ACMA to look into NBN customer woes

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has directed ACMA to conduct research into customer experience on the NBN.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will investigate the experience of customers moving to the NBN, with the government ordering the authority to conduct research into the matter.

Australian Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said ACMA will look at all the technologies in NBN's multi-technology mix, and use its powers to collect information from industry.

"21 industry participants including retailers, wholesale providers, and NBN Co Ltd will receive notices seeking a range of data on issues such as fault handling, connection timeframes, appointment keeping, telephone number porting, and more," Fifield said in a statement on Tuesday.

"This information will be used to identify where customer issues most commonly arise and how those issues can be either avoided or resolved more quickly. It will also help reduce the passing of customer complaints between retailers and NBN."

As the rollout of the NBN has progressed, customers have increasingly taken to social media to vent their frustration at the company charged with deploying the National Broadband Network across Australia.

Aussie Broadband told ZDNet it was escalating 30 percent of its HFC connections to NBN.

"We are working closely with NBN Co to improve this figure," acting managing director John Reisinger said.

In response, NBN said it had created a dedicated churn team and was working through issues as quickly as it could.

Earlier on Tuesday, Vodafone announced it would be using a modem with an LTE connection that would allow customers to use a 12/1Mbps mobile connection while waiting to be connected to the NBN, or in the event of an outage.

Vodafone general manager of Fixed Broadband Matthew Lobb told ZDNet the 4G connection was "very much a backup service".

"[We will be] very careful not to impact the mobile network," he added.

The 4G connection will be activated at sign-up and remain active for 30 days; in the case of an outage, it can be reactivated, via phone or live chat, once the telco has conducted line tests to check a fault exists in NBN's infrastructure.

In May, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) announced NBN-related complaints had risen by 118 percent year on year, however this increase was lower than the increase in the network's footprint.

NBN said at the time that when taking into account the number of new premises activated, its complaints actually fell by 30 percent since the most recent half-year period -- though it acknowledged that it could do more to improve customer service.

"With about 30,000 households and businesses being connected to services over the NBN network every week, an increase in the individual number of issues reported to the TIO reflects the acceleration of the rollout; however, from an NBN perspective, we need to continue to improve the consumer experience as we further ramp up," NBN chief customer officer John Simon said.

Earlier that month, the TIO found NBN connection delays had dropped from 1,669 complaints in the fourth quarter of 2015-16 to 1,545 in the first quarter of FY17, and then further down to 1,539 in the second quarter of the financial year.

Later in the year, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will begin its NBN fixed-line speed monitoring program, which will see 2,000 home connections monitored across fibre to the node, fibre to the basement, fibre to the premises, and hybrid fibre-coaxial technologies.

The devices will collect real-time data on speeds being experienced by users throughout the day to determine average fixed-line NBN speeds at various times.

The program will also enable the ACCC to determine which provider is responsible for any speed or congestion issues -- NBN's wholesale network, or retailers that have not bought sufficient capacity.

The program will eventually be expanded to 4,000 premises.

On Monday, NBN CEO Bill Morrow hit out at allegations the NBN's connectivity virtual circuit (CVC) charge and use of copper in its Multi-Technology Mix are to blame for Australians seeing unsatisfactory speeds when connected to the network, and instead said it was the result of an NBN "land grab" forcing retail service providers to cut costs somewhere.

"The RSPs are between a rock and a hard place," Morrow said.

Morrow said retailers were involved in a land grab for market share, where pricing was the focus, and not speeds or quality of service.

"If an RSP doesn't price their product high enough to recover their costs, they may be forced to cut corners that could affect the quality of the services being offered," he said.

"If an RSP isn't purchasing enough CVC capacity to offer the quality expected, that is a conscious choice to do so.

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