Telstra has been fined $1.5 million for failing to allow customers to keep their existing Australian phone number when changing telecommunication providers.
The infringement payment follows an investigation by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which found Telstra failed to provide consumers with a local number porting option after the COVID-19 outbreak last year.
Telstra suspended most of its local number porting operations from late March 2020 after experiencing COVID-19-related impacts on its offshore operations, the media authority said.
As a result, more than 42,000 services could not be moved from Telstra to other telcos, or vice versa, as requested by Australian customers.
Telstra did not completely resume porting operations until July 2020, and did not clear the backlog of requests until October 2020.
According to ACMA, Telstra unilaterally cancelled transfer requests that were scheduled to occur and stopped accepting new requests.
Telstra also failed to notify the transferring telcos of the suspension which were left not being able to help new and existing customers to transfer their service and keep their old numbers.
“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,” said ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin.
“Local number porting is important for consumers and supports a competitive telco sector. We appreciate Telstra had difficulties due to COVID-19 and we took this into account in our enforcement actions, including the size of the financial penalty.
“However, it is clear Telstra, for a sustained period, did not have sufficient plans in place to comply with an important consumer safeguard that promotes competition in the telco market.”
O’Loughlin added that telco business continuity processes must be robust after a challenging 2020.
The ACMA also gave Telstra a formal direction to comply with the Local Number Portability Industry Code. Should Telstra fail to comply with the direction, it could face court-imposed penalties of $250,000 per contravention.