Telstra told to pull Up socks by Oz government minister

Australian telecom carrier Telstra is failing consumers, particularly in country areas, according to the Australian Minister for Communications, the Information Economy and the Arts, Senator Richard Alston. Senator Alston, speaking yesterday, was maintaining pressure on the telecommunications company following Monday's announcement that Telstra could face fines of A$10 million (US$6.6 million) if the telco fails to deliver promised services.

Australian telecom carrier Telstra is failing consumers, particularly in country areas, according to the Australian Minister for Communications, the Information Economy and the Arts, Senator Richard Alston.

Senator Alston, speaking yesterday, was maintaining pressure on the telecommunications company following Monday's announcement that Telstra could face fines of A$10 million (US$6.6 million) if the telco fails to deliver promised services.

Yesterday Senator Alston released the Australian Telecommunication Authority's (ACA) Telecommunications Performance Monitoring Bulletin for the December 1997 quarter which showed a decline in the number of new services connected on time, particularly in rural areas. It also showed a fall in the percentage of faults cleared within one or two days of notification.

Telstra has an obligation to maintain high levels of service, Senator Alston said.

"The results for the December quarter show service levels are too low," he said. "Australians should be naturally concerned about any decline in the quality of service. Today's result suggests that it may be necessary for the ACA to exercise these powers as soon as possible," he said.

"If the customer service guarantee performance standard says that faults must be repaired within three days, then the government expects that to be met in the great majority of cases - not 50%of cases, or 70% of cases," Senator Alston said. "I will ask the ACA to report to me urgently on what the appropriate threshold is so that once legislation is in place we can be confident the ACA will be taking action at any time when Telstra's performance falls below acceptable levels."

On Monday, Telstra was put on notice to improve its existing service standards in the lead-up to its possible full privatisation.

Senator Alston said the government was not satisfied with Telstra's service and was forcing it to improve.

The government set out to achieve this by introducing amendments to the Telecommunications Act 1997 this week which will give the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) the power to direct all carriage service providers, including Telstra, to take remedial action to correct problems in meeting customer service guarantee performance standards for services such as connection times and repair times.

Senator Alston said the government is determined that Telstra and other telecommunications carriers should provide service at levels which Australians expected and deserved.

The government would ensure that Australians have access to a world class telephone service, he said.

The minister said the government had acted following a worrying number of complaints about Telstra's service in recent months and the provision of the legislation would be applied regardless of the ownership of Telstra.

Under the Telecommunications Act, the ACA can obtain court orders to require carriage service providers to comply with its directions. Failure to do so can attract a penalty up to A$10 million.

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