The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) reports quarterly on the performance of telephone services providers, measuring the percentage of each class of service which was carried out within required regulatory timeframes.
According to the report for the December 2004 quarter, one area in which Telstra has been progressively slipping is in providing new connections to customers located in rural areas -- without existing infrastructure. At the end of September 2003, 95 percent of connection requests were fulfilled on time but dipped 7 percent fifteen months later.
Telstra explained that extreme weather conditions in rural areas had caused an increase in fault volumes and forced the carrier to divert resources from new connections to fault repair activities.
John Neil, the ACA's telecommunications analysis executive manager, denied that the performance represented a wider problem for the telco giant. "This is not an indicator of their performance overall in rural Australia," he said.
According to Neil, there aren't many people who fall into the category of living in a rural area without access to basic telephone services. However, because there has been a consistent decline, Neil said the ACA was still pursuing the issue with Telstra with the aim of obtaining a more complete explanation.
In urban areas, and in rural areas with existing infrastructure, Telstra maintained its existing levels of on-time new connections.
Providing priority assistance services -- for customers with a life-threatening condition -- also proved a problem for Telstra in rural areas. According to the ACA, "priority connection performance in rural and remote areas continues to rate below that in urban areas".
The company is also taking longer to repair payphones nationwide, taking 14.5 hours on average to repair or three hours more than the same period in 2003. Telstra told the ACA in September that increased repair times were due to a short-term shortage in spare handsets, extreme weather conditions and delays caused by the transition period to a new contractor.