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
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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.
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