Australian telecommunications industry 'needs to speak as one'

  • Competition crowds out a single vision
  • Customer service a universal problem in telecoms
  • TIO puts responsibility for action back on service providers

The CEO of Telstra, David Thodey, says Australian telcos need to join forces and create a single voice to contend with issues, in a similar way to the mining and finance industries.

The 2011 Communications Day Summit in Sydney was the forum for Mr Thodey’s sentiment, and he used it to emphasise the fact although the telco industry is one of the most important within the Australian economy, leadership is lacking when compared with other integral business sectors.

In the mining and finance industries the main players come together to help one another’s companies to improve economic growth and customer service.

Mr Thodey remarked: "I'm using today to call for a stronger industry not led by any one group to speak as a united voice for the issues we face … We need to be at the forefront of trying to define what the new job opportunities (in the digital economy) will be."

With the advent of broadband internet and smartphones, consumer expectations of their telecommunication provider’s services have grown exponentially.

Mr Thodey believes telco companies need to work together as a group in order to meet the demands of a public now expecting complex processes like video streaming to be part and parcel of everyday life.

Mr Thodey continued: "Our industry does not have a great reputation for customer service … It is not just Telstra. The expectation from consumers has gone far beyond what it ever was before. When you're dealing with half a million Australians every day ... it is difficult to try and give a consistent service."

The Telstra CEO referred to the contrast between his own industry and that of the giant mining and finance sectors. Although there is also fierce competition in the mining and financial fields, each market uses a united, singular voice to discuss issues in the community.

"I think that it's very important that the industry stands together … There are other industries that have done this far better than we have. We get more caught up in policy reform than the application of technology," Mr Thodey remarked.

An example of this type of industry body is the mining sector’s Association of Mining and Exploration Companies (AMEC). This group of companies works together to communicate its needs to the government and wider community.

On the other side of the equation is the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), which works to ensure telcos are doing right by the public. Mr Thodey attacked the TIO, saying it was business’s role to improve customer services, and not the regulator’s.

Mr Thodey said: "What I am worried about is regulators step in to try and force us to deliver a better service. I find that shocking. It's not the role of regulators to deliver better service. That's business."

Disgruntled consumers may disagree with this sentiment. The average customer wants a better service; it’s doubtful whether or not a specific force driving this impetus for change is important to the general community. People just want a good deal with high quality services and customer support.

Both the mining and finance industries have a loud voice when contentious issues arise, but how good their services are, and why they run the way they do are questions unaddressed by the CEO’s speech.

Mr Thodey also believes just because Telstra owns the main copper wire telephone infrastructure in Australia doesn’t automatically infer it couldn’t work on an equal footing within a united telecommunications group. This group would be made up of providers reselling off of Telstra’s network, as well as other separate network owners.