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NBN satellite complaints spike over back end of 2019

Overall complaints are down by almost one quarter for the three months to the end of 2019.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The number of complaints received by Australian telcos over the past 12 months has dropped by almost one quarter, according to figures released by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) on Wednesday.

Across the year to December 31, the number of complaints per 10,000 services in operation (SIO) fell by 24% to 93, while the year to September 30 involved a drop of 20% to 97.

Fixed broadband was easily the most complained about service type, registering 341 complaints per 10,000 SIO, followed by NBN broadband with 126 complaints per 10,000 SIO. NBN voice registered 90, while mobile complaints happened 63 times per 10,000 SIO, and traditional fixed voice was the least complained about service with 47.

Almost all service types saw drops across the year to December 31, with fixed broadband having 21% fewer complaints, NBN broadband complaints being down 36%, NBN voice dropped by 15%, and traditional voice complaints were down by 49%. Mobile services bucked the trend with a 1.6% increase in complaints.

In absolute terms, the telcos received 297,000 complaints in the quarter to September 31, and 283,800 in the three months to December 31.

Looking at complaints about NBN broadband by technology type, the numbers for most technologies were substantially lower, with satellite being the exception due to a 60% increase in complaints per 10,000 SIO. For the year to September 30, satellite also recorded a year-on-year increase of 365%.

For the other technologies, complaints in the December quarter were down 66% to 153 per 10,000 SIO for fibre-to-the-curb connections, fibre-to-the-premises registered 80 complaints per 10,000 SIO resulting in a 46% year-on-year drop and becoming the least complained about technology in the NBN arsenal following satellite complaints spiking. Fibre-to-the-node saw complaints per 10,000 SIO fall 45% to 107, fixed wireless dropped 13% to 124, and fibre-to-the-basement complaints dropped 38% to 161. hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) remained the most complained about connection type on 202 per 10,000 SIO, but it also saw a drop of 41% compared to the December 2018 quarter.

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Even though overall NBN broadband complaints went down, the makeup of the complaints has changed, with faults making up 40% of complaints, connection-related complaints comprising 24%, while speed complaints make up only 7%. The other category reported by ACMA made up 29% of NBN broadband complaints.

At the end of December, ACMA said NBN had just over 1 million fibre-to-the-premises and HFC connections on each technology, almost 2.2 million fibre-to-the-node users, 108,00 fibre-to-the-basement connections, 317,000 fibre-to-the-curb connections, 264,000 fixed wireless customers, and 46,000 on satellite connections.

"These are encouraging numbers and a strong indication that consumers over the period were more satisfied with the services they received from their telcos," ACMA authority member Fiona Cameron said.

"During the current unprecedented times there is likely to be an uptick in complaints as customers may have difficulty contacting their service provider and as access to properties becomes more uncertain.

"It will be important for customers to be patient and considerate as telcos work through these difficulties and it will be equally important for telcos to prioritise support to more vulnerable customers."

On the median amount of time it takes telcos to resolve complaints, that figure sat at 4 days, with telcos resolving 80% of complaints in a median of 3.5 days. Both numbers are down from 12 months ago, by 2 and 3 days, respectively.

The figures used by ACMA are currently without those of Optus, after the company was booted from the report and told to get an external audit in October, following multiple amendments being made to its submissions and what ACMA described as "ongoing data anomalies".

"Telco complaints data serves an important purpose for industry, consumers, government and the ACMA in understanding the issues being experienced by Australian consumers with their telecommunications services," ACMA chair Nerida O'Loughlin said.

"A failure to provide accurate data reduces the validity of the information and impacts our ability to use it to make informed evidence-based decisions."

ACMA reiterated on Wednesday it would include Optus data in future reports "when the ACMA is confident of its accuracy".

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