Outback blackout

The fragility of Australia’s Internet infrastructure was made apparent in September 2009 when the entire country was knocked offline for over an hour. Home, business and mobile Internet users, regardless of which Internet service provider (ISP) they used, found themselves unable to access sites outside the country on the morning of September 2. Domestic broadband forums, meanwhile, blazed abusively.

Telstra, Australia’s national telco, admitted that the outage occurred after its staff tinkered with the country’s international gateway. "It appears a planned change on the international gateways implemented earlier in the morning was the trigger,” said a spokesperson. “The change was rolled back.”

Just hours after the outage occurred, the company’s new group CEO David Thodey was in London, extolling the virtues of its international connectivity to customers of Telstra’s international managed services division.

When quizzed about the disruption, Telstra representatives assured the assembled customers that the UK’s network was in working order, seemingly unaware of the total blackout back home. One Telstra executive later termed the episode a ‘George Bush moment’. “We were on a plane,” he confessed.

Much like BT in the UK, Telstra provides much of the country’s telecommunications infrastructure to a wholesale market following privatisation. Its international wing maintains an extensive network throughout Asia and was an early backer of Ethernet and VPLS (virtual private LAN services) technology. It now also has a 10,000 square foot data centre in Woking, hence the London launch.

But on its home turf the telco’s reputation is not what it once was, thanks mainly to former CEO Sol Trujillo. Trujillo’s hostility towards the Australian telecommunications sector was matched only by that of his shareholders towards him: the company’s share price fell 25% during his two year tenure.  

Parodied in the media as a ‘bandido’ because of his Mexican heritage and the AUD$20 million (£10 million) golden handshake he received upon joining the company, Trujillo’s parting shot as he returned to the US was a BBC interview in which he described Australia as racist and backward. “Adios,” was Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s response.

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