IA chairman Dr Paul Brooks says the increasing levels of complaints underscores the need to implement the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman's proposal to expand its Terms of Reference2 to explicitly include wholesale suppliers and service intermediaries into its information and investigation processes.
Dr Brooks (below, right) says this would enable the TIO to require wholesale providers, aggregators and other providers to take action to resolve customer issues “instead of fobbing people off onto their retail provider, who is frequently unable to solve a customer’s problem”.
“This is urgent and overdue, and would help hold wholesale network providers to account when their actions impact an end-user customer,” he stressed.
The TIO report found that residential consumers and small businesses made 158,016 complaints about telco services to the TIO in the last financial year between 1 July 2016 and 30 June 2017.
And, in the same 12 months complaints about landline phones, mobile phones and Internet services increased by 41.1%.
But while there’s been a rise in complaints about mobile phones, Internet users suffered even more problems and complaints about services delivered over the NBN, with complaints more than doubling over 12 months.
As Dr Brooks points out, complaints about Internet services have soared 64% to 63,892 in a single year, and now represent more than 40% of all TIO complaints, “more than for landline phones or mobile phones for the first time”.
“This clearly reflects the increasing importance Australians place on their online connectivity, and always-on broadband Internet connectivity is rapidly being considered an essential service just as always-on dial-tone is for telephone lines,” he says.
“Broadband services must be reliable and dependable, particularly as the migration to the NBN pushes fixed-line telephone services into operating over the broadband network.”
Brooks says of particular concern to Internet Australia are the complaints classified as “Faults” and “Connection issues”.
He points to the fact that the proportion of these types of complaints has been steadily rising over the past years. Complaints about service faults have risen from 30.1% of all complaints two years ago to 34.1% last year and increased again to 36.5% in 2016/17.
And complaints about connection problems have risen from 10.5% of complaints two years ago to 14.2% last year and 16.2% in 2016/17.
Dr Brooks also raises serious issues about the NBN, which IA has criticised consistently.
“With NBN services, even accounting for the large increase in service volumes, complaints about service faults and about new connections have both almost doubled in just six months,” he says.
“The massive jump in complaints, particularly for Internet services, should be a serious concern for the entire industry and for the regulators that oversee it. Retail and wholesale providers must lift their game and coordinate better together - customers and end-users cannot be expected to troubleshoot a faulty service, or project-manage a connection attempt. The rate of ‘correct first time’ installations and repairs must improve.
“Most of the TIO complaint types, such as for ‘customer service’ or ‘billing and payment’ issues, are generally limited to the interaction between customer and their retail provider, and the retail provider should take responsibility and fix their processes – these are within the traditional TIO remit.
“Connections and faults, however, often require an increasingly complex chain of retail and wholesale relationships, contracts and providers to get right, particularly with the NBN and wholesale aggregators in the mix. Retail providers often have no control over the quality of the work performed by their wholesale suppliers, or other wholesale suppliers down the chain – including the contractors who work at the customer’s office or house.”
Dr Brooks concludes: “Internet Australia notes the recent round-table meeting held between government, NBN Co and some of the larger providers to address systemic NBN migration problems is a belated step in the right direction, but far too late to help large numbers of customers during this peak migration period, as any improvements in processes will take significant time to become effective.”