Telstra customers affected by recent internet and phones outages have been encouraged to seek further compensation if they are unhappy with the company’s ‘free data’ days.
The telco has been plagued by a series of abnormal outages caused, according to the company, by a mixture of human error and system failures.
On Monday, chief operations officer Kate McKenzie reassured the public that Telstra was improving the network’s “resilience and robustness”.
“We have already progressed short- to medium-term actions to improve resilience and robustness in the network,” Ms McKenzie said.
The New Daily later confirmed with a spokesman that the telco attributes the first outage on February 9 to “procedural error” by an employee, and the other two major outages on March 17 and March 22 to system failures. There is no evidence the outages were malicious, the spokesman said.
Telstra’s representatives, both publicly at the press conference and privately to The New Daily, were eager to emphasise that the free data days were a success. This was a response to backlash on social media from customers who reported slowed internet speeds as a result of huge demand. Customers reportedly downloaded 2686 terabytes of data on Sunday, 46 per cent more than on the previous free data day of February 14.
The spokesman said Telstra considered it had remunerated those affected by offering the free data days, but would happily discuss the matter further with individual customers.
When asked if consumers’ legal rights were extinguished by the data offer, the spokesman replied: “No, I didn’t say that. If customers still have issues, they can talk to us.”
An independent consumer advocate, Christopher Zinn, said the free data was “entirely inadequate” compensation, and encouraged affected customers to ask for more.
“It doesn’t compensate you. It gives you some noughts and ones that you might not have been able to download, but it in no way compensates for the inconvenience, lost business, missed appointments or whatever else,” Mr Zinn said.
“You would’ve thought a network that seeks to put itself above the others in terms of service and coverage would make a better effort than a fairly token offer of data on a Sunday.
“They are very good at charging late fees and levying penalties on their consumers. It seems to me there should be some kind of penalty or that they should offer up some sort of penalty or mea culpa, and that really is in terms of extra time that you can use in a realistic sense.”
Your legal rights
A consumer law lecturer, Professor Aviva Freilich at the University of Western Australia, said Telstra customers may have a right to further compensation, even if they took advantage of the unlimited data “imposed” on them.
Under consumer law, any service offered in Australia – such as a phone plan – must be supplied with due care and skill. If the service provider makes a guarantee that the service is fit for a particular purpose, they must usually fulfil that guarantee. And if the customer makes the supplier aware that they need the service for a particular purpose, it should usually meet that extra requirement.
“If there’s an argument that Telstra has been negligent or haven’t done it properly, the consumer could terminate the contract and they could also get [monetary] damages,” Prof Freilich said.
“They certainly wouldn’t have to accept just a day of free data.”
Cases of this nature are usually brought as part of a class action, which is a lawsuit filed on behalf of a large number of plaintiffs.