Telstra pays AU$1.5m fine after preventing number porting due to COVID hitting offshore

Over 42,000 phone numbers were not moved to or from Telstra between March and July 2020.

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Image: Asha Barbaschow/ZDNet

Telstra has coughed up AU$1.5 million to pay a fine levelled at it after the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found the telco had stopped porting phone numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic hitting its offshore operations.

ACMA said over 42,000 services were impacted by the pause instigated in March 2020, and that Telstra took until October to clear the backlog once normal service was resumed in July.

"The ACMA found that Telstra unilaterally cancelled transfer requests that were scheduled to occur and stopped accepting new requests," it said.

"This was done without prior warning to other telcos, which were left not being able to help new and existing customers to transfer their service, while keeping their phone number."

In setting the size of the fine, ACMA chair Nerida O'Loughlin said the regulator appreciated the impact of coronavirus, and took it into account.

"However, it is clear Telstra, for a sustained period, did not have sufficient plans in place to comply with an important consumer safeguard that promotes competition in the telco market," the chair said.

"Telstra was on notice that the ACMA took these consumer and competition measures seriously and would not be exercising regulatory forbearance for non-compliance. Telco business continuity processes must be robust, particularly after the challenges of the past year."

ACMA added it has issued Telstra with a formal direction to comply with the Local Number Portability Industry Code and if it fails to do so, could face penalties of AU$250,000 per infringement.

In its February results, Telstra said it wanted to have its consumer and small business customer calls answered in Australia within the next year and a half after it closed its Cebu call centre in the Philippines.

By the end of 2021, the telco is hoping to have sent 8,000 workers to the unemployment line.

"In terms of reductions in indirect headcount, it was initially our expectation to reduce by around 25% or 10,000," Penn said at the time.

"However, we have already reduced 16,000 and we expect to make further reductions to our indirect workforce due to the significant progress we have made in digitising the business. The majority of these roles have been offshore."

In other telco news, Optus announced on Tuesday it was launching a call translation feature to allow users to "enjoy real-time conversations translated between different languages on their voice calls".

The telco has opened an expression of interest for users that wish to be a part of testing it.

The call translation feature is the latest to make up what the telco calls its "Living Network".

"For most, today's telco networks run as 'set and forget' services in the background. But with the Optus Living Network, customers will now have a network that puts advanced technology in their hands and is available on their terms, when and how they want it," Optus CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin said.

"The Optus Living Network changes the way customers engage with their connectivity and will change the future of our industry and what it means to offer a great network in the future."

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