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Australia to investigate Optus outage that impacted millions

Optus logo on phone

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The Australian government is launching an investigation into an hours-long outage involving local telco Optus, which left millions without access to telephone and broadband services. 

More than 10 million customers, including 400,000 businesses, were affected by the service disruption that also brought down payment systems and resulted in transport delays. Local media reported that train services in the state of Victoria were grounded and emergency call services could not be patched through. 

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Services resumed progressively more than six hours after the outage occurred and were fully restored 12 hours later. 

Optus has blamed the outage on a “technical network fault” but would not provide further details until it conducts a “full, thorough, root-cause analysis” of the incident. It has said, though, that there was no evidence pointing to a cyber attack. 

In a statement released the next day, Australia’s Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland said Thursday the government would be launching a post-incident telecommunications review into the network outage. 

She noted that industry regulator Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) also has started its own assessment to determine if Optus had remained in compliance with rules mandating that emergency calls are successfully carried from mobile carriers to the “emergency call person.”

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Describing the disruption as “particularly concerning,” Rowland said, “It is critical the industry and governments take stock following large-scale outages, given no network is immune.”

The review aims to glean lessons from the incident and to help telcos improve post-outage processes, she added. “The industry overall needs to do better,” the Australian minister said in interviews with local media. 

Of particular concern was the impact on the emergency call line, Triple Zero, Rowland said, that left Optus landlines unable to reach the service. She noted that there should have been contingency arrangements in place and the ability for a device to search for an alternative network when one is down in order to ensure such calls go through. 

On possible customer recourse, Rowland said ACMA had pointed to some rights for rebates and refunds, depending on the subscriber’s contract and local consumer laws. She noted, too, that Optus has yet to announce details of compensation, which its customers look out for. 

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A wholly-owned subsidiary of Singapore Telecommunications (Singtel), Optus’ latest operating revenue grew 1% on strong mobile business results. Its mobile service revenue climbed 3% from customer growth, Singtel said in its first-half 2024 earnings results this week. 

Optus in September last year suffered a data security breach that compromised various information of its current and former customers, including dates of birth, email addresses, and passport numbers. The Australian government also had launched an investigation into this breach to determine if Optus took “reasonable steps” to safeguard the personal data it held.

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