'People with disability hardest hit by internet outages'

OPINION

I'm seated behind the picturesque teashop in Rockhampton Botanic Gardens, compiling my online news stories with the help of a work-provided mobile phone and a USB cable.

It's a pleasant backdrop - children playing, birds swooping, there's even a wedding party in the background - but, in truth, it's not where I want to be.

Since one of the telcos "did work" around South Rockampton, I've lost internet to most my house at precisely the time I have no other office to go to.

How many other 'work from home' residents around Rockhampton, having only just adjusted to the new normal of working from home, have now been forced out of their comfort zone - away from the fridge, the power plugs, the pets - to seek internet in unfamiliar places?

Generic image of laptop work
Generic image of laptop work

 

 

Telstra messaged me to say they were upgrading the network and my service "may be impacted" four days beginning September 8, so I wasn't shocked when I couldn't get online Thursday, Septmeber 10.

However, I was devastated last Thursday, September 17, when my home internet dropped out nine times in two hours between 6am and 8am.

I was then infuriated to discover it's no longer possible to ring up the company in question and complain to a real person.

After several minutes being asked questions by a robot, I was informed that Telstra is "prioritising customers with critical issues", sent a link to a messaging service, then hung up on me.

Oh, first though, the robot thanked me for my time.

A friend of mine who's in IT came over and measured how much internet I'm receiving throughout my house; it's next to negligible.

If I want to work from home, I have to squeeze into a tiny space behind my front door and perch the mobile phone on a window sill. That's not going to work if it rains.

(I suppose I'm better off than my neighbour who's stuck at home with a broken arm and can't access her Netflix.)

So I don't find it surprising consumers recently nominated telecommunication providers as delivering the worst customer service of all essential service providers.

The Consumer Policy Research Centre's (CPRC) August report said 5.7 million Australians reported having a negative experience with their telecommunications provider (up from 4.1m in July).

Most commonly reported problems included long wait times (17 per cent) unhelpful service (nine per cent), difficulty navigating the website or phone system (eight per cent) or a general lack of ability to resolve challenges (seven per cent).

But at least I'm capable of hopping on my scooter and heading off to the Botanic Gardens or the Rockhampton Regional Council's excellent library facilities.

Spare a thought for people living with a disability who suffer a disproportionate inconvenience when both the usual communications delivery and standards of customer service slow to a trickle.

"People with disability are being pushed further behind my inadequate systems and support," said CPRC director Lauren Solomon.

"The irony of the telecommunications being the most difficult to contact and navigate is not lost on us.

"Our technologies are advancing rapidly, but we don't seem to be using them to ensure consumers across the nation are able to access basic support, regardless of their circumstances."

Meanwhile, there's a new message from Telstra to say another six days of work will begin around Rockhampton tomorrow.

Who knows if and when our work office will be back online following that?

A spokesperson from Telstra's Corporate Affairs said the telco had not dismantled its call centre operations.

"Like many other telcos and companies in Australia and globally, we've been evolving our contact centre operations over time in response to more and more customers opting to communicate with us digitally," he said.

"This was already happening before COVID, but the pandemic has seen it accelerate. Luckily, we were already well on our way before the pandemic hit. Before COVID, around 50 per cent of consumers contacted us through digital options; now this is more than 70 per cent.

"We also saw almost four million customers download the My Telstra app during COVID in a period of just eight weeks.

"This is a significant change for Telstra and for our customers. And as with any change of this size, there will be challenges along the way.

"That is why we are working hard to refine and improve our customer service pathways, and feedback from customers is always helpful in this process. We know that it is critical to invest in accelerating our digital engagement, including messaging.

"This will give us more capacity for customers who want to call us for more complex support, and also for those Australians who are not as comfortable using digital tools."



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