Optus outage: network faces Senate inquiry and government review after Australia-wide loss of service | Optus

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Optus is facing a Senate inquiry and separate government review as well as calls for compensation after the 14-hour outage on Wednesday that left millions of customers without phone or internet services.

The telco giant’s network dropped out from about 4am on Wednesday, leaving hospitals, schools, financial institutions and government departments unable to make or receive calls for at least nine hours.

Some people’s ability to call triple zero was also affected by the nationwide outage.

The communications minister, Michelle Rowland announced the review will be conducted by the communications department, and that it would look at potential lessons from the outage.

Speaking to Nine’s Today program, Rowland said: “It is critical that industry and governments take stock following large-scale outages, given no network is immune.”

The terms of reference and next steps will be announced at a later date, the minister said.

On Thursday morning, the Senate voted to hold an inquiry into the outage after the motion, moved by Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, passed 39 to 20 when the minor party teamed up with crossbenchers and the opposition against the federal government.

The inquiry will centre around two main points, focusing on Optus’ handling of the incident, how it compensates its customers and what the federal government can do to ensure reliable coverage.

The committee is due to report back on 9 December.

The exact cause of the major outage, which also disrupted banking and transport services around the country, remains unknown but Optus reported services were back up and running again by 6pm on Wednesday.

Hanson-Young said the lives and livelihoods of millions were “acutely disrupted on Wednesday, with “internet down, banking broken, childcare centres closed, schools impacted”.

“The public deserves better.”

Victorian premier Jacinta Allan described the outage as “deeply distressing” and “disappointing” and welcomed the federal inquiry. She said the state’s department of government services would also conduct a review of its contracts with Optus.

New South Wales premier, Chris Minns, said Optus should compensate customers who were affected by the outage especially given the telco was “pretty tough” on people who didn’t pay their phone or internet bills on time.

“They’re going to have to come to the table and do something big, in my view, to keep their customer base and to prove to everybody that they are a reliable telecommunication service,” Minns said.

Speaking on ABC radio, Rowland said that “Optus would do well to take on board” the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s advice that customers may be allowed to claim compensation even when the telco is not contractually bound to provide it.

“I think it’s really important to recognise that Australians, being reasonable people, understand that things sometimes go wrong, but they also have an expectation that large corporations will do the right thing by them when they suffer loss or inconvenience,” Rowland said.

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Andrew Williams, the chief executive officer of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, echoed the call on ABC news radio. He urged business customers affected by the outage to “keep records that can quantify” any financial losses caused by the cut to services.

Andrew McKellar, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said small businesses were particularly affected by the loss of trading caused by the outage and that they should be compensated appropriately.

“For many of them, their payment systems were down. Their order systems were down … so obviously that’s a very, very significant impact,” he told the ABC.

Guardian Australia reported yesterday the outage was likely caused by a misconfiguration in the company’s network but Optus has yet to provide any detail on the cause.

The CEO, Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, told Nine Entertainment that the outage was caused by a “technical network fault” but did not elaborate.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (Acma) is also separately conducting an investigation into Optus’s compliance with rules requiring emergency calls to fall over to other networks when the services are unavailable.

Optus customers reported being unable to dial 000 from their mobile phones, despite the rules being in place.

Wednesday’s outage occurred only a year after the Singaporean-owned telco suffered a massive data breach from a cyber-attack that compromised the personal data of up to 9.8 million customers.

The industry watchdog has also asked for small businesses to discuss compensation options with Optus, given the impact on earnings during the failure. Rosmarin said the company would turn its attention to ‘thanking’ customers for their patience and “reward them for their loyalty” to Optus in the near future.

The government has not been pleased with Optus’s response, especially given the criticism the telco received in the wake of the massive data breach, for a lack of communication.

The financial services minister, Stephen Jones, told ABC radio RN Breakfast Rowland was left “trying to fill the gaps” to explain what was happening during the outage on Wednesday.

“It’s not her job as the minister to explain what’s going on inside of a company,” he said.

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