It has been nearly five months since intense bushfires started burning across Australia, but barely a few weeks have passed since the majority were brought under control.
It is incredible to think back and remember that our country’s most recent bushfire season started in September of last year, and to realise that a reprieve only came recently with a week of strong rains across the eastern states in mid-February.
At the height of the bushfires, we had around 60 mobile sites impacted across key fire grounds in NSW and Victoria. The majority of those impacts were power related, but at least five were damaged by fire and needed extensive repair work.
It has been a mammoth effort from our people that has helped keep communities connected however possible. From day one, our emergency teams and field technicians on the ground were responding to impacted sites – delivering backup generators and batteries, installing temporary mobile cells on wheels, and making repairs to infrastructure wherever possible.
In just a week after the initial fire, we managed to bring the number of impacted sites from 60 down to 15, but difficult conditions over several weeks meant that restoration has been a complex process. Some of our infrastructure – like at Jingellic on the banks of the Murray River bordering NSW and Victoria – were repaired and service restored soon after fires swept through, but then knocked out again days later by returning blazes.
More work to do to restore service to affected areas
We’re now well underway in restoring service to all areas that have been impacted by bushfires and other strong weather over the past few months.
There is still more for us to do to bring back mobile connectivity and fixed line services to some regional and remote areas, especially in areas where our infrastructure is isolated – like towers on hilltops only accessible by fire trails. Access to affected areas often requires coordinating with Rural Fire Service or emergency services in that area, and we follow strict protocols to ensure that our recovery crews operate safely.
We are aware there are some locations and customers still experiencing network disruptions and we are working as quickly as possible to rectify this. As a result of this our customer assistance packages and free calls and WiFi from payphones will remain open in the following postcode areas:
|Buchan, Bruthen, Gelantipy||3885|
|Kangaroo Island||5220, 5221, 5222, 5223|
You can always find up-to-date information on our Outages page. If you are in an area where service has been restored, but are still having difficulty getting connected, please contact us on 132 203 to report a fault.
Winding back payphones and assistance packages
As we come to the end of the active fire season, we are winding down the emergency management groups activated within our business and returning to business as normal. From March 1 we will revert our payphone network and Telstra Air to normal operation and charging with the exception of customers located in the postcode areas above.
We are also closing registrations for our disaster assistance packages for fire-affected areas in NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria from March 1, with the exception of those customers located in the postcode areas above, and registration free mobile bills for firefighters for the months of December and January will cease.
We’re proud to have helped thousands access disaster relief
Over a thousand customers across NSW, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia have registered for our short- and long-term disaster assistance packages that provide relief measures including up to $500 credit on fixed and mobile phone accounts.
Our contact centre teams have fielded nearly 55,000 calls from customers making enquiries and seeking support after fires, and we’ve had contact from over 10,000 firefighters, volunteer firefighters and SES volunteers to cover their mobile phone bills for the months of December and January.
On the 832 payphones in areas that were directly affected by bushfires, more than 2,546,000 free calls were made from since we switched off charging from06 January, totaling 102,209 hours of talk time and around 121,600 SMS were sent.
When we made calls on payphones free, we also opened access to our Telstra Air Wi-Fi. Telstra Air is Australia’s largest Wi-Fi network, broadcasting across over a million hotspots around the country including our pink payphone booths – and we saw a similarly massive uptake from Australians in need.
We’re proud to say that a total of 82.87 terabytes of free data were transferred across Telstra Air from January 6 to now – that’s about 110,000 streaming movies or 230,000 TV show episodes. Over 480,000 people accessed our free Wi-Fi networks during this time; when a couple of minutes on Wi-Fi is a crucial link to the world for messages to family, calls to insurance and emails to loved ones on the other side of the planet, we’re pleased our payphones played their part in keeping communities connected.
We estimate that our contribution to supporting firefighters and communities through assistance packages and donations will be in the order of $10 million, and the total impact on our business to be around $50 million.
From the bottom of our hearts, we want to say a sincere thank you to Australia’s professional and volunteer firefighters and emergency services crews, to the SES, to our government and ADF partners and personnel, for their tireless work in protecting our country’s towns and cities, rural properties and villages from fire – and the critical Telstra infrastructure that keeps those people and places connected.
To all our people – who we have heard countless stories about from community members, who were on the ground offering assistance from a simple phone recharge and a kind word to the most physically strenuous restoration and recovery effort – we are truly grateful.