Labor slams Telstra's 'intimidation' of broadband customers

Labor has accused Telstra of employing standover tactics against consumers wishing to change from its broadband service to those provided by other ISPs across its wholesale network.

Shadow IT minister Senator Kate Lundy told parliament on Wednesday that the federal government needed to address “intimidation tactics” that Telstra uses towards customers wanting to change ISPs.

Lundy said numerous telecommunications consumers had been refused connection to a broadband service when applying through one of Telstra’s wholesale customers, but were later successful when applying directly through Telstra BigPond retail, “which offers a more expensive service”.

As an example, Lundy highlighted Telstra’s decision earlier this year to connect a customer to its retail BigPond ADSL service after the customer was repeatedly rejected for an ADSL through Telstra’s wholesale arm.

The customer in question, Steve Mann, had originally applied for an ADSL service through Telstra wholesale customer iiNet, but was rejected on the grounds that his site was too far from the exchange to allow for a quality ADSL service.

However, Mann’s request for the service was accepted when he applied for an ADSL through Telstra BigPond,.

Once the issue of Mann’s service was brought to the attention of the public, Telstra attempted to renege on the deal, sending its representatives to Mann’s home threatening that his broadband service would be disconnected, Lundy said.

In its defence, Telstra spokeswoman Kerrina Lawrence told broadband forum Web site Whirlpool that the telco regretted the decisions it had made in relation to Mann’s service, and would be allowing him to keep the service until “a suitable alternative was provided”.

Lundy called on communications minister Senator Richard Alston to examine the case, and give its assurance that Mann would be able to keep his service through the provider of his choice.

“Does the minister agree that Telstra’s tactic of refusing to provide a broadband service to certain customers unless they apply to Telstra can impact negatively on small businesses who are seeking to sell broadband services to Australians?” Lundy asked.

Although initially sidestepping the question with derogatory remarks on the Labor party’s “get Telstra policy”, Senator Alston responded that his department would be “more than happy to look into the complaints to see if there are problems”.

“I will have a good hard look at Senator Lundy’s complaints and see what we can do,” Alston said.

But the minister also advised Lundy to “not take these things at face value”.

“You should not jump to conclusions that we need a new and effective access regime,” Alston told Lundy.

The Labor party, in alliance with the Australian democrats, requested a senate committee inquiry into Australia’s broadband competition last week. The request was rejected by the government on Wednesday.

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