It’s the tiny Northern Territory town that Telstra hung up on in the build up to Christmas.
- A faulty air-conditioner caused a telecommunications blackout which lasted nearly two weeks
- Business owners have been considering launching a class action against Telstra over losses during the period
- Telstra says it responded to the situation as best as it could, and businesses will be considered for reimbursement
For 11 days this month the town of Batchelor was left stranded without internet services with businesses reporting thousands of dollars in losses.
Some residents in the town just 100km from Darwin, population around 500, were considering launching a class action against the telecommunications giant, whose equipment failure was responsible for the outage which also knocked out mobile coverage and landline services for days.
A faulty air-conditioner in the town’s ageing telephone exchange was understood to have triggered the initial breakdown.
A faulty air-conditioner at Batchelor’s telephone exchange triggered the blackout. (ABC News: Matt Garrick)
Publican Michael McElwee was leading the charge against Telstra, due to what he has estimated to be “tens of thousands” of dollars in losses from EFTPOS machines being down, and cash-less punters being forced to travel out of the tourist town, which services travellers to Litchfield National Park, to get their supplies.
“On average your take could be anything between $3,000 and $5,000 maybe $6,000 a day … and now you’re taking $1,000 a day, because people going through [town] couldn’t use the EFTPOS machines … and because the Wi-Fi wouldn’t work, they couldn’t pay by mobile phone,” Mr McElwee said.
“The town wants to take a class action … the other businesses have lost tens of thousands of dollars too.”
Employees couldn’t get Christmas wages
Nick Cunningham, the manager of the Batchelor Butterfly Farm, said his losses were currently sitting at an estimated $1,500, due to the inability to use EFTPOS or email business partners.
“We’re now two weeks behind, and coming up to Christmas break, it’s pushing our stuff back by a couple of months,” Mr Cunningham said.
“Everyone’s up in arms.”
During the mobile coverage blackout, which started on December 12, the whole town “grinded to a halt”, he said, for about three or four days until reception was returned.
“The school had to close down because it was unsafe for children to go to school with no emergency calls — they couldn’t call police or ambulance or even fire,” Mr Cunningham said.
Co-manager Nathan Clout said the town had also missed a severe weather warning, which were usually broadcast through text messages.
Some employees who worked for interstate companies couldn’t submit their payslips due to the blackout, he said, “so their payroll closed during the time in which they were supposed to submit it, and by the time they got reception back on their phone, their payroll closed, so some people couldn’t get paid for Christmas”.
Managers of the Batchelor Butterfly Farm Nick Cunningham and Nathan Clout face losses of at least $1,500. (ABC News: Matt Garrick)
“The worst thing is that Telstra hasn’t updated us at all, there’s been no information,” Mr Clout said.
A Telstra spokesman told the ABC that internet services were finally restored to the town on Sunday afternoon December 23.
He said he believed the company had done “the best we could do in the circumstances”.
“It’s very difficult sometimes to be proactive in some of these situations … but there’s always room for improvement,” he said.
“We certainly haven’t been hiding away.”
No obvious Telstra backup in place
Owner of the town’s Puma service station Mike Dooley said he was “somewhat disillusioned” by Telstra’s failure to fix the problem within an acceptable timeframe.
“I’m surprised that a multi-billion-dollar company doesn’t have a backup of some type,” Mr Dooley said.
“I would’ve thought there was probably hundreds if not thousands of these sorts of exchanges around the country, and I would assume they would need continual repair, maintenance … I’m surprised they don’t have something sitting on the back of a truck ready to just rollout to Alice Springs, Tennant Creek or Nhulunbuy or whatever.
“But apparently there’s nothing and they don’t even have spare parts, so that comes as a major shock.”
He said his business had also lost a great deal of business, and the lack of EFTPOS had also hindered customers who relied on Basics Cards.
The Telstra spokesman said technology “can’t always be guaranteed on”.
Rum Jungle Tavern owner Michael McElwee said he was considering taking legal action against Telstra. (ABC News: Matt Garrick)
“You can’t just pop down to Bunnings to pick up some new bits sometimes for telephone exchanges,” the spokesman said.
“We actually had to get some specialist parts in, and these had to come in from interstate and travel down to Batchelor to get installed.”
The Telstra spokesman said the company would consider compensating businesses for losses over the period.