Greens’ senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s line of questioning at the Senate hearing would suggest that the Australian parliament is waking up to need to examine the issue of mandated roaming in the event of another mass outage. Such a regulation would force Telstra to share its network with Optus, and vice versa.
Hanson-Young said she was “flabbergasted” that Optus hadn’t considered letting its customers roam onto other networks, and said the telco should “get on with talking to your competitors and making sure the Australian people are actually looked after and can access a service that is essential.”
The nation’s telcos are vehemently opposed to that idea, argued over the past week that the concept isn’t technically feasible.
Except, it is. And the actual bugbear for the telcos is cost associated by moving extra traffic over their respective networks when there is a major outage.
Such a major service outage last year spurred the Canadian government to pass laws requiring all telcos to provide mutual assistance to each other in the event of an outage.
Rogers, the telco that suffered the 19-hour outage, credited customers with the equivalent of five days’ service as compensation. And after the outage, 12 of Canada’s biggest telcos signed a memorandum of understanding “to provide emergency roaming, mutual assistance, and communications to the public and governmental authorities during a critical network failure.”
Importantly, the government also created new plans for how telcos need to communicate to the public about large outages. Such commonsense requirements would have helped Optus and the broader Australian public avoid much of the damage inflicted last week.
Given how reliant Australian consumers and businesses are to telecom networks, a mandated model of network sharing could well be looming for the entire industry in Australia.
Meanwhile, with the Senate grilling now complete, attention will now turn to whether Optus’ boss has done enough to keep her job, and extend her tenure in one of corporate Australia’s most public – and most demanding – roles.
Having endured intense public scrutiny, Bayer Rosmarin’s future now rests in the hands of the board of Optus’ parent company Singtel, which had a front-row seat last week on how the outage played out.
The Senate committee is of little significance. Instead, Singtel’s board members will be guided by the financial impact from the outage and just how many customers Optus ends up losing over it. Early signs would indicate the telco is dishing out heavy discounts to hold on to customers.
But the financial costs borne by Optus to compensate for the outage would be rendered insignificant if the telco’s carelessness ends up leading to new rules foisted on an unwilling sector.
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