoyed that I’m almost stopping strangers in the street to tell them how bad Telstra’s service is.

For three months of my superfast cable service has been suffering drop-outs and speed failures. For three months I have gone through a litany of missed technician appointments; of having to re-initiate the problem every time I call to say it is not fixed (which must improve Telstra’s statistics no end); of foolish suggestions; of promised call-backs that don’t happen; of contact email addresses that don’t work; of a complaints team that say ‘we can’t actually do anything to help”; I am at my wit’s end.

And then at the end of last week the Internet connection failed entirely. After 48 hours I called Telstra only to be told that it would be out for another five days. Five days! What were we supposed to do in the meantime? Well the answer was that we could nominate one mobile and would not be charged if we exceeded the data cap on that mobile.

Now put this in perspective I pay for 100Mb download speeds and 1Tb of data to feed my Internet-hungry family of four people. When that fails Telstra is suggesting that an adequate replacement is a single mobile phone – which means if I leave the house no one has the Internet. Can we use more than one phone? No, the rules do not allow that!

Telstra say that they only offer to waive one phone “as a courtesy” and it is “only to be used for essentials”, not for “watching movies or anything like that”. Well here’s some of the things we could not do this weekend which Telstra does not see as essential but we do. One son could not watch the movie he had been told to watch for his English homework. Both sons could not edit the videos they were preparing against a deadline for the iAwards. My wife could not do her work from home. The list goes on but the point is that we have high-speed Internet for a reason, as do many other people today and more people daily. Once you have it you rely on it being available, and so ‘essentials’ takes on a whole new meaning. 

Telstra appears to be still living in a time when the Internet was a nice to have, rather than a core part of the household. No Internet means no homework, no television, no games, and, well, no Internet.

In the UK their telecoms regulator is taking a different view and will be fining telecoms companies that don’t fix problems quickly enough – quickly enough being within two days. There will be automatic compensation when engineers don’t turn up for appointments and for every day a service is not repaired. Ofcom is suggesting ten pounds a day that the service is not repaired; which while not a fortune is certainly more than Telstra’s pro-rata refund of the monthly fee. The UK changing things, to recognise how essential broadband connections are, isn’t wildly surprising in that it was hinted at in the Queen’s speech to Parliament – so they must be serious.

We are simply not going to transition to a digital economy in Australia when our major infrastructure provider cannot keep up with the significance that a dependable broadband connection has to many people. As more and more services require a good Internet connection, months of flailing about is simply not acceptable and we need some way to hold Telstra, and other providers, to account. Sadly the lack of real competition in infrastructure means that just changing providers is not an option, which in turn means we need regulations to hold our telecoms companies to reasonable standards.

Producing regulations they don’t have to pay for, that advance the digital economy – now there’s a project that our Federal government ought to be able to get behind. And they should, now.

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