Fall in mobile issues drives telco complaints to seven-year low

Mobile services complaints decreased by 8.1 percent during July to September 2014, driving down the number of complaints that the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman received during the quarter.

Telco complaints have dropped to the lowest number in seven years, according to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) Talks released on Wednesday.

TIO Talks (PDF) showed that the TIO received 30,539 new complaints in July to September 2014, which was 9.1 percent fewer than the 33,583 complaints that were recorded in April to June 2014, and 14.6 percent lower than in the same period in 2013.

As for what consumers were complaining about most during the quarter, billing and payments appeared in 48.6 percent of new complaints. Customer services continued its downward trend for the fifth quarter in a row, appearing in 43.2 percent of new complaints.

The results showed that new complaints about mobile services decreased by 8.1 percent compared to April to June 2014, and 23.2 percent less than the same time in 2013. As a result, new mobile complaints were at their lowest since January to March 2008, and, notably, complaints about mobiles represented less than half of the complaints in both April to June and July to September 2014 for the first time in four years, the TIO said.

The top issue brought to the TIO by mobile users was about excess data charges, but this dropped by 13.1 percent compared to the previous quarter from 2,886 to 2,508. The median dispute over excess charges was AU$373.

TIO said that during 2013-14, excess data charges overtook mobile coverage complaints as the top issue that mobile users raised, because there was an increase in use of data on mobile devices. At the same time, there were improvements to handsets and mobile networks, including the rollout of 4G technology.

Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association CEO Chris Althaus said the industry welcomed the big drop in mobile complaints related to excess data charges of 23 percent in the year to September 2014.

"This is a big drop, however, when put in the context of a 97 percent increase in the volume of data downloaded via mobile handsets in the past year, it is a very good performance on any measure," he said.

"Consumers are becoming more aware and informed about their use of data on mobiles. Their awareness of usage patterns assists them to choose a plan that suits their needs."

The TIO similarly showed that internet complaints decreased by 14.9 percent from the previous quarter, and 10.8 percent compared to the same quarter in 2013. The results were due to fewer complaints about internet faults and connection delays.

For landlines, a reduction in faults and connection issues resulted in the 5.8 percent decline in landline complaints compared to the previous quarter. However, this number is 2 percent higher than the same time last year.

Looking at complaints by providers in Australia, Telstra received the most complaints during July to September 2014, with 14,263, but this was a 6.9 percent drop from April to June 2014.

Meanwhile, Vodafone saw the biggest change during the quarter, receiving fewer than half of the complaints that Telstra received during the quarter, with 6,267. On a quarter-by-quarter basis, complaints for Vodafone fell by 14.6 percent, and from the same period last year, it has fallen by 29.8 percent.

Another area where complaints decreased was the National Broadband Network (NBN). The TIO received 1,229 NBN-related new complaints in July to September 2014, with complaints decreasing each month over the quarter.

"I welcome this continuing drop in complaints," Ombudsman Simon Cohen said. "It is encouraging to see that one of the biggest issues for the last financial year, excess data charges, is also trending down."

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