A new report shows that complaints about the much-maligned NBN have dropped by more than a third, but there’s a big catch.

The report, from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), only covers the December 2019 quarter.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and a huge number of Australians now working from home and placing more pressure on the National Broadband Network, it’s unlikely the current quarter will continue the downward trajectory in complaints.

The ACMA report found that complaints about NBN broadband declined by more than 36 per cent in the December 2019 quarter, compared to the previous year.

During that quarter, general telco complaints declined by more than 25 per cent over the same period, and the average time taken to resolve customer complaints decreased from six days to four.

Communications minister Paul Fletcher hailed the decline in complaints from last year.

“The ACMA’s report demonstrates a significant decline in telco complaints,” Fletcher said.

“It is particularly pleasing to see NBN broadband complaints reduce by more than one third, especially as the NBN continues to be rolled out at pace with 30,000 to 40,000 additional connections being made each week.”

It’s perhaps a strange time to be spruiking a reduction in complaints about the NBN, when Australians are encountering problems working from home due to network speeds.

The government press release did acknowledge that it’s highly unlikely the decline in complaints will continue into this year.

“The ACMA noted that there is likely to be an increase in future complaints due to COVID-19, as customers may have more difficulty contacting their service provider and as access to properties becomes more uncertain,” the release said.

The telco industry is working together to ensure Australians have good access to the internet through the COVID-19 crisis, Fletcher said.

“Our telecommunications providers are facing unprecedented and challenging circumstances as they work to keep Australians connected at this critical time,” he said.

“The industry is closely coordinating on managing and optimising the mobile and broadband networks in line with increased demand and use, as more and more people work and study at home.
“In these times, there may be some unavoidable impact on customers, such as call centre wait times, and I do ask Australians to be understanding as issues such as these are addressed. Many telcos are boosting their local call centre capacity.”

The NBN and five retail service providers have recently been granted interim authorisation from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to take any necessary measure to keep the network operating effectively during the unfolding coronavirus pandemic.

The organisations have formed a special working group which will allow them to share information, coordinate strategies and manage congestion on the NBN.

“Online services and connections are now more important than ever, as Australians seek to stay productive and engaged, undertake home schooling, telehealth and access other services,” ACCC chair Rod Sims.

“The ability to do all this will also assist people to comply with increasingly strict social distancing measures. As it has with a number of industries already, the ACCC stands ready to assist telecommunications providers with approval of any coordinated measures that are urgent and necessary during this crisis.”

After accepting the authorisation on an interim basis, the ACCC is now seeking feedback on the new powers before they are granted in full.