Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Telstra admits to another privacy breach

Telstra has admitted to breaching the privacy of some of its customers only after being contacted by this website. "Most, if not all, affected customers (less than 3000) have been rung over the past week or so," said Telstra spokesman Craig Middleton.

Those affected were using Telstra's Tribe service, a platform which aggregates social media including Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Some customers' social networking sites that were accessed using Tribe could be accessed by other Tribe customers, Telstra said.

After being contacted by this website, Telstra published a blog post announcing the breach. "This is just so that people who read [the] story can find out info from us," Mr Middleton said

Telstra recently came under fire for being investigated by both the communications and privacy watchdogs after it sent out 220,000 letters that contained account information belonging to other customers.

It also came under fire in April, when technology website ZDNet Australia reported it breaching the privacy of 700 customers.
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"I’m accountable for Telstra’s approach to social media and all that goes with it. The good, the bad and the downright unfortunate," said Telstra's Kristen Boschma in the blog post.

"So I need to tell you something went awry with a service we offer called Tribe," she said. "We found a fault in the security for our Tribe service. Some customers’ pages could be accessed by other customers. We discovered instances where customers would have had the ability to access other customers’ Tribe accounts. In a couple of cases we were also contacted by customers to say that they received a Tribe alert meant for another user.

"To Telstra it is unacceptable that a customer’s privacy might be breached."

Boschma said Telstra has taken "direct and immediate action" to rectify the problem. "We suspended Tribe for a couple of days while we fixed it," she said. "It’s now back up and working like it’s meant to and we’ve already tried calling most affected customers directly. We’re continuing to contact all remaining affected customers. "Sorry for any inconvenience, this is not want we want for our customers but I’m glad the service has been restored."


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Phone and internet users lodged millions of complaints in 2010

As the big gorilla of the industry, Telstra would be responsible for most of these

MILLIONS of angry phone and internet users with hang ups about their providers are struggling to get problems fixed, new research claims.

A staggering one in two customers have had a telco gripe in the past year, a survey has found. And one in three who experienced a problem - equivalent to 2.3 million Australians - were unhappy with how their complaint was handled, according to the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network.

Technical glitches, sloppy customer service, billing and complaint resolution topped nominated telco problems. A huge spike in complaints to the industry ombudsman has triggered a major federal inquiry that is due to report in early 2011.

But ACCAN policy director Elissa Freeman said the record 230,000 annual complaints that sparked the probe were just the tip of the iceberg. Ms Freeman said most frustrated consumers gave up on taking unresolved woes further.

Communications Alliance chief John Stanton said the industry was working hard to improve customer service, and was revising consumer protections. Mr Stanton said complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman fell 23 per cent last financial year after a peak a year earlier.

The New Galaxy research commissioned by ACCAN polled 1100 people early this month.

ACCAN is pushing for new mandatory standards to force telcos to respond to customer complaints sooner, reduce call waiting times, and help customers in financial hardship.

Upset customers who have made submissions to the Australian Communications and Media Authority inquiry include a businesswoman who said her Telstra number was shut down and given away because of an ``inexplicable error".

She then reportedly spent one to two hours on the line and was repeatedly transferred to different operators in a vain attempt for assistance.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Telcos try to shift blame to customers

TELCOS are blaming technology-challenged customers for the surge in complaints about phone and internet services. The Communications Alliance and the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association - representing the nation's telcos - have admitted to a government inquiry that "there are problems in areas of customer management".

Gold Coast software engineer Kim Holley [above] has no trouble keeping up with the technology; her beef with Telstra BigPond is over a simple billing error.

Every month since March, Ms Holley has been charged a late payment fee for her internet account, even though her bills are direct-debited to her credit card. "I've probably spent at least two hours per month on this issue and I really would love to bill them for my time," she said yesterday.

"It's more the annoyance because I have a very busy travelling schedule for work, which is why I set up direct debit in the first place, and the bigger risk is they could turn off my service while I'm overseas."

Ms Holley said call centre staff assured her each time that the problem had been fixed. "Then it happens again, but every time I phone they have no record of me having called about the problem previously. I shouldn't have to explain the entire problem to them over and over and over again."

Telstra's director of customer service and satisfaction, Jules Scarlett, yesterday said Ms Holley's case would be investigated urgently. [Isn't publicity wonderful?]

Complaints against Telstra fell from 31,255 in the three months to September last year to 21,270 in the three months to June, she said. Telstra's share of industry complaints had dropped from 51 per cent to 45 per cent during 2009-10. "But this number is still too high so we're focused on making the improvements needed to simplify our business and better serve our customer," she said.

Industry-wide, complaints about phone and internet services fell 6 per cent last financial year, ending a seven-year cycle of soaring complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. The Ombudsman fielded 215,154 complaints from consumers in the year to June, down from a record 230,000 in 2008-09, according to confidential data provided to the industry.

