Residents of Warrnambool and surrounds spent an average of over 10 days without internet access and four days without mobile coverage in the wake of a Telstra exchange fire last year, according to a survey by RMIT University researchers.
The University's rural and regional futures research group has so far collected "over 400" responses to a survey, which it hopes to turn into a comprehensive report later this year (pdf).
In the interim, the University has published a preliminary analysis of high-level trends from 363 respondents to the Federal Government inquiry into the social impact of the devastating exchange fire. One in three respondents lives in Warrnambool; the rest are from the surrounding region.
On average, residents spent 10.12 days without a landline phone, 10.59 days without internet, and 4.21 days without mobile service, according to the researchers.
Almost all residents experienced trouble "related to a business transaction" while telecommunications services were down, such as being unable to make purchases or pay bills.
One in four business owners in the region reported that they had to shut down operations as they were "unable to conduct business". Most couldn't process orders, and almost half of all businesses surveyed said they lost customers.
Only 11 percent of respondents said the telecommunications outage had "saved them money".
By contrast, about one-third pegged their losses at $100 or less, another third at between $100 and $1000, and 20 percent of respondents reported being out of pocket "in the $1000 to $10,000 bracket".
"Three percent estimated that their losses would exceed $10,000," the researchers found.
The researchers said it was possible to extrapolate some "emergent themes" from the preliminary analysis.
Notably, residents were annoyed that Telstra put too much focus on the recovery of business and commerce operations, potentially at the expense of services for individuals "and health & safety".
Previous submissions to the inquiry have criticised the focus of Telstra's response.
More criticism flowed from the lack of back-up arrangements, which has also been raised in earlier submissions.
"A clear message is that whilst the problem was technological in nature, the consequences were much more complex," the researchers stated.
"This raises questions about our society's reliance on technology and especially about back-up processes when technology fails".
The researchers caution that they haven't had the funding nor time to perform a qualitative analysis of the data set.
"We are a small research group and, while we were able to divert some resources towards development and distribution of the survey, it is disappointing that we have not been able to obtain funding to assist with analysis of the very rich body of data obtained," they noted.
"Participants had the opportunity to provide examples or written comments and in most cases they have provided such detail.
"Because of the quantity ans richness of this data, a complete analysis is beyond the scope of this submission".