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Telstra has been fined A$3 million for overcharging customers over a period of more than a decade, Australia's telecoms regulator announced this week.
December 8, 2023
While not an insignificant sum, that's not a huge financial penalty for a company the size of Telstra. Indeed, the Australian incumbent is probably smarting more over the dressing down it got from the regulator than it is from its punishment.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) declared that it has lost patience with Telstra following a long-running series of significant billing errors.
"Telstra has a history of incorrectly billing customers and it's just not good enough," said ACMA Chair Nerida O'Loughlin.
"Telstra is a major player in the Australian telco sector and it needs to continue to prioritise its billing compliance and get its systems in order," O'Loughlin said.
There's not much room for interpretation in there. Telstra has repeatedly messed up and the regulator is angry. Slapped wrists all round.
The fine, which Telstra has already paid, comes in the wake of an ACMA investigation that uncovered that 6,532 customers, the majority of which were small businesses, were incorrectly billed by the telco between April 2012 and August 2023. On average, each was down by around A$2,600, making for a total of just shy of A$17 million.
The regulator also highlighted action it took back in 2020 when it discovered Telstra had overcharged customers by A$2.5 million, also over a 12-year period; it then ordered the telco to comply with billing accuracy rules. And in 2022 a separate probe found Telstra had overcharged more than 11,000 customers a total of around A$1.7 million.
That's over A$21 million overall. No wonder the regulator has decided that enough is enough. Telstra seems to be cooperating though. The ACMA notes that it has paid back A$17.7 million to customers who were billed for inactive Internet services, and will refund a further A$3.4 million before the end of the year.
Further, the operator has made some adjustments, implementing controls within its systems to help prevent recurrence of the issue. These including monthly monitoring and keeping in regulator contact with customers to ensure they are actively using their ADSL services before it issues bills. It has also agreed to report back to the ACMA on the effectiveness of these controls in six months.
Telstra can't afford to slip up again. The ACMA warns that further contraventions of billing accuracy rules could see it take further action, including court proceedings.
And Australia's other telecoms operators should probably make sure their houses are in order too.
"At a time when many small businesses are facing economic pressures, unaccounted costs can create very real stress and financial hardship," O'Loughlin pointed out. "All telcos must have robust billing systems in place to ensure that consumers, including small businesses, are only paying for agreed and active services."
Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.
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