Despite the fall, complaints have more than doubled in three years, and quadrupled in a decade. And as customers often complain about more than one problem - such as the failure to rectify an initial billing error - the number of issues totalled 481,418 in 2008-09.

ACMA has threatened to regulate unless the telco industry improves its customer service through the existing voluntary self-regulatory code of conduct.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Telecommunications regulator tackles telcos over poor service

Telcos are threatened with binding standards as customers make four complaints every minute. And as the big gorilla of the industry, this applies particularly to Telstra

PHONE companies' slack service to customers is unacceptable and they need to "do much better".

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has warned it will impose binding standards for customer service unless the industry improves its self-regulatory code of conduct, The Australian reports.

Authority chairman Chris Chapman said the existing poor standard of customer service was unacceptable. Mr Chapman said telecom customers' "exasperation and frustration" was shown by the "unacceptable trend line" in consumer complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

The ombudsman has been receiving complaints about billing, faults and connections of landlines, mobile and internet services at the rate of 1850 issues every weekday - or nearly four per minute.

"The banks used to be like this, but have lifted their performance over the past 10 years," Mr Chapman said yesterday. "I'm saying to the telco industry, your time has come." The telcos' customer service "is unacceptable and they've got to do much better".

The telecommunications industry is reviewing its three-year-old consumer protection code, which will require ACMA's approval next year.

At the same time, Mr Chapman said, if ACMA chose to impose its standards on the industry, telcos could be penalised for poor service. "We will invoke a standard in the event the code didn't provide sufficient consumer safeguards," he said. The standard would "open up telcos to a whole raft of enforcement possibilities". There would be a dramatic increase and toughening of the sanctions that existed under the voluntary code, he said.

Mr Chapman condemned the industry for failing to enforce its existing code of conduct. And he called for a "paradigm shift" in the way telcos treat their customers. "At the moment there is a disconnect between the provisions of the code and the outcomes, and the outcomes aren't good enough," he said.

"The future communications environment is going to be even more complicated than in recent times. "The industry will have to be even more creative and clever in the way it looks after customers."

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network said yesterday the telcos' existing industry code was "not worth the paper it's written on". "We need a commitment from the industry that it is prepared to comply with the code and issue public reports on its performance," acting chief executive Teresa Corbin said.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Telstra fined $19m for blocking wholesale rivals

The claim that this was not deliberate is one of the biggest heaps of bovine dung that I have ever encountered

TELSTRA has been slapped with an $18.5 million fine for blocking its rivals from installing broadband equipment at its telephone exchanges.

An 18-month long federal court case came to its conclusion this morning after Justice John Middleton found Telstra contravened the Trade Practices Act and its carrier licence conditions on 27 occasions between July 2006 and April 2008.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was seeking a fine of $34m to be imposed on the telco giant, alleging Telstra’s senior management ranks had knowingly conspired to deny its wholesale customers such as Optus and iiNet access to install equipment in seven lucrative metropolitan telephony exchanges.

Under standard obligations, Telstra is legally required to allow access to its telephone exchanges so that competitors can install equipment to provide new voice and broadband offerings for customers.

Justice Middleton found that no such conspiracy had existed. “I reject any suggestion that the contraventions occurred as a result of any implicit or express direction from the then chief executive of Telstra to all Telstra employees to make access to competitors difficult,” Justice Middleton said in his judgement.

Telstra admitted in July last year that it was guilty of misleading and deceptive conduct in denying competitors access to its copper network -- but said the breaches were a result of the "chaotic bureaucracy" of the business rather than a deliberate ploy to disadvantage its competitors.

The contraventions -- of which there were 30 separate alleged incidents -- carried a maximum penalty of up to $10m each but Justice Middleton gave Telstra a discount on each breach.

"I have also given a greater discount for cooperation, acceptance of responsibility and for voluntarily implementing a compliance program,” he said.

Telstra won't appeal the decision. The telco vowed to improve business processes.

"Since the start of the case, we have acknowledged that mistakes were made. We accept the judgment which has been handed down. We will not be appealing," a Telstra spokesman said.

"Since these events occurred, Telstra has taken proactive steps to improve our processes in this area, and more generally, to improve service to our wholesale customers.

"We have learned a lot as a result of this process and like many changes at Telstra, we are endeavouring to improve our performance."

He said Telstra had cooperated with the ACCC on its investigation and implemented improved monitoring, processes and training.

As a result, no new exchanges have been capped since April 2008, the spokesman said.

Despite Telstra's penalty the telco's rivals were not entirely pleased with the outcome and reiterated the need for the government to pass legislation aimed at curbing the telco's market dominance.

"This is an example of anti-competitive behaviour from Telstra that the Government’s reform package is designed to stop at its source," Optus director of Government and Corporate Affairs Maha Krishnapillai said.

"Telstra has a very real ability to act unfairly under the present regulatory system, however the damage is done long before Telstra faces any penalties for its actions."


