Telstra chief executive David Thodey has issued a call to arms for Australia’s telecommunications industry to present a united front on a range of issues, in the face of what he described as “shocking” intervention by regulators on issues such as customer service.
Speaking to a packed room of telco executives at the Communications Day Summit in Sydney this morning, Thodey pointed out that in industries such as banking and resources, competing companies were not afraid to band together to achieve common outcomes. “As a group, I really think we need to stand up,” he said, adding the telco industry needed to “speak as a more united voice in terms of the issues that we face, to try tackle some of the real endemic issues that face our industry.”
Thodey described the social capital and level of influence present in the room as “incredible”. Top-level executives from virtually every major local telco – Optus, AAPT, Internode, PIPE Networks and more — are scheduled to speak at the conference. “And yet, if you go to Canberra, it really is left up to a few,” the Telstra CEO said, referring to the industry’s engagement with the Federal Government.
One major issue which Thodey highlighted was in the area of customer service. Government agencies and regulators such as the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman have been at pains over the past year to point out the industry’s poor record in the area, and Thodey in particular has made improving customer service one of the main themes of his tenure at Telstra since he took the company’s reins in mid-2009.
“The truth is, our industry does not have a great reputation for customer service,” said Thodey. “You can look at Telstra and say: ‘Telstra, get your act together.’ But it’s not just Telstra.”
The executive said the industry had allowed itself to get a poor record on customer service, with the consequence that regulators had stepped in to force it back on track, in what Thodey described as a “shocking” intervention. It wasn’t the job of regulators to fix customer service woes, he said – “it is the job of businesspeople”.
Over the past decade a number of groups have formed to represent the wider telecommunications industry, primarily representing Telstra’s rivals to Canberra in an attempt to generate structural industry change and challenge Telstra’s dominance and size. Such organisations have included the Competitive Carriers’ Coalition and the Tell the Truth Telstra (T4) group.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is known to have consulted with a number of the groups and their constituent telcos — Macquarie Telecom, for example, as well as Optus — as the Government’s wide-ranging telecommunications reform project, featuring as its centrepiece the National Broadband Network, has developed.
Independent groups such as the Communications Alliance and the Internet Industry Association — which both count Telstra amongst its members – have also arisen. The Communications Alliance is known to be working closely with NBN Co on the development of standards, for example, around how retail broadband providers will connect in to its network.
However, Thodey said he wasn’t talking about the interests of any individual company or about forming a lobby group. “I don’t think it’s a regulatory issue, I think it’s an industry leadership issue,” he said.
“There is not a single voice which this industry speaks with today.”
Image credit: Telstra