Video and gallery: Telstra boss offers open chequebook for business compensation

TELSTRA has an open chequebook on compensation for south-west businesses, the company’s chief executive David Thodey said in Warrnambool yesterday as he inspected repairs to the region’s central exchange 13 days after it was disabled by fire.

“I would expect there will be millions of dollars in compensation, absolutely,”  he said.

“We’ve set up a special team to fast-track the process.

“I really wanted to come here to see what’s happened here and express my real concern and sympathy for such a serious impact.”

Twice he apologised  for the outage which affected about 100,000 services across the region extending from Lismore to Portland.

Several thousand customers are still without landline and ADSL service, but repair teams are aiming to have almost everything  back on line by Saturday.

Mr Thodey flew from Sydney to Warrnambool  airport in a chartered plane on his first visit to the south-west.

He said he had kept track of the disaster and repair effort since first being alerted at 7.30am on November 22 — three hours after the fire alarm went off.

“There’s a definite sense of reality of what this meant,”  he said.

“I’m not sitting back in an ivory tower in Sydney, I do care.”

He estimated a repair bill of at least $10 million to rebuild the exchange which supplies voice, data and radio services to hundreds of smaller exchanges. 

“I want people to understand there are at least 100,000 services we’ve had to restore,”  he said. “Normally to rebuild an exchange like this would take two years and I think we’ll have restored everything in about two weeks.

“As much as we are pleased with that work it doesn’t in any way replace the pain and the challenges created in the community.”

Mr Thodey said apart from bushfires and floods, this was the largest outage in a single main Telstra exchange and would be closely examined to determine lessons for other exchanges around Australia.

He did not rule out installation of   back-up equipment  or   fire suppression systems.

The Warrnambool exchange, built more than 50 years ago, relies on  alarm links to the Warrnambool fire station and Telstra control system in Melbourne.

“Until we’ve had a full report from the brigade and our own report I can’t give a definitive answer on whether we were caught short,”  he said.

“But I want to assure the community that if we find stuff (in the inquiry) we’ll fix it.

“When you are restoring nearly 80,000 fixed lines, just like the road system you can’t have full redundancy, it’s physically impossible.

“The question is the appropriate level of redundancy and how you can separate your services out, and that’s probably where we’ll look.

“I know our reputation has been dented, but we are here for the long term,” he said.

“We are sympathetic, we don’t hide from our responsibilities and hopefully the trust will return.”

Mr Thodey said although other telecommunications providers were able to get their services back up none were on the same scale as Telstra.

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