Telcos, Australia’s torture chamber
We don’t torture people in this country. Instead we allow large telecommunications providers to roam the malls and high streets where they sign people up to what are euphemistically called ‘service contracts’.
These service contracts entitle the telco to subject those same people to cruel and unusual treatment designed to disorient them, make them doubt their senses and generally elicit feelings of such helplessness that people begin to identify with the telco and renew their contract.
I speak from experience. Last month, my wife’s BlackBerry went bung so I returned it to an Optus store. Despite having a large ‘Optus Yes’ sign out the front, the message from the staff inside was ‘Optus No’.
As the Optus ‘customer service representatives’ informed us—with that unmistakable look that screams ‘I-wish-you-would-go-away-right-now’—we would have to return the handset to the Optus store from which it was bought.
A week later—the earliest I could get to that store—I was told the handset was out of warranty. I insisted it wasn’t and, after a phone call from the in-store phone—a phone call that I had to make since apparently Optus staff don’t use the phone (perhaps because they know from first-hand experience that Optus service is rubbish and they don’t want to waste their time)—and the intervention from a senior staff member, they believed me.
Eventually the phone was sent for repair—although it came with the warning that if it was water damaged, then I should forget about it. Apparently the service contract stipulates that devices that are defective because of water damaged are not covered by the warranty.
A quick phone call to Consumer Affairs Victoria established that in consumer law, this is known as ‘Complete Bollocks’.
Okay, so the person from Consumer Affairs Victoria didn’t actually say ‘Complete Bollocks’. They did tell me, though, that under Federal and Victorian consumer law, all goods sold come with an implied warranty. An implied warranty is based on the ‘reasonable person’ test. In other words, a product should function or withstand the kind of normal wear and tear that a reasonable person would expect it to.
This includes water damage. If, for example, I dropped the handset in a bucket of water or a puddle, then it most likely wouldn’t be covered since a reasonable people wouldn’t expect the phone to function properly after such treatment.
If however, the water damage was from a few drops of rain, then it is arguable that a reasonable person would regard this a normal wear and tear which the device should be able to withstand.
Importantly to you as a consumer, nothing in an Optus warranty (or a manufacturers’ warranty for that matter) invalidates implied warranty and there is no time limit on it. Fobbing people off with the ‘water damage’ clause is a bit of a trick that some companies like to pull to get out of honouring a warranty.
One week passed and there was no word from Optus.
Two weeks passed and still nothing.
Three weeks passed and I called Optus to ask how the repairs were going.
After a brief check of their ‘system’—which I suspect involved rustling some papers and randomly tapping a keyboard in earshot of the phone—the increasingly misleadingly titled Optus customer service rep told me that they had no record of the phone. Nevertheless, they promised to do a more thorough check and get back to me the same day.
Close of business came and there was no call.
The next day Optus called to say the phone was ready. With misguided optimism, I returned to the store where I’d bought the handset and dropped it off for repair. Unfortunately, they couldn’t locate it and could find no record of anyone calling me that morning.
After calling back the number in my phone from earlier that morning, it turned out that the handset was at a store in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs—a store that I’d never been to and didn’t even know existed.
When I arrived at this store, it turned out this was only half true—literally. While they had the front of the handset, the battery and back were at the store from which I’d just come.
Fortunately this story has a happy ending. After three complaints and a letter to Optus demanding three months credit on my account, two new handsets and an apology, they relented and gave in.
Or have they? It’s possible, quite possible, that I’ve just come to identify with my torturer.
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