GROUNDBREAKING research into last year’s Telstra communications blackout in south-west Victoria has shown residents spent an average of 10 days without landline phone or internet, while some businesses lost more than $10,000.
It also raised concerns about the high reliance on technology and the lack of back-up in case of breakdowns.
More than 100,000 services for residential and business customers, extending from Lismore to Portland and north to Edenhope, were knocked out by a fire in the Warrnambool central exchange on November 22.
It took more than three weeks and $10 million to repair the damage and restore all services.
There is still no confirmed official cause of the blaze.
Research leader Dr Sean MacDermott, of RMIT University’s Hamilton campus, said there had been more than 400 responses to the survey carried out in January.
“People were passionate and wanted to tell their stories,” he said.
“Many said they hadn’t realised how dependant they were on technology, how it’s become pervasive in everything.”
The interim report was presented to a federal departmental inquiry last month. A final report is expected by May.
Dr MacDermott, who ran the project with Dr Kay Scholfield, said there was already considerable interest by disaster recovery agencies and the work showed how effective a small campus like Hamilton could be.
“A clear message is that while the problem was technological in nature, consequences were much more complex,” the report said.
“That raises questions about our society’s reliance on technology and especially about back-up processes when technology fails.
“There was considerable surprise at the realisation there was no back-up for such an important service in the event of a fire and that the service was centralised.”
Many respondents reported being charged penalty fees by financial institutions because funds weren’t transferred using online banking.
The interim research showed on average people affected by the outage spent 10.59 days without internet, 10.12 days without a landline and 4.21 days without mobile phone service.
Almost a quarter of business operators said they were forced to shut and 47 per cent said they lost customers.
About a third of respondents put their losses at $100 or less, a third at between $100 and $1000, 20 per cent between $1000 and $10,000 and three per cent at more than $10,000.
Perhaps unexpectedly, 11 per cent said it had saved them money, while about 35 per cent of study participants said they had noticed improvements in social interaction with more face-to-face conversations and offers of assistance during the crisis.
There was overall frustration that the outage was not well publicised outside the south-west and that Telstra seemed to focus on business and commerce rather than on individuals and health and safety.