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Telstra ‘free days’ not so free, not so helpful

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Telstra’s free data days are poor compensation for network outages and may in fact exacerbate the problem, according to customers and industry experts.

Up to eight million Telstra users across the country sporadically lost internet, phone and SMS service on Thursday from about 6pm (AEST), according to the telco.

CEO Andy Penn quickly issued an apology and announced a day of free mobile data on April 3 to compensate. But a spokeswoman for the nation’s leading telco consumer group, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), said the offer would not suit everyone.

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“There are 16 million customers on Telstra’s network, and they are admitting that it affected up to 8 million of those customers – that is a massive number of people,” ACCAN chief executive Teresa Corbin told The New Daily.

“I think there are still an awful lot of customers that aren’t just using data.”

It was the second time in a month the telco was forced to offer compensation for a network-wide disruption, after an “embarrassing human error” saw service drop out for consumers in several Australian states last month.

andy penn
Telstra boss Andy Penn said: “I’m sincerely sorry to all of our customers”. Photo: ABC

The company responded to that outage in the same, by offering a day of free data on February 14, resulting in their busiest day ever. An affected customer said this data bonanza caused a mini-outage due to huge demand — something also observed by ACCAN.

‘Traffic slowed to dial up – or worse’

NSW Hunter Valley resident John Bennetts told The New Daily that Telstra’s last free data day caused severe delays to his internet connection, which operates through the same towers as the mobile data network.

“Traffic slowed down to dial up – or worse,” he said. “Once your speed gets below a certain figure, [websites] kick you out when there is no response.”

Mr Bennetts predicted the same would occur on the next free day: “April 3 will be a nasty day for users and Telstra.”

A Telstra spokesman said they were “confident” data speeds would cope. “The network held up really well, we had double the traffic than we do on a normal day.”

The spokesman confirmed that only mobile data would be unmetered on the free day. But The New Daily understands it is possible to tether a mobile phone to a computer to take advantage of the unlimited allowance.

ACCAN spokeswoman Teresa Corbin said that areas of high congestion could experience slower speeds on the free day, though she noted that most areas had help up well last time.

How robust is the system?

telstra
Telstra customers experienced sporadic outages on Thursday night after 6pm. Photo: Getty

West Australian mother Ellie Shaw told The New Daily that a recent outage meant she was unaware her one-year-old son had a fall at childcare. She, her partner and their emergency contact were all contracted to the downed Telstra network on Thursday afternoon and thus couldn’t be contacted by childcare staff.

“We are all with Telstra and no phones were ringing through,” Ms Shaw said.

“In the end when we picked him up, we took him to hospital as he was quite unwell after bumping his head.”

Luckily, Ms Shaw’s son has recovered.

Telstra’s spokesman said the most recent outage was not linked to the February incident.

“We had a connection problem overseas impacting international roaming customers which then had a flow-on effect domestically,” he said.

“Reconnecting them to the network caused congestion.”

ACCAN’s Teresa Corbin said consumers would “get a bit anxious” if these outages kept recurring.
“We have had two ‘one-offs’ in a month, and people are going to start to get worried about how robust [the system is],” she said.

“We do need to have more transparency about why these outages occurring … the more information the telco provides, the more reassured customers are going to be.”

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