Optus confirms it has paid cash as compensation to customers affected by nationwide outage

Optus has confirmed it has paid compensation in cash to customers affected by its nationwide outage in early November, after the telco was widely criticised for offering 200GB of extra data as an apology for its blackout.

The admission from the beleaguered telco is among a series of written answers in response to questions on notice asked by a Senate inquiry investigating its 14-hour outage on November 8, which affected more than 10 million Australians and 400,000 businesses.

Then-Optus boss Kelly Bayer Rosmarin faced a Senate inquiry examining the telco’s nationwide outage on November 17, less than a fortnight after the incident occurred.

During the hearing, Ms Bayer Rosmarin told the inquiry that Optus had received claims from 8,500 customers and small businesses asking for compensation.

She told senators that $430,000 was under discussion and $36,000 had been “applied”, but Optus was asked to take the question on notice to confirm whether that payment was in cash or in the form of in-kind services like account credits.

Optus’s detailed written answer to the Senate confirmed that compensation has paid out “both cash and account credits” to small businesses, but did not provide a detailed breakdown.

Optus said it was also “not in a position to fully determine” how many small businesses were impacted by the outage.

The ABC has asked Optus to provide the dollar value of compensation paid out to customers and small businesses, and updated compensation claim figures but is yet to receive a response.

Optus’s decision to pay compensation in the form of cash and account credits comes after there was widespread outrage when the telco offered 200GB of extra data to customers affected by the outage, despite many customers already having unlimited data as part of their contract.

Ms Bayer Rosmarin resigned as Optus’s CEO three days after the Senate hearing on November 20, bowing to pressure over the telco’s handling of the outage.

Optus’s chief financial officer Michael Venter was appointed as interim CEO while the telco undertakes a worldwide search for a permanent replacement.

Optus ‘confident’ outage won’t happen again

The publication of Optus’s additional answers also clarified the cause of the outage, after the lead up to the Senate hearing was marred by days of back-and-forth between the telco and its parent company Singtel.

Optus had previously claimed that a routine software upgrade was at fault, before blaming its parent company for the outage — which Singtel pushed back on.

On the day of the Senate hearing, Ms Bayer Rosmarin said Cisco’s routers were to blame for the outage, which was again confirmed in Optus’s written responses that stressed there was no foreign interference.

“The cause of the outage was that Optus’s Cisco routers hit a fail-safe mechanism which meant that each one of them independently shut down,” the telco wrote.

Optus’s managing director of networks, Lambo Kanagaratnam, told the Senate hearing the telco was only “pretty confident” that they could rule out a cyber attack at 10:20am AEDT on the day of the outage.

In response to a question about the size and frequency of cyber attacks affecting the telco in the wake of its data breach in September 2022, Optus disclosed it records on average “around 17 million” cyber attacks a day.

Optus denied that the outage caused by its routers did “highlight inadequate infrastructure or resourcing or skill competencies”.

The written answers to the Senate’s questions saw Optus take responsibility for the outage, and stressed it was confident that the “routine upgrade” that was at fault could not occur in the future.

“The network issue occurred within Optus’ network and it is Optus’ responsibility to take measures to ensure the event cannot occur again,” it wrote.

“Optus is fully confident that this type of failure cannot occur again.”

The telco did not provide detail about the cost of its public relations and strategy advice in the wake of the outage, but confirmed it has nine members on its communications team.

Optus said it has not received any notice of legal claims or proceedings to date since the outage.

Triple-0 access facing separate probe

The telco’s answers to the Senate also confirm it undertook welfare checks for 229 people, after disclosing that 228 people were unable to access triple-0 during the network outage, which will be subjected to a separate government probe.

On Monday night, the federal government confirmed its inquiry will hone in on concerns that Australians were unable to access the triple-0 emergency service.

The inquiry, led by Communications Minister Michelle Rowland’s department, will also investigate how effective government messaging was during the 14-hour outage.

The terms of reference for the review aims to “uncover the lessons for the government and the telecommunications industry” from the incident.

“What is important here is the framework as a whole,” Ms Rowland told News Breakfast on Tuesday.

“We have a number of industry standards, they’re overseen by the regulator, [and] we want to ensure the industry as a whole responds proactively in future.”

The findings of the government-backed probe, led by former boss of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) Richard Bean, will report back by the end of February next year.

It is a separate inquiry to that being held by the Senate, which Optus provided its written responses to. Its report is due to be delivered by December 9.

ACMA has also launched a separate investigation into the outage.

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