Telephone service faults: what is normal?

February 27, 2008

The future for Telstra customers in rural and remote Australia is a matter of great concern to a number of residents in this area.

It seems everyone has a story about Telstra and how long the phone has been “out” this time!

One customer in the Barraba area reported the phone being “out” for two weeks at the end of January, during which time there were a number of calls made to the complaints section of Telstra, to find out just what was happening. The calls had to be made either from Barraba or from a mobile, which would only work at a specific spot a short drive away from the homestead.

It would seem that in a lot of cases, it is the old copper wiring which is causing the problems. In the Barraba case, it was suggested that the wiring could be as old as 60 years. This wiring has been connected to the new fibre optic with a “mini exchange”. In a blackout, the telephone does not work as there is no battery back up. Recently, the area experienced a 34 hour power “outage” which meant the phones did not work either.

The customer had good reason to ask “Is this acceptable?” All sorts of promises were made to the customer, including that the technician would be there on a specific day – he wasn’t; that a satellite telephone would be delivered to her the next day – it wasn’t; that the telephone would be fixed within 10 days – it wasn’t; that the telephone was now fixed – it wasn’t! She was even offered a free upgrade for her existing mobile phone but when she endeavoured to take up the offer, she could not find the Telstra employee who had offered it!

When her patience had finally expired, the Barraba customer telephoned the telecommunications infrastructure ombudsman to be greeted with a recorded message saying “Due to the unprecedented demand for the TIO services, we are unable to answer this call. ….Lengthy wait times can be expected for the next few weeks.” There is a website where complainants can go to fill in a form which is given on the recorded message. The address is To her surprise, the Barraba customer received a prompt call from the TIO office asking about her problem and how she could see it resolved.

For people in rural areas, this story is frustratingly familiar. Running a business with no home phone and no mobile reception is extremely difficult. What does the future hold?

Technicians report work mates being retrenched, inadequate training and a system which allows a specific amount of time allocated per job. “If the job is not finished, patch it up as best you can and move on to the next job”. One technician told a customer that this was the way he was expected to operate. He went on to say that if he noticed a problem with another line while he was repairing a reported fault, he was to ignore it until that fault had been reported.

It is obvious that there needs to be a serious amount of line replacement done in the Bingara, Barraba and surrounds area. It is not at all evident that this work is going to be undertaken any time soon.

Sam Dimarco, Area General Manager for Telstra Countrywide refuted the Advocate’s suggestion that copper wiring in the Bingara area needs replacing. He said that Bingara’s record of faults is on a par with the rest of Australia and there is no need to undertake any major works. However, Mr. Dimarco assured the Advocate that if a need could be demonstrated, or if there is an elevated level of faults, then work would definitely be undertaken.

Mr. Dimarco went on to say “Telstra is the only company servicing the bush. The Optus and Elders partnership was awarded $954 million to build a communication network for Australia, but they are sitting on their hands. They have not spent a cent in the bush.”

Compliments of The Bingara Advocate