Telstra fined $1.5m over Covid-related landline porting freeze

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Telstra fined $1.5m over Covid-related landline porting freeze

ACMA unwilling to let it slide.

Telstra has been fined $1.5 million over its “unilateral” decision to suspend most landline number porting during the first Covid lockdowns last year when it ran short of offshore resourcing.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) said today that Telstra had paid the fine; had it not done so, it could have faced much more substantial court-imposed penalties.

As was reported at the time, Telstra suspended most local number porting when the offshore teams that performed the work could not do so due to Covid lockdowns in India.

That impacted “more than 42,000 services”, which the ACMA said “could not be moved from Telstra to other telcos, or vice versa, as requested by Australian consumers.”

“The ACMA found that Telstra unilaterally cancelled transfer requests that were scheduled to occur and stopped accepting new requests,” the regulator said.

“This was done without prior warning to other telcos, which were left not being able to help new and existing customers to transfer their service, while keeping their phone number.

“Telstra did not fully resume porting operations until July 2020, and did not clear the backlog of requests until October 2020.”

ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said the regulator “appreciated Telstra had difficulties due to Covid-19 and we took this into account in our enforcement actions, including the size of the financial penalty.”  

“However, it is clear Telstra, for a sustained period, did not have sufficient plans in place to comply with an important consumer safeguard that promotes competition in the telco market,” she said.

“Telstra was on notice that the ACMA took these consumer and competition measures seriously and would not be exercising regulatory forbearance for non-compliance. 

“Telco business continuity processes must be robust, particularly after the challenges of the past year.”

Telstra was not alone in having sudden offshore capacity issues during Covid, with many large organisations reliant on offshore outsourcing forced to cut back on service while local resourcing could be stood up.

Some large organisations temporarily repurposed staff from other business areas to get impacted processes back online.

A Telstra spokesperson agreed porting was important and said a number of changes had been made since the suspension.

“This issue happened at the height of the first global wave of Covid, a time that tested everyone’s resilience and crisis management,” the spokesperson said.

“Given the number of our people and services affected by the pandemic, we could not guarantee that numbers would be ported correctly and decided to hit pause until we could be sure that we would not leave people without a service. 

“We did this in a way to ensure that Telstra did not receive any advantage over our competitors. We worked hard to get all our porting services operating again as quickly as possible.

“Since then we’ve made a range of changes to ensure we can continue to meet our regulatory obligation to provide number porting services.”

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