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Telstra breaches priority assistance obligations, says ACMA

Staff Writer | October 9, 2018
Telstra has been instructed by regulator Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to conduct an independent audit after being found to have been in breach of its priority assistance obligations for customers with life-threatening medical conditions.
Australia   ACMA launched a probe into Telstra’s compliance
ACMA launched a probe into Telstra’s compliance with the obligations following two incidents in 2017 where customers with serious, chronic health conditions were unable to use their Telstra landline services and passed away.

While neither had been registered for priority assistance, both had made clear their health conditions and need for a working telephone service.

ACMA’s priority assistance scheme imposes special rules that phone companies must meet, including a 24-hour time frame for repairing a fault in urban areas and a 48-hour time frame in rural areas. Telecoms companies must provide an interim service in cases where these time frames cannot be met.

Telstra is the only company required to provide priority assistance as a condition of its licence, but companies that do not provide it are required to inform customers of the names of providers that do.

ACMA’s investigation found that Telstra did not provide the required information about priority assistance to eight customers who required it, and did not implement the emergency medical request procedures specified in its policy on nine occasions.

“The ACMA is deeply concerned with Telstra’s failure to comply with its priority assistance obligations,” ACMA Acting Chair Creina Chapman said.

“While it is not clear that any action by Telstra would have changed these tragic outcomes, priority assistance is critical to ensure that customers with life-threatening conditions are identified and provided with swift assistance and fault rectification.”

The independent audit will review the training and scripts provided to Telstra staff regarding the scheme, as well as past customer complaints about compliance.

Telstra CFO and Head of Strategy Robyn Denholm said around 146,000 of the company’s customers have registered for priority assistance, and that it takes its obligations under the scheme very seriously.

“We acknowledge failures in our processes and systems meant these customers were not provided with the level of service that they required, and we apologise sincerely to the families concerned. We are also sorry for adding to the families’ stress at what would have been a difficult and traumatic time,” she said in a blog post.

“These cases make it clear that we need to do better. We have implemented a number of changes to our management of Priority Assistance customers including offering free professional installation of modems for Priority Assist nbn customers ... and creating a dedicated nbn connection management team with the sole responsibility of managing PA customers.”