Senator Kate Lundy has formally called upon the ACCC to investigate Telstra for anti-competitive behaviour, following claims it rejected an application for ADSL services from a competitor through its wholesale division only to then approve the same application through its own BigPond retail service.
The ADSL customer, Steve Mann, who spoke of the incident to broadband forum Web site Whirlpool in May, said his original application for an ADSL service with iiNet was knocked back by the supplier Telstra Wholesale due to poor line quality. However, the same line was later approved for ADSL when he applied for the service through BigPond.
Mann logged a complaint regarding the matter to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsmen (TIO).
Telstra responded by offering him a generous settlement to drop the TIO complaint, which included a complete refund of his set-up costs as well as access to a 3GB per month plan for six months for the cost of the 1GB service.
Mann said a Telstra representative told him the original iiNet line test had been done at a time when rain or humidity had affected the line quality. Since then, the line quality had improved. iiNet general manager, Michael Malone said that this wasn’t the first time an incident like this had occurred.
“We have had previous cases where a customer has been failed at iiNet and then approved by BigPond,” he said. In such cases, Telstra Wholesale had agreed to transfer the customer if it passes service qualification, he said.
However, in this instance, when iiNet approached Telstra Wholesale and asked for the customer to be transferred back to iiNet, the ISP was told Mann was still failing the minimum service qualification and that they would not transfer him.
“So even though ADSL was provisioned on the line through BigPond, it was still failing the minimum requirements for a new service,” Malone said.
“Telstra has satisfied the customer by giving them a great deal and he’s happy,” he said. “But that doesn’t solve the basic issue: BigPond can provision customers that wholesale has failed for other ISPs.”
In its defence, Telstra issued a press statement, stating both Telstra Wholesale and BigPond used the same computerised service quality check that makes it impossible for the carrier to favour one set of customers over another.
Telstra spokesperson, Kerrina Lawrence, said the telco had since confirmed Mann’s application was processed because “a staff member recently entered the wrong data and inadvertently continued an ADSL order despite it being disqualified for excessive transmission loss”.
Lawrence said the staff member has been informed of the seriousness of the action.
Evidence of similar complaints
However, Lundy, the Federal shadow minister for information technology and sport, said Mann’s complaint was not the first time her office had heard reports of such incidents occurring. In her request to the ACCC on Tuesday, Lundy cited 13 similar occasions where the telco had behaved anti-competitively with regards to provisioning ADSL services.
Lundy said there were also other issues which needed to be addressed with regards to Telstra’s ADSL connections, including the rights of the individual Telstra customer whose ADSL broadband connection is to be disconnected “after blowing the whistle”.
The comment relates to Telstra’s decision to renege its ADSL service offering to Mann by serving him a disconnection notice at his premises last weekend. According to Mann’s comments on Whirlpool, the senior Telstra manager dispatched to his home to serve the disconnection notice “had difficulty concealing his 'disgust' for Whirlpool and Mann”.
Whirlpool reported Telstra responded to the comments by saying the visit was not meant to be intimidating, but instead a “frank and open explanation” of the issue with Mann.
Malone said iiNet was inviting any clients who had been rejected with iiNet and then accepted with Telstra to contact iiNet with their usernames so “we can check out their stories”.