The annual report on telecommunications complaints in New Zealand by the Telecommunications Forum (TCF), made up of telco operators across the country, has revealed that consumer complaints have risen by 35 percent to 2,619 enquiries -- the highest since the scheme was formed in 2007.
The TCF attributed this rise in complaints to both increased awareness of the availability of the Telecommunication Dispute Resolution Scheme (TDRS) and to the rise in the government's Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) fibre rollout.
"New Zealand is one of very few countries offering nationwide gigabit services to consumers via the UFB network, and this kind of innovation is putting us ahead of many other global service providers," said TCF CEO Geoff Thorn.
"The TDRS has seen an increase of over a third compared with the previous year and the TCF shares the view that this is mainly due to greater awareness of the scheme itself and the high number of connected New Zealanders."
According to the Telecommunication Dispute Resolution Annual Report [PDF], the number of complaints about delays in connected fibre broadband services "accelerated in January 2016, and has been steady ever since".
"The typical complaint is that the scheme member signs the customer up to the fibre service with an indicative commencement date. This date passes with no service being connected, and eventually the lapse of time brings the customer to the TDR," the report said.
"It appears that the scheme members, in notifying the installation date, rely on information provided by the fibre installation companies. The installation companies do not then complete the work on time."
Scheme members include Chorus, Spark, Vodafone NZ, 2degrees, Vocus Communications, Symbio Networks, TrustPower, AWACS, DTS, Enable Networks, Kordia, Northpower Fibre, NOW, Ultrafast Fibre, UnisonFibre, and Vector Communications, and associate member Huawei.
A breakdown saw billing and credit dispute resolutions make up 30 percent of consumer issues resolved over the year, down from 34 percent a year earlier; faults make up 17 percent, up from 15 percent; customer service make up 20 percent, up from 17 percent; network make up 7 percent, stable from a year earlier; contracts make up 13 percent, down from 15 percent; and transfers make up 4 percent, up from 2 percent.
"Although billing again topped the list of the most common issues, fibre-related complaints began to emerge at the beginning of 2016," said TDRS director Derek Pullen.
"We identified complaints about delays in the installation of fibre services as a systemic issue. We also began to receive complaints about the placement of the ONT (optic network terminal, where the fibre line terminates at the end user's premises)."
Most complaints were received from the Auckland region, at 38 percent, followed by the Wellington region, at 15 percent; Canterbury, at 12 percent; Waikato, at 7 percent; Otago, at 4 percent; Northland, Bay of Plenty, Central North Island, Hawke's Bay, and Marlborough, at 3 percent; Taranaki, Manawatu-Whanganui, and Southland, at 2 percent; and East Coast, Tasman, and West Coast, at 1 percent.
According to Consumer NZ CEO Sue Chetwin, speaking last month at the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) Conference in Sydney, there was a 250 percent increase in fibre installations last year, with installers unable to keep up with demand.
"Chorus, the infrastructure company that has the major contracts to install Ultra-Fast Broadband ... what they're promising they can't really deliver at the moment -- there's just not enough people to do it," Chetwin explained in relation to fibre connection delays.
"So increasingly, there are complaints about service people not turning up, or shonky installations ... the CEO of Spark just said a week or so ago that frustrated customers were cancelling their fibre contracts due to installation delays. So two-thirds of those who got connected were unhappy with the process."
Chetwin added that one of the main problems for fibre installations has been the consent issues involved in accessing multi-dwelling units and shared-access areas.
"If you live in a right of way that may have a number of properties on it, or if you're in an apartment block, that's proving quite difficult to get fibre," she said.
"Now consumer groups said to government years ago that they needed to look at legislation to allow easier access to these properties and they did nothing, so they're reaping what they sow now."
As a result, the New Zealand government in July introduced a piece of proposed legislation to make it faster for those with shared property telecommunications infrastructure to gain access to the UFB.
The UFB project was 57 percent complete as of the end of the 2015-16 financial year, Chorus announced during its financial results.
The UFB will reach 80 percent of the New Zealand population once complete, while the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) will provide download speeds of 50Mbps to the remaining 20 percent. The RBI is 100 percent complete, with the project enhancing and extending fixed-line coverage to approximately 110,000 premises for NZ$282 million.