nbn complaints surge 159% in FY17

By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Wednesday, 18 October, 2017

nbn complaints surge 159% in FY17

Complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman about nbn services surged more than 159% during the FY17 financial year as frustration over service faults and connection delays mounted.

The Ombudsman’s latest annual report found that complaints related to the nbn increased by well over twice as much as complaints about internet services overall.

During the financial year, 27,196 complaints were recorded about services delivered over the nbn, including 16,221 complaints about faults in services delivered over the network. This equates to 6.7 fault complaints per 1000 premises activated.

In addition, 11,224 complaints were recorded about connection delays to nbn services, which represents 8.3 complaints per 1000 premises activated.

This compares to a 64.8% increase in complaints about internet services to 63,892 and a 30.1% rise in complaints related to landline phone services to 41,824. By comparison, mobile-related complaints grew 27.5% during the financial year to 52,300.

Consumers aren’t the only source of complaints, with the TIO report showing that small business complaints grew 31.3% year on year to 18,789, driven largely by complaints related to internet and landline services.

Australia’s top 10 telecoms operators accounted for 90.9% of all complaints for the year, with Telstra holding the dubious distinction of being responsible for more complaints than the other nine put together. Telstra received 76,650 complaints during the year, up 43.5% from FY16.

Optus came second with 28,766 complaints, up 31.2% year on year, followed by Vodafone with 10,684 complaints (up 37.5%), iiNet with 10,170 (up 79%) and TPG with 6995 (up 79%).

Broken down by state, South Australia recorded the highest growth in complaints during the year with an increase of 51%, with WA following close behind with a 49.1% growth. The lowest pace of growth was recorded in NT (29.7% growth), followed by Tasmania (38.4%). Complaints also increased by 43.6% in NSW, 41.1% in Victoria, 42.7% in Queensland and 42.3% in the ACT.

“The picture the complaints show is we are frustrated when we cannot rely on technology to stay connected, to be informed and to do business. Sharing high-quality videos immediately, holding an online meeting or watching Netflix on the way home is now the norm and part of our daily routine,” Telecommunications Ombudsman Judi Jones said.

“For the first time, complaints about internet services are now higher than complaints about mobile phones. Residential consumers and small businesses still have too many complaints about their customer service, a bill or faults. Complaints about services delivered over the national broadband network more than doubled, and while this is somewhat to be expected given the accelerating rollout, the increase is a cause for concern.”

Internet Australia Chair Dr Paul Brooks has decried what he called the “dramatic surge in complaints” revealed in the report, stating that this is “unacceptable and must be urgently addressed by the entire retail and wholesale supply chain”.

He said the large jump in complaints shows that retail and wholesale telecoms service providers need to lift their game and co-ordinate better together on service installations and repairs.

“Most of the TIO complaint types, such as for ‘customer service’ or ‘billing and payment’ issues, are generally limited to the interaction between a customer and their retail provider, and the retail provider should take responsibility and fix their processes — these are within the traditional TIO remit,” Brooks said.

“Connections and faults, however, often require an increasingly complex chain of retail and wholesale relationships, contracts and providers to get right, particularly with the nbn and wholesale aggregators in the mix. Retail providers often have no control over the quality of the work performed by their wholesale suppliers, or other wholesale suppliers down the chain — including the contractors who work at the customer’s office or house.”

But Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton has asserted that the industry is on top of the rise in complaints. He noted that complaints as a proportion of services in operation have been reduced to 8.3 per 10,000 services in the September quarter, up from 9 per 10,000 during the July quarter — the final quarter covered in the TIO’s annual report.

“The industry is dealing with significant disruption that has been difficult for some customers and has generated worrying increases in complaint levels during the past 12 months — following four years of continuous reduction in complaints,” he said.

“Industry — including service providers and nbn — are working intensely on a range of customer, service and process initiatives to improve the overall consumer experience. It is pleasing that these latest Complaints in Context results appear to indicate that these efforts are beginning to bear fruit. Industry acknowledges there is still much work to do to turn these encouraging signs into a sustained positive trend and is redoubling its effort to achieve that outcome.”

Consumer advocacy group CHOICE has meanwhile urged consumers to keep detailed records of any outage they experience, including any financial impact, and use this information to seek compensation from their provider while filing a complaint. If their provider refuses the complaint can be escalated to the TIO.

“Switching providers is another option if you’re completely fed up. Consumers should be able to cancel their contract and leave without penalty if the problem is ongoing and the telco isn’t providing its contracted service,” CHOICE Head of Media Tom Godfrey said.

He also urged ISPs to deliver on the speeds they promise in advertising.

“In today’s tech-reliant world, a reliable internet service has become a basic necessity and consumers are entitled to services that are reasonably fit for their purpose. The fact is, ISPs charge premium prices for their super fast speeds so they must deliver in return,” Godfrey said.

CHOICE has partnered with Enex TestLab to monitor real-world nbn performance in homes across Australia to determine if Australian households are getting the internet service and speeds they pay for. The consumer body expects to be able to publish its first results shortly.

Pictured: nbn co CEO Bill Morrow. Courtesy nbn co.

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