Consumer complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) about the National Broadband Network (NBN) have risen by 204 percent year on year to 22,827 for the first half of the year.
According to the TIO's half-yearly report for 2017-18, this tripling in complaints numbers is "not surprising", as NBN is increasingly responsible for delivering fixed-line services.
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.
Rather than focusing on the year-on-year increase in complaints, NBN pointed to a 16 percent drop-off over the previous six-month period, in addition to the fact that less than 5 percent of the complaints made to the TIO were sent to NBN to resolve.
"While the slowdown in the rate of complaints is encouraging, NBN Co acknowledges there is still more work to be done, particularly at this critical stage of the rollout as we balance prioritising customer experience without taking our foot off the construction pedal," NBN chief customer officer Brad Whitcomb said.
"We will continue to work with industry to improve those parts of the customer's end-to-end experience within our control to reduce complaint volumes."
NBN added that the 22,827 complaints were also equivalent to just 0.67 percent of total services activated, with Whitcomb pointing towards its efforts to reduce congestion by implementing new wholesale pricing and pausing its hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) network.
"In addition, we have made significant improvements to our processes and systems to minimise complaints. As a result, our right-first-time metric for installation of NBN equipment has climbed overall in recent months, and we are now just below 90 percent," Whitcomb said.
Due to the way it has changed its complaints recording process as of July last year, the TIO also said it is "not possible to compare complaints at the service type and issue levels with previous reports".
"Our recording of the issues is now based on six broad categories that follow the lifecycle of a residential consumer or small business' relationship with their provider," Ombudsman Judi Jones said.
"The changes mean our data will more accurately reflect the description of complaints given by residential consumers and small businesses. The changes also make it easier to see the issues facing the telecommunications industry, helping providers improve the delivery of phone and internet services."
According to Jones, the TIO has also changed its service type categorisation for each complaint, with five categories: Mobile phone, internet, landline phone, multiple services, and damage or access to property.
"This six-month update reflects the changed recording of service types and issues. As the changes are comprehensive, it is not possible to show the trends in complaints at the service type and issue levels," she said.
"Trend analysis will build over time from the start of this reporting period."
However, Jones added that "consumers still seem to be facing the same problems" in regards to customer service and bills.
"Complaints about services delivered over the National Broadband Network continued to increase compared to the same six-month period in 2016," she said.
"This indicates the consumer experience is still not meeting expectations for all. Recent changes to regulation and an increase in our powers to resolve complaints are positive steps that will help improve the consumer experience."
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.
Separated out into the five new service type categories, multiple services received the highest number of complaints, at 26,112, followed by mobile phone services, at 24,923; internet services, at 23,785; landline phone services, at 9,447; and access or damage to property, at 647 complaints.
State by state, New South Wales residents complained the most, with 26,914 complaints made to the TIO during the half year, a year-on-year rise of 27.9 percent. Victoria brought in 23,954 complaints, up 30.5 percent; Queensland 16,418 complaints, up 39.3 percent; Western Australia 7,381 complaints, up 36.5 percent; South Australia 6,552 complaints, up 22.7 percent; Tasmania 1,614 complaints, up 33.1 percent; the Australian Capital Territory 1,184 complaints, up 11 percent; and the Northern Territory 504 complaints, up 20 percent.
Of all complaints, 74,729 came from residential consumers and 9,947 from small businesses.
Recent NBN Coverage
Congestion has dropped in the last year from seven hours down to just 18 minutes per week, NBN has said.
Responding to claims by Telstra CEO Andy Penn that 5G will erode NBN's user base, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said the volume of data being downloaded over fixed broadband will prevent this.
Kogan Internet has launched its NBN service off the back of Vodafone's offering, with plans maxing out at less than AU$90 per month for download speeds of 100Mbps and unlimited data.
The ACMA's new rules will require line tests on NBN services, reconnecting customers to legacy services where the NBN is unusable, providing minimum information to consumers, and reporting complaints data to the ACMA.
While Michelle Rowland has called for the government to explain NBN's 5G trials and Vodafone says NBN has too much 5G spectrum, Bevan Slattery has said there is a 'great opportunity' for NBN to offer wholesale 5G services.
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