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Regulator to get tougher on phone companies

Telstra abuses a big factor behind the change

TELEPHONE, mobile and internet providers will face hefty fines for breaching tough new customer service standards that will replace cumbersome voluntary industry codes.

Amendments to the Telecommunications Act will give the Australian Communications and Media Authority power to write consumer protection regulations and issue penalties of up to $250,000 for corporations and $50,000 for individuals in breach of the standards.

At the moment ACMA can issue infringement notices to broadcasters, but only has power to issue a formal warning to telecommunications companies before pursuing matters through the courts.

The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, said the changes would stem the flow of complaints made to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman; there had been a 118 per cent increase in customer service complaints last year.

The chairman of ACMA, Chris Chapman, said he would begin a formal inquiry into customer service in the telecommunications sector to "shine a strong light on complaints handling and the unresponsiveness of the industry to its customers".

He said codes developed by the industry took too long to develop and were cumbersome to change, leaving customers exposed to bad or deceptive service.

Telstra at work

An overzealous Telstra salesman nearly cost Sue Abbott, of Scone, $1400 after he convinced her to upgrade her mobile phone last year. But instead of the better deal she was promised, Ms Abbott promptly saw her bills double, including charges for a data plan she did not want or need.

Ms Abbott complained to Telstra, which caused her to run up even higher bills as she was "either left on hold or shipped around the world". "I would ring and try and explain my predicament and no-one listened. No one ever rang me back when I asked them to, or even offered to."

After a nine-month impasse, Telstra contacted Ms Abbott last week to say the charges would be erased from her account.

She said the inquiry was long overdue. "We're so in the dark about what the telcos can do," she said.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Fleeing customers dent Telstra revenues

And it's no wonder customers are fleeing. Just ask almost any Telstra customer who has had problems with them

TELSTRA is unlikely to meet its current revenue forecasts, analysts have warned as they highlighted a decline in customer numbers as the company's biggest challenge.

Analysts and investors say declining customer revenue is a more significant threat to Telstra's long-term revenue than the proposed national broadband network. They are urging the company to cut retail prices to arrest customer attrition.

Telstra's cash flow was likely to be $400 million less than forecast this financial year, at $5.6 billion, a Goldman Sachs JBWere analyst, Christian Guerra, said in a research note.

His forecast is based on the decline in fixed-line customers and uncompetitive mobile and broadband plans. "The [first half of 2009-10 financial year] result highlighted some of the most concerning operating trends seen in Telstra's recent history," Mr Guerra said.

Its mobile phone plans were the least competitive, and its customer growth declined by 83,000 in the last six months last year. "Telstra's dilemma is clear. It does not want to lower its mobile pricing to accelerate the shift of high-margin traffic away from its fixed network and onto Australia's three mobile networks," Mr Guerra said.

Telstra's recent attempts to improve fixed and wireless broadband packages would slow customer attrition rates, but the prices were still uncompetitive, he added.

On December 18 Telstra warned sales revenue in 2009-10 would be lower than previously forecast because customers were leaving its fixed phone and broadband services faster than expected.

But the long-term trend was a more significant threat to Telstra's long-term profitability than the government's proposed broadband network, said a Perennial Growth partner, Richard Macdougall.

Institutional investors could expect Telstra's share price to weaken further if it does not make a deal with NBN Co, because that would add even more uncertainty to the company's future.

The government has threatened to forcibly split Telstra's retail network, divest its interest in Foxtel and deny it wireless spectrum if it does not migrate its fixed line traffic to the national broadband network.

Mr Guerra said a deal with the government was nearing and this could boost Telstra's share price.

Meanwhile, the Federal Court in Melbourne will hear a case this morning between Telstra and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on alleged breaches of the Trade Practices Act and Telecommunications Act.

The regulator alleges Telstra denied its competitors access to seven metropolitan exchanges to connect equipment to customer homes.


Saturday, January 16, 2010


Telstra is steadily REDUCING its services to its Bigpond customers. First they cancelled the webspace they provided as part of a cable subscription deal. That was high-handed enough but they have now cancelled another service.

It was for years possible to access your Hotmail account via Outlook express. But no more. That option has been out of service for months but I thought it must be a result of something I had done. Not so. I eventually got around to emailing Bigpond technical support about it and below is the emailed reply that I got:
"We apologise for the inconvenience that you are experiencing and we understand your concern.

BigPond email accounts use the Post Office Protocol (POP3) protocol.

This protocol is incompatible with Hotmail. Hotmail uses a non-standard protocol for retrieving email, which is not compatible with all providers. Therefore, BigPond Technical Support does not support retrieving email using this method. However, we can refer you to one of our third party industrial partners called Gizmo. They support a wide range of products and services, including the issue that you are currently experiencing. Please be advised that they do charge a fee from a credit card however, will only do so if they fix your problem - if they are unable to then you won't be charged anything."

Do they run Gizmo? I wouldn't be surprised