Editorial: Out of practice

Editorial: Out of practice

It’s easy to be an enfant terrible when the federal government is your daddy, local population sees you as an instrument of wealth creation and those in charge of regulating your business also happen to be those who would benefit least from deregulating your stranglehold on the jugular of the industry you belong to.

As the resident telecommunications monopoly, Telstra fits the whole description to a tee. Its parentage, however, makes government watchbodies virtually impotent when it comes to pinning ‘anti-competitive’ practices to the collar of Telstra’s infrastructural dominance.

Here’s an example. Recently, our No 1 telco introduced a new residential digital messaging service, which is provided to Telstra customers for free. The customers of Telstra resellers can also access the service — in return for a monthly fee. You would assume that paying a monthly fee would entitle the customers of Telstra’s resellers to the same level of service as that provided to Telstra’s direct customers. In theory, of course, the quality of that service would depend on the resellers’ ability to provide it. But when it comes to practice, well … the story acquires a totally new dimension.

As a customer of another carrier, I spent a couple of weeks unsuccessfully trying to connect my new phone line to Telstra’s new message bank. On each occasion, the automated instruction system informed me that my voicemail box would be operational within 72 hours. On each occasion, it failed to become so.

When I called my carrier to inquire about the problem, I was told that as a reseller of the service, they would have to get in touch with the Telstra Message Bank Service in order to fix the problem. But Telstra’s system was clogged up with customer inquiries and my carrier had to get in the queue with everyone else in order to address the issue on my behalf.

When the customer service operator finally got through after a couple of days of trying, he rang me back to say that Telstra would not allow him to make an inquiry on my behalf due to privacy concerns. Hence, I would have to call the Telstra helpline myself. That I dutifully did, only to be told by an operator that Telstra does not provide messaging service on behalf of my carrier at all. I explained to the Telstra operator that her company was wholesaling the service, but she would have none of that nonsense. If I was a residential customer with another carrier, Telstra had nothing to do with the way that carrier was providing my digital messaging service.

In desperation, I called Telstra again, hoping to speak to a more informed operator. This time, I got through to the Telstra Message Bank Service operator who informed me that my reseller was not providing me with a good service, as they were supposed to place the call on my behalf in the first place and he could, therefore, not help me.

Not in the position to perform a lie-detector test on either the customer service officer from my carrier — who told me that Telstra wouldn’t allow him to intervene on my behalf due to privacy regulations, or on the Telstra operators with their respective claims that Telstra doesn’t provide a messaging service through resellers and that, if it did so, it was the reseller, rather than myself, they needed to speak to, at this point I decided to give up.

Remembering an instance when a friend tried to get a broadband connection through a Telstra reseller only to be told that Telstra doesn’t provide the service in their area (and then have that same ‘non-existent’ service miraculously appear a couple of days later in an offer from Telstra), I was sufficiently peeved at the conduct of the Telstra operators.

In the immortal words of George W. Bush, what irked me was that Telstra grossly “misunderestimated” my power of deduction. Of course, I could have gone to the Department of Fair Trading, but I suspect that the nepotistic relationship between (my) government and (my) number one public enterprise was likely to obscure (my) rights as a consumer.

As a reseller champion, however, I can say that the process described above must be misleading and deceptive. In relation to my carrier, a reseller of Telstra services, this should further constitute anti-competitive practice.

And given the premise that: “It would be inconsistent with [the signing of the Conduct Code Agreement] for the Commonwealth to isolate a significant part of the Australian economy from the rules that are to be applied to the rest of the economy,” I was just wondering if the ACCC was going to do anything about it?

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