Another rise in telco complaints shows 'struggling' industry: Comms Alliance

Telstra, Optus, Vodafone Australia, and Pivotel have all clocked in with higher complaints ratios in the quarterly telecommunications complaints in context report.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Telco complaints have risen from 8.7 to 9.3 complaints per 10,000 services in operation (SIO) on average, according to the latest quarterly report published by the Australian Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) and Communications Alliance, with the increase attributed to the industry changes brought on by the National Broadband Network (NBN).

During the quarter to March 2018, Telstra's complaints ratio was 9.5 per 10,000 SIO, up from 9.2 last quarter. Vodafone's ratio rose slightly from 4.9 to 5.0 complaints per 10,000 SIO, while Pivotel's went from 0 to 1.

Optus' complaints ratio jumped from 10.6 to 12.1 complaints per 10,000 SIO.

"This result highlights that our industry is still struggling with the disruptions caused by the rollout of the NBN and the transformation of communications delivery platforms," Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said.

"Though the numbers are very disappointing, we are continuing our work on customer-centric initiatives with government, regulators, and consumer representatives to improve the overall customer experience."

Amaysim was the only provider that saw a decrease in complaints during the quarter, with its ratio dropping marginally from 1.4 to 1.3 complaints per 10,000 SIO.

Every quarter, the TIO in conjunction with Comms Alliance publishes a Complaints in Context report covering landline, mobile, and internet service complaints from residential and small business consumers.

The report comes on the heels of the TIO's 2017-18 half-yearly report published earlier this week, which showed that NBN consumer complaints to the TIO more than tripled year on year to 22,827 for the first half of the year.

According to the TIO, most NBN complaints were about provider response, at 10,222 in total; poor service quality, at 9,006; connection/changing provider, at 8,929; no service, at 6,778; charges and fees, at 4,348; making a contract, at 490; infrastructure, at 337; in contract, at 250; equipment, at 247; and access or damage to property, at 207 complaints.

In total, the TIO received 84,914 complaints about all telecommunications services during the six months to December 31, up 28.7 percent year on year.

The top complaints issues were charges and fees, at 38,594 complaints; provider response, at 36,563; poor service quality, at 18,936; connection/changing provider, at 13,844; no service, at 12,831; debt management, at 9,257; making a contract, at 7,003; in contract, at 5,628; equipment, at 2,957; and payments, at 2,398 complaints.

As a consequence, the Australian government announced a review of the telecommunications consumer safeguards, with Macquarie Telecom warning that rising consumer complaints statistics show "the practices being used within the telecoms industry to date are not working".

According to Macquarie Telecom group executive Luke Clifton, generic industry-wide regulations and consumer protection rules have not helped the banking industry, as shown by the Financial Services Royal Commission.

Clifton said responsibility should instead be put back on how each company will take steps to lower consumer complaints, before a telco Royal Commission ends up being called.

"Collective punishment through sweeping rule and regulation changes is not the answer now -- it has never worked in other industries," Clifton argued.

"Forcing those who are the worst offenders to fix their own problems, and then holding their feet to the fire, is the only short-term solution, and potentially the beginning of solving the deep issues of the industry before it faces its own Royal Commission."

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