Complaints about services delivered through the NBN have more than doubled nationally in the past year.
According to the 2016 - 2017 Annual Report by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), these complaints have risen by 159% over the financial year, mostly relating to faults and connection delays.
Complaints related to internet, mobile and landline services have also increased by 41.1%. Complaints concerning internet services surpassed those about mobile services for the first time.
Issuing a statement of apology, NBN Co. acknowledged the increase in complaints, however said that with such a big project, problems were inevitable.
“It is important to note that no large-scale construction project has ever been problem free.
“With a workforce of close to 30,000 people digging trenches, hauling cable, climbing poles and going into people’s yards and homes, there are inevitably going to be some issues,” stated a release from NBN Co.
The percentage of complaints in the 2016-17 fiscal year has been the highest recorded over the last five years, with most coming from residential customers and relating to customer service.
New South Wales ranked highest in the number of complaints with 50,537 complaints, followed by Victoria and Queensland.
Number of complaints since the 2012/13 fiscal year. Source: TIO 2017 - 2017 Annual Report.
Protection for consumers
Australia’s peak body for consumer representation, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), said improved consumer protections are needed more than ever before.
ACCAN Deputy CEO Narelle Clark said when consumers face repeated missed appointments with no reliable assurance of when a working service will commence, they become rightfully angry.
“The complaint statistics show that many consumers are being left with no connection or a service that is completely unusable.
“There is an urgent need for updated consumer guarantees.
“We are therefore calling on all providers to lift their game and act to immediately improve customer service and the consumer experience,” she said.
The Head of Media and Communications at consumer advocacy group Choice, Tom Godfrey, said consumers should keep detailed records of any outage they experience, including any financial impact.
“Take the information to your provider when making a complaint. You can then ask for compensation, whether it’s refunded data or a deducted bill.
"In today’s tech-reliant world, a reliable internet service has become a basic necessity and consumers are entitled to services that are reasonably fit for their purpose,” said Godfrey.
Telstra, Optus Group and Vodafone Group were the top three most complained about service providers. All three had increased complaint numbers compared to the previous fiscal year.
Both ACCAN and Choice urged consumers to switch providers if their problems persisted.
Not all on the NBN
Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield said the complaints were increasing in line with the NBN rollout, however, said the TIO report did not distinguish between retailer and NBN issues. He said the problems related to two issues: migration, and customers’ expectations of speed.
“When you have the best part of eleven million premises migrating across, there will be some issues.
“Fewer than 15% of the NBN complaints to the TIO…are directed to NBN Co., [and] this equates to about 1% of the number of activated premises that we are not making the experience the best it can be, and we are taking this very seriously,” said Fifield.
“Then there’s the issue of ensuring that the retailers are purchasing from NBN the capacity that they need,” he said.
Fifield said modem issues and in-house wiring were also contributing factors to the problems caused.
NBN Co. CEO Bill Morrow said the company was working with retail service providers and industry as a priority to improve these figures, and the overall experience for consumers.
“We are working hard to maintain the balance of getting broadband to people as quickly as possible, while minimising these problems,” said Morrow.
Some of the initiatives NBN Co. has listed to improve the end-user customer experience is improved installation experience, advanced fault detection, enhanced case management with retail service providers, and a national awareness campaign.
Fifield said the department has funded the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to embed 4000 probes in residences to monitor and report on retailer speeds, as well as requesting the Australian Communications and Media Authority undertake a research project to gauge customer experience.