MORE than $7 million in compensation has been paid out by Telstra to more than 4000 business operators across the south-west since the Warrnambool telecommunications exchange fire last November.
Thousands more dollars have been paid to customers of other telecommunications carriers hit by the November 22 fire, which affected more than 65,000 fixed-line services and knocked out about 80 mobile base stations.
Economists estimated total direct costs on Warrnambool at up to $7.63m and $17.9m for the entire south-west coast region.
Various community forums roundly criticised Telstra for its initial response and for having so much crucial equipment stacked in a single exchange.
It took months for repair crews from across the nation to rebuild the Koroit Street facility and install new gear at a cost of about $18 million with new links to other exchanges to prevent a further region-wide blackout. It will be officially re-opened next month.
A major investigation found the fire most likely started through an electrical fault and made 22 key recommendations including more separation of key infrastructure and more off-site backup.
Telstra’s area general manager Bill Mundy said yesterday the payout to business customers had exceeded $7m and the compensation window would remain open for another two years.
Telstra also waived thousands of domestic phone bills for a month and made adjustments to domestic mobile phone bills as compensation for inconvenience. “I’m still visiting business individually, hearing their stories and working out the best way we can help,” Mr Mundy said.
“From the time the fire occurred we said quite publicly that we knew we’d affected businesses and we set up a compensation scheme immediately to help alleviate some of that impact.
“The scheme was set up not from some legal obligation, but because we knew it was the right thing to do.”
Mr Mundy said the compensation scheme had been established to be simple with a statutory declaration for claims of less than $1000 and financial records as proof for larger demands.
“We also know that some businesses might not know the full impact for a year down the track, which is why we have the compensation scheme available until November 2015,” he said.
“If businesses are still to lodge a claim or have questions, information can be found at www.telstra.com.au/exchangefire or by phoning 1800 008 979.”