The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has criticised telcos for losing customers' phone numbers during the migration to National Broadband Network (NBN) services, publishing four recommendations to industry on preventing this.
According to the TIO, while it does not happen frequently, losing phone numbers could "cause significant detriment to those residential consumers and small businesses relying predominately on fixed-line phone services".
"The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman believes it is important to highlight the issues," it said.
The TIO's recommendations for RSPs include amending their NBN customer order processes to require consumers to opt out of retaining their phone numbers during the transition to the NBN, rather than the current opt-in process; requiring customers to provide details on the phone number they want to retain before the NBN service order progresses; and providing "clear" warnings to customers that they will lose their phone number if they disconnect "prematurely" from legacy services.
It also advised RSPs to ensure their legacy network switch-off date is the same as NBN's; ensure that the consumer has an active NBN connection before disconnecting fixed-line phone services; and lastly "enhance communication pathways between each other" so they can both reduce the loss of phone numbers and be able to retrieve disconnected phone numbers.
"Loss of phone numbers during an NBN migration can be a stressful experience for consumers and small businesses," Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said.
"It is encouraging to see the TIO put a spotlight on this issue as there remains sensible scope for improvements in how retailers manage this process."
The government had earlier this month proposed replacing the TIO with a new external dispute resolution (EDR) body, which would be "independent of industry" and aimed at addressing "complex" complaints.
The Department of Communications is accepting submissions from industry on whether the TIO's responsibilities should be "transformed" to an EDR body for complex complaints; whether the EDR body should also be "proactively engaged in driving industry improvements, identifying systemic complaints, and analysing root causes or recurring issues"; whether the EDR body's charging structure to lodge complaints be structured to encourage telcos to resolve complaints internally; and the processes for lodging a complaint with the EDR body.
The opposition Labor party slammed the Consumer Safeguards Review, saying the Australian government should be focused on preventing telecommunications complaints, rather than on who they get reported to.
"Labor's priority is to fix the root causes by addressing technology problems, and to put in place an NBN Service Guarantee to deliver less downtime for consumers and greater accountability in the industry," acting Shadow Communications Minister Stephen Jones said last month.
"The real priority is to fix the root causes of problems: Second-rate technology, lack of transparency, and the lack of proper service standards for rectifying faults and minimising downtime."
According to Jones, Labor's proposed NBN Service Guarantee would "ensure industry have the right incentives to be responsive and fix problems before those problems turn into complaints".
Following the rapid rise in complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), the federal government had announced a review of the telecommunications consumer safeguards.
In April, the TIO's 2017-18 half-yearly report had showed NBN consumer complaints more than tripling year on year to 22,827 for the first half of the year. 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.
As a consequence, the Australian government had announced its review of the telecommunications consumer safeguards, with Macquarie Telecom at the time warning that rising consumer complaints statistics show "the practices being used within the telecoms industry to date are not working".