Telstra has just paid a $1.5 million fine after the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) discovered that it failed to let customers port local phone numbers during part of 2020.
This article has been updated to include comment from Telstra.
According to ACMA, Telstra suspended the majority of local number porting in March 2020. This was due to the impact COVID-19 had on its offshore operations, which filtered through to many aspects of its customer service fulfilment.
Throughout 2020 customers complained in forums and on social media about not being able to get through to Telstra.
In regards to number porting, more than 42,000 services couldn’t be moved from Telstra to other telcos, and vice versa, during this time.
ACMA’s investigation into the issue found that Telstra cancelled transfer requests and ceased taking new ones. Number porting didn’t resume until July and the backlog was not cleared until October 2020.
This was particularly problematic as other service providers were not informed of these decisions, which left telcos unable to assist customers looking to port their numbers to a new service.
“Australian consumers must have the freedom to change their telco provider to take up services that best suit their needs. This includes keeping your own phone number even if you take your business elsewhere,” ACMA Chair, Nerida O’Loughlin, said in a statement.
“Local number porting is important for consumers and supports a competitive telco sector.”
O’Loughlin also said that ACMA understands that Telstra had issues during COVID-19 and took this into account when it came to the fine.
“Telstra was on notice that the ACMA took these consumer and competition measures seriously and would not be exercising regulatory forbearance for non-compliance,” the statement said. “Telco business continuity processes must be robust, particularly after the challenges of the past year.”
ACMA also gave Telstra a formal direction to comply with the Local Number Portability Industry Code. Failure to comply can result in $250,000 per infringement.
Telstra has agreed that number porting is an important service for customers. It also offered an explanation regarding the porting issues during 2020.
“This issue happened at the height of the first global wave of COVID, a time that tested everyone’s resilience and crisis management,” a Telstra spokesperson said in an email to Gizmodo Australia.
“Given the number of our people and services affected by the pandemic, we could not guarantee that numbers would be ported correctly and decided to hit pause until we could be sure that we would not leave people without a service.”
“We did this in a way to ensure that Telstra did not receive any advantage over our competitors. We worked hard to get all our porting services operating again as quickly as possible.”
“Since then we’ve made a range of changes to ensure we can continue to meet our regulatory obligation to provide number porting services.”