Ask LH: Can I Bill My ISP For A Broken Internet Connection?

Ask LH: Can I Bill My ISP For A Broken Internet Connection?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m currently having internet problems with Optus and the technician is only able to come later next week. As such, I’ll be out of service for around nine days, if not more. (Yeah, yeah: first world problems.) So my question is: am I entitled to get some kind of credit for the time I have “lost” on my contract? Also, if I’m on Optus for my mobile and use it for tethering, should I be able to credit the data usage over this time? Thanks, David in Bondi.

Broken LAN cable picture from Shutterstock

Dear David,

A life without internet is a life not worth living! So we feel your pain.

If this happened to your landline telephone service, you would be protected by the Customer Service Guarantee (CSG), a legal standard that ensures telcos repairs the fault in a timely manner or offer appropriate compensation for any inconvenience caused.

Unfortunately, because it appears we are living in the Stone Age here in Australia, the CSG does not apply to fixed-line or mobile internet. The good news is, with all goods and services, your internet connection is covered by the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

The first step to seeking compensation for your internet downtime is to approach your internet service provider, in this case Optus, to make a complaint and to see if they can provide you with credit onto your account for the inconvenience. Your telco may offer you, say, a month’s free access as a goodwill gesture.

If they don’t do anything, then by all means escalate the issue to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), an alternative dispute resolution service for the telco industry.

The TIO is essentially a middle man for your dispute with your telco. It can use the ACL to determine reasonable steps the telco can take to resolve the complaint which may involve compensation.

“Most telcos will take those steps but if they don’t resolve it in line with our recommendation we can progress the complaint further,” a TIO spokesperson told Lifehacker Australia. “This can result in a legally binding determination by the Ombudsman.”

We also approached Optus to ask what its standard process is when it comes to compensating users for service outages but was not provided an official response at the time of publication.

There are other factors to consider. If your telco is reselling the internet line of another provider, then it complicates the issue as to who is responsible for your internet connection.

If you’re getting nowhere with your telco, you might want to go through the social media route. Most telcos in Australia have a robust social media presence so a complaint made to their Facebook page or Twitter account may be able to fast track complaint. Good luck!



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  • I was in this exact position a couple of weeks ago – apparently most people had service restored after four days (Thursday to Monday outage) but in my case it was down for an additional three. For some things I fell back on my mobile’s wifi but the cap on that is only a few gigabytes, vs. unlimited access for my main Internet.

    I still have to chase them up for it; for now I’m waiting to see my bill to see if they at least pro-rate the downtime.

    • Not sure if the ISP will just automatically apply credit to your account for the downtime. Do let us know how that goes!

      • I was given a month free when I first signed up to Optus. The modem that was supposed to come on a Monday and it didn’t arrive for another week.

        I contacted Optus around Wed to complain (politely) and it didn’t seem there was much I could do until I asked if my account was currently active and being charged. She said it was and then I asked why I was being charged for an service I didn’t have.

        The nice girl waved all costs for that month. I didn’t get to see a bill with any credit, the first bill never came till two months later and was only for the months flat rate.

    • I had the same issue with iiNet a couple of years ago and after my service was restored they contacted me and said that I will be refunded for all the days that I was offline.

  • Customer service as a whole is not getting better.. it’s declining in most circumstances. We shouldn’t stand for it.. but we luddites seem to let them get away with it.

  • I had a decrease in service speed with internode – called and complained, they told me it was their upstream off-net provider, telstra, that was causing the slow down, and gave me a one month credit for my account, AND told me to call back in 2 months for more credit if it hadn’t improved … is it any wonder they are the number #1ISP for customer support?

  • Someone I work with has had no internet for 3 months. They’re still charging her.

    She lodged a TIO complaint, but nothing really came of it, despite her pestering them after some time of no action.

  • One thing Optus doesn’t do anymore is give you credit back on your account. Learned about that one a month ago when I called them up for the ongoing exchange outages which they still have not fixed and I called about a year and a half ago and every month since.

    What is even worse in poor David’s position is that if the Optus Technician has to fix something from inside his property then Optus will charge him over $200. This could be as easy as turning your router on and off. Modem broken and cause of the issue? Be prepared to spend another $176 for a new Optus modem as they also do not provide you with a free one even though they are under warranty.

