21 November 2023

Originally published in The Daily Telegraph

By Bruce Billson


The new Optus leadership needs to demonstrate it truly understands the economic pain the recent outage has inflicted on some small and family businesses.

Our hardworking small and family businesses deserve respect and not to be treated in such a shabby way as they have been by Optus.

Telecommunications companies talk a big game about how their services are so important for the vitality of small business when they're trying to sign them up as customers.

So, when things go wrong, as they have with Optus, telcos should work just as hard to make amends.

Reliable and dependable telecommunications are an essential service and there must be accountability and proper compensation when it does not function as promised.

Optus's offer of extra data is inadequate. Comments by the company that the loss was only $2 a day shows it does not understand its customers. This is what Optus charges for its services, not what the loss of that service represents.

Let's be clear. Some small businesses had red ink because of the failure of this essential service.

Channel 9 reported the story of a barber unable to work and Optus's dismissive reply that you don't need telecommunications to cut hair.

Like many small businesses, the barber engages customers through a digital platform. The outage meant they couldn't take bookings or receive electronic payments. (And when customers went to look for an ATM, they couldn't find one either!) It is not just about making and receiving phone calls.

The digitally enabled world the telcos have encouraged small business to join means running your business is interwoven into the telco service. This includes digital data record-keeping, accounts, payroll and many other functions.

This is far more than just being out of contact. It left small business out of capability to function as a business.

It's encouraging to hear Optus now says it recognises the impact the outage had on small and family businesses, and is pledging a tailored response to their circumstances with a dedicated team to help.

But this is what Optus is obliged to do as a member of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman scheme, and the jury is still out on whether this new pledge is delivered satisfactorily.

It will also be interesting to see how Optus deals with the impact of the outage on small businesses that are customers of other smaller retail telcos that rely on Optus as a wholesaler of telecommunications services and infrastructure.

I urge affected businesses, if they don't receive a satisfactory response from Optus, to reach out to the TIO, which is designed to deal with complaints such as lost business profit due to network faults and to determine a reasonable remedy.

Australia's 2.5 million small businesses provide jobs for 5.1 million people and employ 42 per cent of all apprentices and trainees in training - nearly double the amount supported by a big business.

Life is hard enough for small businesses juggling cost-of-living pressure, energy costs and interest rates. They believed Optus's claims of dependable service and deserve to be treated much, much better.