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Inquiry ordered after phone exchange blaze

Fire at Telstra's Warnambool exchange disrupted telecoms, earns government ire

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The Australian government has launched an inquiry into the communications collapse that ensued after a fire engulfed a pivotal Telstra exchange last week.

The fire wiped out communications for a large portion of South Western Victoria at Telstra’s Warrnambool telephone exchange hub, leaving over 60,000 residents without fixed line telecommunications services, including 15,000 online customers and disabling 80 mobile phone towers.

The flow on effect shutdown EFTPOS and ATM terminals, impacting financial institutions, retail operations and transport across the region.

Since the event last Thursday, Telstra has reconnected 35,000 homes and businesses and restored all mobile phone coverage to the area but a significant portion of services remain disconnected.

“I understand the frustration felt by the people and businesses that have been left without a phone and other services,” Minister for Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy said.

Mobile coverage restoration is a work in progress with 35 of 41 base stations now back online.

Telstra said that technicians have reconnected 57% of landline customers. The carrier has deployed a team of around 50 technicians on site carrying out repairs, “working across two 12 hour shifts to get services restored as quickly as possible.”

In the latest Telstra update on recovery, technicians are still trying to re-establish transmission links in the exchange.

Conroy announced that the inquiry, which will be conducted by his Department, will investigate the cause, extent of damage and what services were affected; receive a report on the fire prevention and mitigation strategies in place and report on the process of restoration of services.

It will also look into the effectiveness of disaster recovery and service continuity planning for telecommunications infrastructure and whether affected businesses also have appropriate continuity plans.

The Department will also hold a public forum on the community impact of this event.

“I want to hear the views of the affected communities and relevant experts to ensure that disaster mitigation and service recovery plans are as effective as possible if similar events were to occur in the future,” Conroy said. ®

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