As Australia shifts from its legacy fixed broadband infrastructure onto the National Broadband Network (NBN), it should come as little surprise that the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) is receiving increasing numbers of complaints.
However over the last six months, those numbers have increased in relative, as well as absolute, terms.
Contained in the TIO's annual report, NBN services make up the bulk of complaints received by the TIO in the categories of switching providers, at 56% versus 31% for non-NBN networks and 13% for mobile networks. This uptick in NBN complaints also extends to service quality, with 48% of complaints being from NBN services compared to 40% on non-NBN networks and 11% on mobile.
In the past six months, the TIO has seen changing provider complaints rise from 6.7 per 1,000 premises added to the network between July and December 2018 to a 8.6 ratio between January and July 2019. In absolute terms, this represents 4,213 and 7,422 complaints for the two periods.
Similarly, service complaints have risen from 2.1 complaints per 1,000 NBN-connected premises for the latter half of last year to 2.5 complaints per 1,000 NBN premises for the first six months of this year.
The rise in complaints reverses some of the gains the TIO reported for NBN services in April.
Overall, the TIO received 132,400 complaints for the 2018-19 fiscal year, a drop of 21% compared to last year, and the lowest level since the 2015-16 edition of its annual report. Of that total, 112,900 complaints were from residential customers, a drop of 23% fewer complaints.
Broken down by service category, internet services made up 32.6% of the overall complaints; followed by mobile on 30%; multiple services racked up 23% of complaints; landlines accounted for 13%; and complaints related to property made up 1% of the overall number.
This year the TIO highlighted the top five issues in each service type, with complaints labelled as "no or delayed action by provider" being in the top two for each type. "Service and equipment fees" was often the other member in the top two with the exemption of landlines, where "no phone or internet service" squeezed it into third place.
Telstra now makes up more than half of all complaints about providers, despite it recording a 19.5% drop to 66,400 complaints. The increasing proportion was due to other telcos reducing complaints by higher percentages than Australia's incumbent telco. NBN services made up 26% of all Telstra complaints.
Optus saw complaints drop 22% to account for 24% of the complaint volume; while Vodafone made up 5% of the overall complaints after recording a 30% drop; iiNet saw its percentage of complaints drop from 4.6% to 4.3%; and TPG saw its percentage increase to 4.1% as it was only able to reduce complaints by 14%.
Complaints related to NBN services accounted for 41% of all iiNet complaints, 37% of all TPG complaints, and 23% of complaints made about Optus.
"Complaints about phone and internet services in Australia have continued their downward trend, and this is good news for consumers and the telecommunications industry, but this is only one part of the story," Ombudsman Judi Jones said.
"The volume of complaints coming back to us unresolved shows an emerging picture of complexity in technical and small business issues. Some measures we have taken to address this are the formation of specialist teams to handle these escalated complaints, and working closely with the phone and internet providers to better understand the barriers to resolving these issues."
At the end of 2018, the Australian government decided it would not abolish the TIO, citing "near universal support" for it to retain its role.
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