    So if you are lucky enough to get some sort of credit from them, they will take it back by shafting you on technicians and modems

  • The issue is Telstra still own the copper cables. Any issues with ADSL services they don’t care when you are using antoher ISP. You can only complain about your ISP, but not Telstra. Obudsman will only hear complaints about ISP not the underlying Telstra infrastructure.
    Labor was going to fix this with FTTP, remove Telstra! Now we still don;t know if Telstra will be the problem in future with FTTN.

  • When I was with Telstra for cable (pre-NBN), I lost service for about 5-6 days and had a major PITA with technicians. They credited me $50 on my next bill as a gesture of goodwill. Probably one of very few happy Telstra-related customer service stories.

  • OK: Here’s a good news TELSTRA story – and I’M NOT EVEN A CUSTOMER!

    I have a land line withe Telstra, and internet via DODO! (Calm yer farm haters, they’re not that bad!).

    Anyhoo – due to Telstra activity, my landline had issues: no calls in or out, and NO INTERNETS!

    Called Telstra, explained the situation (in particular – son with autism how relied on the internet for his sanity). They directed me to go to the local Telstra Shop, purchase a WiFi dongle, and the cost would be refunded on my next bill.

    I did. AND IT WAS!

    BOOYAH! Telstra can be nice 🙂

  • Generally ISP’s are generous and will credit your account for any mis-fortune that you may have as they want to keep you.

    Ive been with IINET for about 6 years, i rarely get problems and when i do i always as for something in compo and they give to me.

  • Our Telstra connection was offline for 21 days, apparently an issue in the pit in the street. Initially Telstra were reluctant to help/compensate but after a little persistence they allowed us to go to a Telstra store to purchase a 4G wifi modem along with 15gb mobile data credit which they credited to our account. I would say 9/10 times the telco’s will be accommodating in this situation.

  • Even with CSG being applicable, Telstra constantly declare “Mass Service Disruptions” where they claim an event or circumstance which exempts them from CSG. For example, the storms in SYdney and the Hunter Valley meant practically the whole of Sydney was covered my an MSD until 2/8/2015 (ie yesterday), and the Hunter is still covered until the 16th August (almost 4 months from the storms). That means they can take their sweet time to restore your services and not have to pay a cent.

  • Yeah, the short answer is no, no you can’t.

    But that’s why it’s cheap.

    There’s not enough margin in your $60 per month Internet service for ISP’s to be charging a bit extra to give you a bit back when it breaks.

    If you purchase a business-grade service it has defined service level guarantees and rebates, so yes, you can get some of the money back you spend on a $1,200/mth Internet connection. But not on your $60 home Internet connection.

    Many ISP’s execute their discretion to keep you as a happy customer, but really, it’s all in the terms and conditions that you sign to get the service, and those terms and conditions are clear – you’re charged from the connection date. It doesn’t matter if it takes you another 2 weeks to get the router, configure it and start using it, and it doesn’t matter if it breaks and needs to be fixed – you pay.

    And think of it this way – apart for the cost of data that you would’ve downloaded (and if you’re on a monthly quota, that’s basically nothing since you’re likely to make up your last week’s usage this week) – the ISP had to pay just as much to maintain your broken connection, as they would have had it been operational. You were still connected to the lines, connected to the exchange and chewing up staff time to get it fixed.

    Fast, Cheap, Reliable. Choose any two.

  • Read your contracts people! ADSL is not a guaranteed service in Australia and therefore you are not entitled to any compensation for downtime. Most ISP’s are willing to offer you a little something but you shouldn’t be expecting huge amounts of credit on your bill. It’s also important to note that the money you pay each month for your ADSL service is for the DATA that you are provided, you don’t pay for the days you get to access that data so while your service might go down for 7 days, you still have 23 in which you can use all of your data. Depending on the allowance you pay for most people should be able to use all of their allowance still.

  • I had a problem with exetel, using optus lines. No one believed me about the issues. I switched to Telstra and still had issues. I had a connection the dropped out constantly. After 12 months and 6 technicians they eventually fixed the fault. No law is going to save you from laziness. Persistence is the thing that saved me.

  • You’re only entitled to downtime credit equal to the cost of the service- per day, for the duration it was down. So for example, if your Internet is $49.95 per month (not including phone)- 9 days credit applied at $49.95 per month totals $14.78.
    You are not entitled to “lost income” if you’re working from home on a Residential plan.

  • I stopped paying an ISP once when they stopped answering tech support. Possibly Pacific Internet (memory?). Never showed up on any credit report.

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