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  • Optus ordered to pay $6.4 million over misleading NBN disconnection email to customers
  • 02/12/2019 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: Andy ( 6 articles in 2019 )
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Telecommunications giant Optus has been fined $6.4 million for sending nearly 140,000 people an email that falsely warned their home broadband services would be "disconnected very soon".

Key points:
-The consumer watchdog described Optus's conduct as an "extremely bad" attempt to win new broadband customers
-In a statement, Optus said the email was sent in error and the company had cooperated with the watchdog's investigation
-The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said Optus's excuse of a mistake was "just not good enough"

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took Optus to court after it sent the email to 138,988 of its mobile customers in May last year.

The email said the customers' broadband services, which were supplied by a competitor, would be "disconnected very soon" because of the National Broadband Network (NBN).

"Make the switch [to Optus NBN broadband] before it's too late," the email said.

On Friday, the Federal Court found the statement was misleading or deceptive because the customers who received the email were not facing immediate disconnection of their existing broadband services.

Optus was ordered to pay $6.4 million in penalties.

ACCC chair Rod Sims said Optus had displayed "extremely bad" behaviour by sending a message to potential customers with an untrue claim.

"Optus was trying to get those customers who were on the broadband of one of their competitors to switch to Optus and that's just not the way to go about acquiring customers, you really should not be misleading people," Mr Sims said.

It is the second major fine Optus has been ordered to pay this year, after it was fined $10 million in February for misleading customers who unknowingly made purchases through its direct billing service.

'Saying it's a mistake is just not good enough'

In a statement, Optus said the issue occurred when a marketing email was "mistakenly sent to customers in May 2018 about the disconnection of their broadband service".

"Optus co-operated with the ACCC throughout this process and we reaffirm our apology to customers who received the mistaken communication in 2018," the statement said.

"We have already offered a costless exit for those customers who took up the offer."

Mr Sims said large companies such as Optus — which is the nation's second-largest telecommunications operator — should not make such a serious error.

"The email was put together, someone put it together, it therefore was put together by somebody with the intention of going out. Saying it's a mistake is just not good enough," Mr Sims said.

He said the nationwide change to the NBN was a confusing period for many Australian consumers because they needed to change their telecommunications arrangements.

Mr Sims said the ACCC would therefore be scrutinising telecommunications providers "closely" to ensure they did not mislead customers about the move to the NBN.

The ACCC has taken Optus to court five times and issued 29 infringement notices in the past decade and Mr Sims said the watchdog "had concerns" about the company's behaviour.

"Error or not, when you are found to be misleading consumers you've got to put the systems in place to make sure it doesn't happen again," he said.

Once the NBN has announced an area is ready for service, consumers will generally have 18 months to move their landline phone and internet services to the new NBN network, according to the ACCC.


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