Reliable communication is an essential service, Optus needs to be held accountable

- November 14, 2023 2 MIN READ

Telecommunications companies talk a big game about how their services are so important for the vitality of small businesses when they’re trying to sign them up as customers, but what happens when things go wrong? Where is the accountability? asks Bruce Billson, Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.

So when things go wrong, as they have with Optus, telcos should work just as hard to make amends and truly understand the failure to deliver this service has a significant economic cost.

Our hard-working small and family businesses deserve respect and not to be treated in such a shabby way as they have by Optus.

Reliable and dependable telecommunications is an essential service and there must be accountability when it does not function as promised.

The response by Optus to offer extra data after last week’s devastating outage is inadequate and comments by the company that the loss is only $2 a day shows it does not understand its customers. This is what Optus charges for their services, not what the consequences and loss of that service has cost small businesses in lost income and customers.

Let’s be clear. Some small businesses had red ink in their day because of the failure of this essential service.

Channel Nine reported the story of a barber who was unable to work because of the outage and Optus’ dismissive reply that you don’t need telecommunications to cut hair.

Like many small businesses, the barber engages customers through a digital platform. The outage means they can’t take bookings and they can’t take payments. (And when customers went to look for an ATM to withdraw cash, they couldn’t find one of them either!)

It is not just about making and receiving phone calls.

The digitally-enabled world that the telcos have encouraged small business to join means the ability to run your business is interwoven into the telecommunications service. This includes digital data record keeping, accounts, payroll and many other functions.

This is far more than just being out of contact. It left small business out of capability to function as a business.

It’s encouraging to hear Optus now says it recognises the impact the outage had on small and family business customers and is pledging a tailored response to their specific circumstances with a dedicated team to help.

But this is what they are obliged to do as a member of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman scheme.

It will be interesting to see how Optus deals with the impact of the outage on small businesses, which are customers of other smaller retail telcos that rely on Optus as a wholesaler of telecommunications services and infrastructure.

And I urge affected businesses, if they don’t receive a satisfactory response from Optus, to reach out to the TIO which is designed to deal with complaints such as lost business profit due to network faults and to determine a reasonable remedy.

Australia’s 2.5 million small businesses provide jobs for 5.1 million people and employ 42 per cent of all apprentices and trainees in training – nearly double the amount supported by a big business.

Life is hard enough for small businesses juggling cost of living pressure, rising energy costs and higher interest rates. They believed Optus’ claims of dependable service and deserve better from a company that has failed to deliver on its promises.

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