Telstra facing compensation claims over Sensis1234

Telstra played by the rules when it chose the numbers 1-2-3-4 for its Sensis directory service but it may still incur a financial penalty over the handling of its advertising campaign.The service's launch raised the ire of competing carriers that had been using the number for similar paid services.

Telstra played by the rules when it chose the numbers 1-2-3-4 for its Sensis directory service but it may still incur a financial penalty over the handling of its advertising campaign.

The service's launch raised the ire of competing carriers that had been using the number for similar paid services. Under the Australian Communications Authority's (ACA) numbering plan, all carriers are allowed to use the number for network-specific services, but some carriers, such as Optus, argue that Telstra's intensive marketing campaign has effectively rendered the number unuseable.

The ACA has concluded that Telstra complied with the Telecommunication Numbering Plan but gave indications that the company maybe facing compensation claims from rival carriers.

Optus today confirmed that it's trying to extract compensation from Telstra over its handling of the affair.

"Optus maintains that Sensis hijacked the 1234 number. Optus continues to experience the effects of Sensis' continued use of this number and the associated advertising which has confused thousands of our customers. The dispute for reimbursements is ongoing", said a spokesperson for Optus.

Optus -- which was using the number for a paid ($2.20 per call and 25 cent per minute) international directory service -- lodged complaints with both the ACA and the competition regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

It's understood that Optus has reimbursed a large number of customers that inadvertently incurred charges after mistakenly dialling its international directory service.

Sensis yesterday refused to comment on its commercial arrangements with Optus over the 1234 incident.

If Telstra is involved in a financial settlement with Optus, it stands to reason that other providers drawn into similar difficulties may seek similar arrangements.

Vodafone Australia's chief executive officer, Grahame Maher, also raised concerns about Telstra's Sensis1234 advertising campaign at the time of its launch.

Vodafone uses part of the number string for its premium 123 directory service (which is reached by Vodafone customers that dial the 1-2-3-4 number sequence) charging customers AU$1.30 per minute for navigation services.

However a spokesperson for Vodafone told ZDNet Australia  today that Maher's comments were forward-looking statements that preceded the launch and that its service had been unaffected by the campaign.

While the ACA has cleared Telstra of regulatory breaches surrounding the incident it advised the carrier to improve the "style and effectiveness" of disclaimers it used to inform consumers that the service was not available to non-Telstra customers.

"We will be looking to them to do that better in the future," said Robert Johnston head of the ACA's numbering team.

Sensis today said the ACA had accepted that its disclaimer was within the Australian Communications Industry Forums' code of conduct on price and conditions but pledged to improve its advertising for consumers.

"We will review all future advertising disclaimers to improve clarity that the Sensis 1234 service is currently only available for Telstra customers," said Sensis corporate affairs manager, Karina White.

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