The ACMA has directed Telstra to commission an independent audit of compliance with its priority assistance obligations for customers with life-threatening medical conditions. Telstra must also implement a range of systems, processes and reporting to assure the future reliability and effectiveness of priority assistance.
The remedial direction results from an investigation into Telstra following two incidents in 2017, where customers with serious, chronic health conditions were unable to use their Telstra landline service. Neither customer was registered for priority assistance, but both made plain their serious health conditions and their need for a working telephone service. In both cases, the customers passed away.
‘Following these events, our initial focus is to address the underlying issue, namely the robustness of the system,’ said ACMA Acting Chair Creina Chapman.
‘While it is not clear that any action by Telstra would have changed these tragic outcomes, priority assistance is critical to ensure that customers with life-threatening conditions are identified and provided with swift assistance and fault rectification.’
In the cases investigated by the ACMA, Telstra did not:
- provide information about priority assistance on eight occasions to customers who enquired
- implement the emergency medical request procedures specified in its priority assistance policy on nine occasions during enquires made about the two services.
‘The ACMA is deeply concerned with Telstra’s failure to comply with its priority assistance obligations,’ added Ms Chapman.
After direction from the ACMA, Telstra has commissioned an independent audit that includes reviewing the training and scripts provided to Telstra staff, as well as past customer complaints about priority assistance.
Telstra is the only telco subject to a licence condition requiring it to offer customers priority assistance. Under this licence condition, Telstra must:
- provide information about eligibility and registration for priority assistance to customers who call and enquire
- follow specific emergency medical request procedures for customers who have not registered for priority assistance but who have an urgent need for a working telephone service owing to a life-threatening medical condition
- where customers are registered for priority assistance, ensure that their telephone services are connected and repaired in priority (short) timeframes or if that is not possible, provide the customer with an interim service.
The auditor’s report and Telstra’s proposed response to its recommendations will be provided to the ACMA.
‘We’ll be taking a very close look at the results of the independent audit. If we still have concerns with Telstra’s priority assistance services we’ll step in and ensure they’re addressed,’ said Ms Chapman.
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