Telstra has been fined $1.5 million by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) for failing to provide customers the opportunity to keep their existing landline phone number when changing telcos.
Known as local number porting, customers can change from one telco to another and retain their geographic telephone number using the service.
The ACMA found that Telstra unilaterally cancelled transfer requests that were scheduled to occur and stopped accepting new requests after suspending most of its local number porting operations from late March 2020 after COVID-19 restrictions impacted its offshore operations.
Due to the suspension, more than 42,000 services could not be moved from Telstra to other telcos, or vice versa, as requested by Australian consumers.
The cancelled transfer requests were done without prior warning to other telcos, which were left not being able to help new and existing customers to transfer their service, while keeping their phone number.
Telstra did not fully resume porting operations until July 2020, and ACMA said the telco did not clear the backlog of requests until October 2020.
ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said Telstra’s actions had wide-reaching and lengthy impacts on residential and business consumers, as well as the broader telco industry.
“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,” O’Loughlin said.
“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 Telstra was on notice that the ACMA would not be exercising regulatory forbearance for non-compliance and that telco business continuity processes should be robust, particularly after 2020.
Apart from the $1.5 million fine, Telstra would risk facing court-imposed penalties of $250,000 per contravention if it fails to comply with the Local Number Portability Industry Code.