NBN the key driver of consumer telco dissatisfaction: ACCC

Consumer complaints to the ACCC about both NBN services and major retail mobile and fixed network providers rose during 2016-17.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Consumer complaints about telecommunications services jumped by 58 percent to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) during 2016-17, the watchdog has revealed.

During the year, it received 4,384 consumer complaints and enquiries, with the ACCC saying National Broadband Network (NBN) services "are emerging as key contributors to consumer dissatisfaction in the communications sector".

According to the Competition and price changes in telecommunications services in Australia 2016-17 [PDF], published on Wednesday, the most common complaint was about misleading or deceptive conduct, with 1,831 complaints during the year -- more than double the previous year.

Complaints regarding NBN services rose "significantly" during the year, the ACCC said, as did customer complaints across all major fixed and mobile service providers.

"Issues regarding the migration and connection process as well as the quality and the performance of services over the NBN not meeting expectations are likely to be significant sources of these complaints," the ACCC said.

It has since forced retail service providers (RSPs) Telstra, Optus, TPG, iiNet, and Internode to refund tens of thousands of their NBN customers for misleading or deceptive conduct over not providing them with the speeds they were paying for.

ACCC Chairman Rod Sims last month said the consumer watchdog had labelled broadband consumer issues as a major focus for 2018, warning NBN providers that it would continue stepping in when they do not provide the speeds consumers are paying for.

"Consumer issues in the provision of broadband services, including addressing misleading speed claims and statements made during the transition to the NBN, have become one of the ACCC's most prominent issues in the past two years and highlights the importance of both our consumer and competition focus," Sims said in February.

"The first report of the ACCC's Measuring Broadband Australia program will be released shortly, and our commitment to truth in advertising related to broadband speeds is making it easier for Australians to choose a service provider.

"You have seen a number of ACCC enforcement actions in 2017, and can expect further interventions this year."

During 2016-17, the ACCC also received 1,166 telco complaints on guarantees of acceptable quality; 521 complaints on false representations regarding services; 227 complaints on wrongly accepting payments; 180 complaints on guarantees of due care and skill; 152 complaints on false representations of price; 90 complaints on false representations of goods; 87 complaints on guarantees of reasonable time for supply; 70 complaints on assertions of right to payment for unsolicited goods or services; and 65 complaints on guarantees relating to the supply of goods by description, sample, or demonstration.

"The ACCC does not resolve individual disputes, but does consider complaints in accordance with its public compliance and enforcement policy, and complaints which would be best resolved by other agencies are forwarded," the ACCC said in its report.

"Over 46 percent of contacts raised concerns that were referred to a more appropriate organisation for resolution, particularly the TIO."

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) had similarly clocked a 160 percent rise in NBN services complaints, at the time calling the numbers concerning.

NBN complaints to the TIO 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.

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

The ACCC's competition and price report for 2016-17 also noted a 9.4 percent annual decrease in price for fixed broadband; a 3.1 percent annual price decrease in mobile services; and a 6.7 percent annual price decrease in wireless broadband.

Data downloads grew by 91.6 percent in fixed, 5.5 percent in mobile, and 2.6 percent in wireless, with mobile-only users increasing from 5.8 million to 6.7 million during the year.

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