Telstra fined $1.5 million by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) more than $1.5 million for stopping consumers from keeping their existing phone numbers as they switched to rival networks.
In a statement on Tuesday ACMA said that in 2020, at the peak of the first wave of COVID-19, Telstra had “unilaterally cancelled transfer requests that were scheduled to occur and stopped accepting new requests.” This suspension of services meant existing phone numbers “could not be moved from Telstra to other telcos, or vice versa, as requested by Australian consumers.”
A Telstra spokesperson in March 2020, stated that this suspension of most local number porting was due to the inability of the offshore Team in India who usually do this work but could not because of India’s 21-day lockdown. However, ACMA reported on Tuesday that “this [unilateral decision] was done without prior warning to other telcos, who were left not being able to help new and existing customers to transfer their service, while keeping their phone number.”
Telstra stopped enabling porting for almost four months until July 2020, and the backlog list of requests were not cleared until October 2020. This led to more than 42,000 customer accounts (business and residential landlines) being unable to move to another telco, or switch to Telstra.
Nerida O’Loughlin Chair of ACMA has issued a statement declaring that “Australian consumers need to have the freedom to change their telephone companies so that they have access to the services that best suit their needs” and “this includes keeping your own phone number even if you take your business elsewhere.”
Telstra’s conduct was in breach of the Telecommunications Act 1997, and if they had refused to pay the $1.5 million dollar fine then they “could have faced much more substantial court-imposed penalties.” The ACMA presented Telstra with a formal direction to comply with the Local Number Portability Industry Code and have declared that future failure to abide by the law will risk the company a court-imposed penalty of $250,000 per breach.
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