Ask LH: Can I Get Out Of My Telstra Contract For 'Unreliable Service'?

Dear Lifehacker, since the beginning of February I have been subjected to multiple mobile network outages with Telstra which has left me unable to use the internet or make phone calls for hours at a time. This is clearly unacceptable. I want to take my business elsewhere but I'm halfway through a 24-month contract. Do I have legal ground to cancel my contract for shoddy service? Thanks, Fed Up Ted

Photo: Getty Images

Dear FUT,

Unfortunately, probably not. One thing that telcos are very strict about is lock-in mobile phone contracts. You need an extremely good reason to get out of your contract and occasional network outages don't cut the mustard. For obvious reasons, Telstra would prefer to placate angry users with free data compensation. This way it doesn't lose any customers.

Nevertheless, we asked Telstra to respond to your query and they provided us with the following statement (emphasis ours):

We understand there is a heightened degree of interest in relation to our network performance at the moment. While we have the leading network in Australia, like any of our global peers there will always be issues that arise in such a large and complex technology environment.   We appreciate the impact yesterday's issue had on some customers and we apologise for that. The reality is that this issue affected a very small proportion of our customer base for a short time. We are committed to redoubling our efforts on resilience in the network and part of that is conducting a major review in relation to the outages from last week and February.   Our standard terms and conditions remain in place for our contracts.   Many of our customers took advantage of our first free data day and we expect the same on 3 April.   If business customers consider that they have suffered loss as a result of the outages, they should contact us and we will consider the matter on a case-by-case basis.

There it is in black and white — as far as Telstra is concerned, you're stuck with your contract.

If you think this isn't good enough, you can attempt to fight the telco through the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO). The first step is to register a complaint with Telstra and ask that you be removed from their service (the quickest way to do this is by calling 13 2200 and saying "complaint".) You will need to talk your way up the chain to a supervisor or manager who has authorisation to cancel your contract.

In the likely event that this gets you nowhere, the next step is to contact the TIO. Don't go straight to the TIO, as they can only get involved after all attempts at a resolution between customer and telco have failed. If you contact the TIO first, they will simply redirect you to Telstra's customer support line.

To be bluntly honest, you're probably just going to waste a lot of time on the phone here. The T&Cs in your contract are very hard to break, by design. In future, you might want to consider a prepaid mobile phone plan. While you don't get a "free" phone, it's usually cheaper in the long run and you're free to cancel at any time.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    The Standard Form of Agreement is pretty air-tight by design. There's like an entire Parliament of lawyers going through that thing to provide smack-down in case someone tries to lawyer-up.

    If there's been an element of human error at some point, such as an overzealous sales rep porting you to the carrier when they shouldn't have, promising something they shouldn't have, or a pretty fuzzy interpretation of an offer which doesn't exist... then that's when you'll have the most success with complaints, even involving the TIO, but occasional service issues like the recent outages? Nope.

    If you want out for 'crappy reception', you'd probably have to prove not only that you're experiencing black-spot kind of lack of service at your primary places of preferred usage (work/home), but also that your area isn't listed as a known black spot on their coverage maps.

    I haven't worked in service assurance at the big T for over a decade so I don't remember the exact percentage up-time that's promised/guaranteed, but it used to be something along the lines of... god. I dunno. 97-99% up-time. At best. (And I'm pretty sure that was only landlines at the time, but wouldn't be surprised if it's been expanded.) Just to put that in perspective, that's not 97% of time that you want to use the service, but 97% of all time every day. Meaning they could basically be offline for 87-261hrs a year before having to provide any compensation.

    The fact that they've been offering make-up data has more likely been goodwill and marketing, rather than legal obligation.

    Also, they mention 'loss of business' being dealt with on a case by case basis, but don't hold your breath. Most of the terms for consumer/small business are pretty clear about not being held liable for loss of income due to unavoidable interruption of service. Corporate and enterprise could sometimes qualify for that, but usually as part of literally multi-million dollar contracts and even then, not within the first 12 business hours of outage, on a timer that pauses any time the ball's put back in the customer's court to get back to them on anything.

      And its not like you can negotiate the contract in any way shape or form. You dont agree with item 87 clause 4 sub-clause a - too bad, its an all or nothing type of deal

        And one of those, "By using the service, you're confirming that you've read and agreed to this thirty pages of fine print," type deals.

      I got out of my contract a few years ago because I had unreliable coverage at home, the TIO had to get involved but the key factor was they signed me up at my home address and said it would have coverage.

      For companies, the SLA normally requires 99-99.9% uptime; even three nines allows 43 minutes of downtime. Two nines is seven hours of downtime. As long as the interruption does not exceed that amount, usually the supplier owes nothing. After that, payment is often pro-rated (so if the link is down for a day, the company still has to pay for the other 29-30 days.)

      Revenue loss and the like are normally explicitly excluded from compensation by the terms of the contract.

      Really, the main thing that a telco has to lose from poor service is that people will tend to switch providers if service is consistently bad. And of course, the revenue forgone (including excess charges) for the day of downtime.

        Are your figures meant to be per month or year?

          Billing is per month, and as a result so are the SLA terms (per calendar month). At least that's the way it worked in the place where I was working.

          Mind you, EVERY telco screws up billing. Every. Single. One. The only telco we ever contracted with who consistently got their billing right was Uecomm, who were later bought out by Optus.

          At one point our telco was sending us demands for $40k due (when we had a $15k monthly spend). Our strategy there was just to repeatedly pay what we believed we owed per the contract and send them a dispute notice. In the end they had to agree we were right and wrote off the lot.

          When we eventually switched to an infrastructure with heavy reliance on the Internet, we made sure we had two redundant links through separate suppliers and with different technologies, since we had been forced on occasion to deal with entire days without Internet or even phone access.

        It's a minor point but our maths differ.
        24*365=8760 hours.
        Three nines is 0.999, or 99.9%. 0.1% of a 365 day year is 8.76 hours.
        Four nines is 99.99%. 0.01% of a year is 52½ minutes.
        Depending on when downtimes occur they can be a disaster or quite inconsequential.

          Certainly.

          Since I was the one who had to deal with any outages, I would on occasion be SMSed about faults at 3am. Those don't matter much... unless they're still happening at 8am, which did happen occasionally.

          Actually, I still am SMSed occasionally, although I no longer work for that company, despite occasional complaints.

    It's been out again for at least 90 minutes today. I'm coming to the end of a 2yr contract this month so quite eager to just jump onto someone else's prepaid plan.

    If enough people are asking to be let out of their Telstra contracts... Class Action maybe even at the moment people haven't been reconnected properly after the last incident and looking at still 10+ days.

    The least, go spam the Senate (they like having enquiries makes them feel important) and the communications minister (since Turnball doesnt do that job anymore, the communications ministry isnt all that communicative) cause Telstra hasnt given a decent answer for all three incidents, or at the very least explained why there were three seperate unrelated incidents that took down their whole network. Your suppose to learn from your first mistake Telstra... not repeat it twice more.

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