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Landline complaints surge, NBN nearly fault-free: TIO

Telecommunications customers complained about problems with their landline Internet services at an increasing rate during 2012-2013, new TIO statistics reveal, while NBN complaints were few and far between.
Written by David Braue, Contributor

Official complaints about landline telecommunications services surged by 18.3% during the 2012-13 year while NBN customers had “very few” problems with the services, Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) Simon Cohen has revealed as he released the latest statistics about the industry dispute-resolution body’s activities during 2012-13.

Consumers complained about 18,963 Internet fault-related issues during the year – equivalent to 52 new reports every day – about fully unusable services (up 24% year-on-year to 4811 issues), slow data speeds (up 16.5% to 4324 issues), and dropouts (up 10.6% to 3330 issues).

Landline complaints surged in 2012-13: TIO. Photo: David Braue

Faults over landlines – predominantly delivered over Telstra’s copper network – increased 19.4% to 9553 issues, comprising half of all Internet-related problems. Specific issues included fully unusable services (up 23.9% to 3390 issues) and recurring or intermittent faults (up 1.1% to 1340 issues).

Steady growth in the number of landline services was in contrast to the “very few complaints” about NBN Co and its broadband services, Cohen said.

Of those issues raised by consumers to the TIO, many related to poor performance over the company’s interim satellite service, while others complained about NBN retail service providers (RSPs) missing installation appointments and suffering other delays in getting connected to the NBN.

“Most of the matters that concern NBN Co directly have been enquiries to us, with people ringing with questions about when the NBN might be coming to their area and when they might have access to those services,” Cohen said. “The numbers of complaints are very small, and that reflects the limited rollout of the NBN during the 2012-2013 financial year.”

Cohen’s reports corroborate recent claims by iiNet CTO John Lindsay that Telstra’s copper network was “in a dilapidated state” in many places and that iiNet’s fibre NBN customers – 60% of whom are first-time iiNet customers – were experiencing “very, very low” fault rates as they signed up for high-speed NBN services.

Systemic problems in fault resolution were a significant part of the problem, Lindsay told the recent CommsDay Melbourne Congress. “It’s not so much that Telstra copper can’t actually be put into good order to provide VDSL2 service if there’s actually the demand to do that,” he said. “It’s more the challenge that wholesale customers of Telstra – and even, observably, retail customers of Telstra – have in getting copper faults fixed.”

Some 4710 complainants reported delays in new Internet connections – up 58% over the previous year – while 3743 claimed delays in new landline connections – up 40% over the previous year.

Some 4710 complainants reported delays in new Internet connections – up 58% over the previous year – while 3743 claimed delays in new landline connections – up 40% over the previous year.

Fault-related issues comprised 37.3% of all new complaints to the TIO, well behind customer service issues (52.9%) and billing and payments problems (42.7%).

Despite the surge in landline issues, however, overall Cohen was satisfied with the sector’s overall performance during the year – particularly crediting the staggered introduction of the Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) Code that has forced telcos to address unexpected costs and improve transparency around billing rates, roaming charges, and customer service.

The 2012-2013 figures were the lowest in five years, led by a decline in mobile-related complaints that Cohen attributed to concerted efforts by telecoms-industry CEOs to prioritise customer service within their organisational cultures.

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