Customers to weigh in as Optus disruption comes under microscope

Consumers and impacted businesses are being urged to have their say on the Optus outage, with the federal government laying out the terms of reference for its review into the incident that affected some 10 million customers and blocked more than 200 emergency triple-zero calls.

As the cost of last month’s outage continues to mount, Communications Minister Michelle Rowland has tapped telecommunications veteran Richard Bean to lead the review, which will examine the functioning of triple zero during the outage, including whether changes are needed to ensure it’s fit for purpose.

customers to weigh in as optus disruption comes under microscope

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland at the National Press Club.

The probe will also examine implications for the broader telco sector, including whether network roaming should potentially be mandated during national outages.

Questions were raised after the Optus outage about why affected customers could not roam on to Telstra or Vodafone’s network, given some customers caught up in the outage were unable to pay for food or bills, make sales, or attend medical appointments.

Richard Bean, the former deputy chair of independent communications watchdog the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), will lead the review, which will run concurrently to probes from a Senate committee chaired by Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young and the ACMA.

“The recent Optus outage caused significant disruption to the lives of millions of Australians, impacted small businesses, and left many without the ability to contact emergency services,” Rowland said on Monday.

“We need to learn the lessons from this serious incident because no network is immune from technical faults or outages.”

Technical causes for the outage will be excluded from the scope of the review, as will the adequacy of compensation offered by Optus.

Optus has offered customers 200 gigabytes of free data as compensation for its network outage, a move that has been widely panned.

Optus chief executive Kelly Bayer Rosmarin resigned from her position last week after presiding over both the major outage and a data breach 13 months earlier, with parent company Singtel now leading a global search for her successor.

At a fiery two-hour Senate grilling earlier this month, Bayer Rosmarin said Optus had conducted welfare checks on all 228 Optus customers who were unable to connect to triple zero, and that “everybody is OK”.

“We absolutely believe that the triple-zero system should have worked, and it’s critical for all Australians that that system can be relied upon,” she said.

“We don’t manage the triple-zero system. It’s a very complex system that involves all the carriers.”

The executive also revealed she did not speak to Rowland until four hours into the outage.

A similar outage last year suffered by Canadian telco Rogers led to new laws requiring all telecommunications providers to provide mutual assistance to one another in the event of an outage, including emergency roaming services for rivals’ affected customers. It also spurred new requirements for telcos on how to communicate to the public in the event of an outage.

Rogers’ chief technology officer at the time of its mass outage was Jorge Fernandes, who currently serves as chief technology officer for Optus’ parent company Singtel.

“The Albanese government’s post-incident review will help industry identify where its processes need to be strengthened, and provide advice to government on potential reforms,” Rowland said.

“Australians expect and deserve better from their communications service providers when these kinds of incidents arise, and I would encourage all to have their say – from impacted businesses and industry through to consumers.”

The review will report back to government by February 29.

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