Optus will be likely forced to explain why millions of customers were left waiting for hours to hear from the national telco during a major service collapse after senators announced a third investigation into Thursday’s chaos.
A Greens-led motion to establish a senate inquiry into Wednesday’s 12-hour outage passed just hours after the federal government and the industry regulator launched two separate investigations.
More than 10 million customers and 400,000 businesses were left without mobile or internet service after Optus’ network went down at 4am on Wednesday. The outage was later blamed on a technical issue.
Greens communications spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young called the fiasco a “disaster” and lashed Optus for failing to engage with its customers.
“There are lots of questions flying around, as of course people are so frustrated and angry at how they were treated as customers yesterday,” she said.
“Childcare centres were closed, schools were impacted, hospitals, public transport and potentially billions of dollars lost in the economy because people couldn’t access banking or get on with their daily work.”
Senators will scrutinise Optus’ handling of the outage, which was restored about 6pm on Wednesday, and probe for details on the company’s plans to compensate customers.
Optus has expressed that it will not be refunding its nearly 10 million customers after the telco announced it would instead look for ways to say “thank you” to those affected.
That thank you will include a “bonus” 200GB of data, available from next Monday.
managing director of customer solutions, Matt Williams said.
Business customers would be offered the same offer, but not any cash compensation.
“For (Wednesday’s) outage, we wanted to give that extra data of 200GB over the next couple of months, which if they were to purchase as a standard add-on would cost in excess of $100,” Mr Williams told news.com.au.
According to a 2021 information sheet from Australia’s Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, telco companies can be forced to pay people up to $100,000 in compensation if a customer claim is successful.
Industry Ombudsman Cynthia Gebert has urged small businesses affected by the network outage need to contact the company and advise of their financial losses.
This came after Optus chief executive Kelly Bayer Rosmarin told The Daily Telegraph that the company would not reimburse customers because most would get “less than $2” in compensation.
Earlier on Thursday, Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said it was more than reasonable for people to expect a refund and urged businesses to hold onto their receipts.
“There is a reasonable expectation from Australians that if they are done wrong, if there is an outage of this nature that causes them to suffer loss in some way – be that economic or otherwise – that corporations will do the right thing by them,” she said.
The government has given no set timeline for its own Optus investigation but flagged that more details would be made available after drafting a terms of reference.
The Australian Media and Communications Authority will separately probe the telco over claims it breached compliance rules around emergency calls. This came amid reports that people were unable to dial triple-0 on their landlines for most of Wednesday.
Optus vice-president regulatory and public affairs Andrew Sheridan issued an apology to customers and said the company would fully co-operate with investigations.
“As a critical infrastructure provider, we understand how important it is to ensure continuity of service and any lessons learnt are likely to be helpful for both Optus and others in our industry,” he wrote in a statement.
“We value our customers’ loyalty, and are looking at ways to say ‘thank you’.
Optus chief executive Kelly Bayer Rosmarin has been placed at the centre of public scrutiny, facing claims she failed to communicate with media and the public during the service meltdown.
Speaking earlier, Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones said it was “bizarre” Ms Bayer Rosmarin did not make herself more widely available considering the critical nature of the situation.
“You’d have thought coming off the back of the previous data breach where they were facing similar calls from customers to explain exactly what was going on, this simply wasn’t good enough,” Mr Jones told ABC.
“My colleague Michelle Rowland was out there trying to fill the gaps. It’s not her job as the minister to explain what’s going on inside of a company. It’s the company’s job to do that.”
Ms Bayer Rosmarin has denied claims of poor communication and has since said the company was “very, very sorry” for customers and services impacted by the outage.