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NBN complaints double again; telco complaints jump by 30 percent: TIO

Complaints to the ombudsman about the NBN have more than doubled, increasing by 117.5 percent year on year, while all telco complaints rose by 33.8 percent to a total of 65,970.

The Australian Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has published its consumer complaints statistics for the second half of calendar 2016, revealing a jump in total telecommunications complaints of 33.8 percent year on year while National Broadband Network (NBN) complaints doubled again.

NBN complaints numbered 7,512 during the six-month period, and while this was only an increase of around 500 over the previous half-year period, it still amounted to a rise of 117.5 percent year on year.

Complaints about NBN internet services jumped by 141.3 percent year on year, while complaints about NBN landline services rose by a comparatively modest 92 percent.

Ombudsman Judi Jones pointed out that the rate of increase in NBN's complaints was slower than the rate of premises being connected, while NBN said the TIO's report represented a "downward trend in NBN complaints figures".

According to NBN, 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.

"That is exactly why NBN is working in collaboration with retail service providers to better educate consumers and business owners about how to get the best experience possible from their internet connection while also improving end to end processes."

The TIO last week also revealed that complaints about 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.

This came despite the number of premises connected during the quarter increasing from 195,686 premises connected during Q4 to 279,639 connected in Q1 and 274,291 connected in Q2.

"The primary type of complaint relating to connections is delay, making up 90 percent of all connection complaints about services delivered over the NBN," the TIO said in its submission to the NBN Joint Standing Committee, which was flagged in its response to Senate Estimates Questions on Notice.

"Key issues contributing to connection delays include missed technician appointments, infrastructure, and the complexity of some installations."

While connection delay complaints fell, however, fault issues rose during the same period: There were 2,113 complaints during the fourth quarter of the 2015-16 financial year. This dropped to 1,988 complaints during the first quarter of FY17, but then rose again to 2,460 complaints in the second quarter.

The number of premises activated during this time grew more sharply than the rise in fault complaints, however; there were 1.1 million premises connected as of the end of Q4, and 1.65 million as of Q2 FY17.

In all, there were 65,970 complaints to the TIO about all telco services during July to December 2016, a 33.8 percent year-on-year increase. Of these, 24,641 complaints were in relation to internet services, a growth of 53.6 percent; 23,331 were about mobile phone services, a rise of 18.8 percent; and 17,998 were on landline phone services, a rise of 32 percent.

Customer service made up 47.9 percent of all complaints, followed by billing and payments issues, at 39.4 percent; faults, at 35.7 percent; complaint handling, at 28.9 percent; contracts, at 20.2 percent; connections, at 15.6 percent; and credit management, at 10.5 percent.

New South Wales made the most complaints, at 21,040, followed by Victoria, at 18,354 complaints; Queensland, at 11,784 complaints; Western Australia, at 5,408 complaints; South Australia, at 5,340 complaints; Tasmania, at 1,213 complaints; the Australian Capital Territory, at 1,067 complaints; and the Northern Territory, at 420 complaints -- with Victoria and South Australia making the most complaints proportionally.

The Communications Alliance noted that while the TIO's report was "very disappointing in aggregate", actions taken by telcos to prevent complaints are starting to make headway.

"Clearly, more remains to be done, and Communications Alliance is working closely with its members on these challenges," Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said.

"We have seen five years of falling complaint levels as a result of concerted industry action -- dropping complaint volumes by close to 50 percent -- so the recent setbacks reported by the TIO are a matter of serious concern and are being addressed.

"There is no doubt that the rollout of the NBN and the additional implementation challenges it brings, have contributed to rising complaints, but it is pleasing to note that the growth rate in NBN-related complaints is slower than the rate of new premises being connected to the National Broadband Network."

The TIO's Annual Report for 2015-16 had similarly revealed that NBN consumer complaints were up by 99.6 percent compared to a year earlier, while overall complaints about all telecommunications services decreased by 9.6 percent year on year, down to 112,518 during FY16, which also amounted to a 43 percent decrease between 2011 and 2016 thanks to telcos focusing on improving customer service as well as investments in mobile infrastructure across the country.