29 January 2024

Disconnected from the truth: Telstra, not lightning, to blame for outage

| Matt Nicholls
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Telstra has been caught in a lie while trying to explain a weekend phone outage that impacted most of Cape York and the Torres Strait, putting lives at risk.

The telco blamed a lightning strike at Coen for the outage, which ran from Friday, January 19 until Sunday, January 21, however Cape York Weekly can exclusively reveal that the true cause of the outage was caused by a lack of fuel in Telstra’s generator.

The telco simply didn’t have enough fuel at the Coen site to keep the power on.

An investigation has found that this was not the only mistruth told by Telstra and it could have had dire circumstances across the most remote parts of Queensland.

Because Triple Zero calls were impacted, a Napranum mother had to flag down a neighbour so that she could get them to drive her son to the Weipa Hospital for what was a life-threatening medical case.

When Cape York Weekly asked Telstra to provide clarification, the telco doubled down on its original lie, claiming the outage was caused by a lightning strike.

But when informed that we had been tipped off about the generator running out of fuel, Telstra finally admitted the truth.

READ ALSO Cape York residents deserve better service from Telstra

Even though Telstra admitted in a statement that it ran out of fuel at the Coen site, it refuted allegations that it had lied to the public.

The company did not provide a representative for an interview with Cape York Weekly, however sent a statement from incident operations executive Paul Kubik.

“We have been upfront and factual throughout and strongly refute your claims of dishonesty,” Mr Kubik said.

“We know how important communications are for remote communities and our teams worked urgently to access the site and get everything back up and running as quickly as possible.

“Lightning struck and damaged our network site at Coen a few days prior to the outage.

“We made a number of attempts to get to the site but road access is cut to the region and bad weather prevented us from flying in with the necessary equipment until Sunday morning.

“Our on-site backup generator was fully fuelled and was expected to keep services online while we worked to access the area, however it ran out of fuel more quickly than forecast.

“This issue was treated as a matter of urgency across our organisation, from our people on the ground right up to executive level in our Global Operations Centre.”

The generator at Coen’s Telstra tower ran out of fuel on Friday, January 19, causing a phone outage across Cape York and the Torres Strait. It also meant local residents in a dozen communities were unable to call Triple Zero.

While the Coen tower was impacted by a lightning strike, it was Telstra that decided not to repair the site to its full extent.

The lightning impacted mains power to the Coen site way back on Boxing Day. It wasn’t until Cape York Weekly told Telstra about it – on January 2 – that they sent someone there to fix it.

Technicians managed to get the tower running off a generator, but Telstra did not organise a re-supply of fuel to the site.

Cape York Weekly also refutes the suggestion that bad weather was the reason stopping Telstra from fixing the outage earlier.

Sources said Telstra didn’t even make contact with the helicopter charter until Saturday afternoon and the earliest option was Sunday.

However, Coen has an all-weather runway with a Telstra ute sitting at the airport. A light plane could have been deployed from Cairns on Friday night or Saturday to check the Coen tower.

Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch said he was furious that Telstra misled the public. He said one of the problems in Cape York was that Telstra had third-party contractors making key decisions.

This led to decisions made in the best interest of the third-party, not necessarily Telstra customers.

“A couple of different accredited Telstra service providers have reached out to me and said that Telstra has contracted out a lot of work, and some of that has been sub-contracted out,” the MP said.

“I have a meeting on Friday with some senior Telstra people and I’ll be asking all of those questions, including why we weren’t given a factual account of what happened.

“I’m led to believe that Telstra itself may not have had the correct version of events because of those contractors.

“Either way, it’s not good enough to lose coverage because you run out of fuel, especially when there was an offer from a local contractor to supply bulk fuel to sites like Coen before the wet season, and that offer was knocked back by Telstra.”

Editorial comment: Cape York residents deserve better from Telstra

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