One talkback radio listener noticed the initial indication of trouble with Australia’s second-largest internet service provider, Optus, when her cat’s Wi-Fi-enabled food dispenser failed to serve breakfast at 6:10 a.m., leading to her pet waking her up.

A sight of an Optus store in Sydney, Australia, on November 8, 2023.

For Chris Rogers, a disability pensioner coping with a knee injury that hinders his ability to work, the issue became evident during a 30-minute drive to the pharmacy when his electronic prescription couldn’t be processed.

Rogers, who was at the pharmacy, explained to Reuters that due to the service outage, the prescription wouldn’t load. He mentioned that reception was extremely congested and expressed amazement at the level of chaos, saying he had never witnessed anything like it before.

For countless Australians who were unable to make payments, schedule rides, access medical services, or even place phone calls during a near-complete nine-hour service disruption by the company responsible for 40% of the nation’s internet, it served as a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities associated with a society that has heavily transitioned to online dependency.

Over the period of three years leading up to 2022, the use of cash transactions in Australia decreased by 50%, reducing to 16%. This decline was attributed to the acceleration of a broader trend towards contactless payments due to pandemic restrictions, as reported by the Reserve Bank of Australia. Government data indicates that one-quarter of the country’s medical appointments are conducted online or by phone.

Michael Clements, who serves as the rural chair of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, emphasized the increased reliance on telehealth and electronic messaging systems brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, stating, “We are now so very reliant, because of COVID, on telehealth and also electronic messaging systems.”

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“The truth is that numerous individuals have been deprived of receiving the necessary care.

Optus, a subsidiary of Singapore Telecommunications (STEL.SI), did not provide a specific explanation for the service disruption, merely stating that it was under investigation. The majority of its services were reinstated by the afternoon.

During this outage, even simple activities like taking a walk became challenging, particularly for those reliant on directions. Angela Ican, a security officer in Sydney’s central business district, expressed her frustration, saying, “I’m looking for a bank, and when you can’t go onto your phone and use Google, you’re pretty much lost.”

A Sydney office worker mentioned to Reuters that he couldn’t access his workplace because the entrance required the use of a smartphone application connected to the internet for unlocking.

Small business owners informed Reuters that they either depended on loyal customers to settle payments once internet service was restored or offered alternatives such as cash payments or return visits.

Roderick Geddes, owner of the Pirrama Park Kiosk in Sydney, revealed the impact on his business, saying, “We are a business with daily revenue of about A$4,000 to A$5,000 ($2,600 to $3,200), and we lost approximately A$1,000 in coffee sales this morning due to our inability to process electronic payments.”

(Conversion rate: $1 = 1.5538 Australian dollars)

Reported by Byron Kaye, with additional contributions by Kirsty Needham and Sam Holmes. Edited by Stephen Coates.

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