In the first quarter of 2020-21, the number of complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) increased to 34,476, beating out the number of complaints since Q1 of 2019-20, which means complaints have steadily risen over the past three quarters.
Standing out from the numbers released by the TIO on Wednesday was the number of complaints from small businesses, which grew 28% to 5,527. The top issue recorded by over a third of SMBs was "No or delayed action" from telcos, followed by another third citing service and equipment fees. For consumers, these issues were also the top two, but the order was reversed.
The TIO said 16% of SMBs said they had no phone or internet service. Broken down by service type, 35% of complaints were related to internet connections, followed by 30% related to mobile issues, complaints across multiple categories accounted for 24%, with landlines making up 11%, and property issues making up 1%.
Telstra was reported as having a 27% increase in complaints, who along with Boost and Southern Phone, were the only top 10 providers to see complaints increase.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network was scathing of the results, saying the increase in SMB complaints reflected what it has been hearing from the community.
"Phone and internet providers have had months to adapt to new customer service arrangements after overseas lock-downs affected their call centre operations," said CEO Teresa Corbin.
"To have over a third of complaints during the quarter relate to no or delayed action by providers is frankly astonishing and unacceptable; if you make a complaint, it should be heard and fixed."
Numbers from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), also released on Wednesday, said two-thirds of businesses have had one issue or fault in the six months up to when its research was conducted in late 2019.
"Of businesses that experienced a loss of internet service or an outage, 42% reported the impact as major," ACMA said.
"A reported 40% of businesses with telco services made a complaint to their provider in the previous six months, with 21% of complaints taking more than three weeks to resolve."
Even though overall the number of complaints fell by 17.5% across 2019-20, ACMA chair Nerida O'Loughlin said it should create "clear and properly enforceable rules" that would replace current arrangements.
"The total number of complaints is still too high, especially compared with other essential services. We also know that reporting of complaints may have been impacted by consumers having difficulty contacting their telco provider during the COVID pandemic," O'Loughlin said.
"Given these ongoing, systemic, and impactful consumer issues, the ACMA strongly supports the government's reconsideration of the current telco consumer protection regime."