NBN complaints more than doubling a 'cause for concern': TIO

While the TIO has said complaints about NBN are expected to grow during the acceleration of the rollout, it has called this year's 160 percent increase concerning, while NBN called it 'unfortunate'.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor
(Image: TIO)

The Australian Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has published its annual report for 2016-17, revealing that complaints about the National Broadband Network (NBN) have increased by almost 160 percent, while all telecommunications complaints rose by 41 percent during the year.

While the TIO usually equates rising NBN complaints to the accelerating rollout, this time Ombudsman Judi Jones said the numbers are concerning.

"Complaints about services delivered over the National Broadband Network more than doubled, and while this is somewhat to be expected given the accelerating rollout, the increase is a cause for concern," Jones said on Wednesday.

"The National Broadband Network project is complex, and it is important all parties involved work together to ensure a great consumer experience."

NBN complaints were up by 159.3 percent to 27,195 complaints in total during the year. Of these, 16,221 were about faults and 11,224 about delays in being connected, with 8.3 connection delay complaints per 1,000 premises activated following Communications Minister Mitch Fifield's announcement that 90 percent of all NBN connections are done right the first time.

Fully unusable internet services over the NBN accounted for 4,816 complaints, while slow data speeds accounted for 3,917 complaints during the year.

In response, NBN called the increase in complaints "unfortunate", but said there is a "direct correlation" between the pace of the rollout and the rise in complaints.

"While it is fewer than 15 percent of the 'NBN' complaints to the TIO that are directed to NBN Co, this equates to about 1 percent of the number of activated premises that we are not making the experience the best it can be, and we are taking this very seriously," NBN CEO Bill Morrow said.

"We are working with retail service providers and industry as a priority to improve these figures and the overall experience for consumers. We meet regularly and have programs in place, some in isolation to deal with company-specific improvements, and others in collaboration to ensure end-to-end process are the best they can be.

"This work is being reflected in a 13.6 percent decline in overall TIO complaints between July to September 2017 and a 26.3 percent decline in TIO complaints about landline and internet services over the same period. We believe it is an early sign of movement in the right direction."

NBN also pointed to its initiatives for improved installation training, advanced fault detection, case management with retailers, and a national awareness campaign on speeds and packages -- and added that the TIO's report "does not distinguish between complaints that are the responsibility of NBN to resolve and those that are the responsibility of the retail service provider to resolve".

In terms of total telecommunications complaints during the year, the TIO reported receiving 158,016 new complaints in 2016-17, reversing the previous downward trend and rising by 41.1 percent year on year.

Of these complaints, 50,537 originated in New South Wales; 43,565 in Victoria; 28,988 in Queensland; 13,623 in Western Australia; 12,526 in South Australia; 2,964 in Tasmania; 2,612 in the Australian Capital Territory; and 1,043 in the Northern Territory.

Internet services accounted for the most complaints, at 40.4 percent, followed by mobile services at 33 percent and landline at 26.5 percent.

"For the first time, complaints about internet services are now higher than complaints about mobile phones," Jones said.

"Residential consumers and small businesses still have too many complaints about their customer service, a bill, or faults."

The main issues were customer service, at 48.7 percent; billing and payments, at 41.9 percent; faults, at 36.5 percent; complaint handling, at 31.2 percent; contracts, at 19.4 percent; connections, at 16.2 percent; credit management, at 9.9 percent; transfers, at 2.3 percent; privacy, at 1.6 percent; and property, at 0.4 percent.

According to the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), these results show that there are "systemic issues with customer service in the industry".

"We are very concerned about the significant, across the board, increase in complaints for landline, mobile, and internet services," ACCAN deputy CEO Narelle Clark said.

"We are therefore calling on all providers to lift their game and act to immediately improve customer service and the consumer experience."

Complaints about Telstra rose by 43.5 percent during the year, with a total of 76,650 complaints, 13,536 of which were about services being delivered over the NBN; complaints about Optus rose by 31.2 percent to 28,766, 3,938 of which were about NBN services; complaints about Vodafone rose by 37.5 percent to a total of 10,684, with the telco yet to launch NBN services; complaints about iiNet rose by 79 percent to 10,170; with 2,197 about NBN services; and complaints about TPG rose by 44.9 percent to 6,995, 1,916 of which were about NBN services.

Complaints also rose across smaller providers and MVNOs: Dodo complaints rose by 1.1 percent to 3,309, 726 of which were about the NBN; Southern Phone Company complaints rose by 266.7 percent to 2,068 in total, 865 of which were about the NBN; Primus complaints rose by 32.1 percent to 1,917, 300 of which were about the NBN; complaints about M2 Commander rose by 25.3 percent to 1,704, 259 of which were about the NBN.

Virgin Mobile was the only telco to see a fall in complaints, with an 11.6 percent decrease to a total of 1,354 complaints during the year.

According to the TIO and Communications Alliance Complaints in Context report for the July-September period published on Tuesday, however, Telstra and Vodafone reduced their complaints over the most recent quarter.

As of the end of September, Telstra had a complaints ratio of 8.7 complaints per 10,000 services in operation (SIO), down from 10 last quarter, while Vodafone's complaints dropped from 4.5 per 10,000 SIO to 4.3 this quarter.

Optus, Amaysim, and Pivotel complaints all rose during the quarter, however, from 10.1 to 10.3, 1 to 1.5, and 0.3 to 0.8 per 10,000 SIO, respectively.

Overall, the Complaints in Context report shows complaints dropping from 9 to 8.3 per 10,000 SIO during the quarter.

"The industry is dealing with significant disruption that has been difficult for some customers and has generated worrying increases in complaint levels during the past 12 months following four years of continuous reduction in complaints," Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said.

"Industry -- including service providers and NBN -- are working intensely on a range of customer, service, and process initiatives to improve the overall consumer experience. It is pleasing that these latest Complaints in Context results appear to indicate that these efforts are beginning to bear fruit."

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