Aussie ISPs and telcos warned to overhaul consumer protection rules

Advocacy group, ACCAN, issues the warning following a telco customer survey

Australian ISPs and telcos have been put on notice that they must lift customer service standards following a call from the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) that consumer protection rules be overhauled.

ACCAN's call, which also seeks a thorough inspection of whether the current self-regulatory system is working in the best interests of consumers, follows the release of a survey of its members into the state of ISP and telco customer service.

According to the survey, excessive periods spent on hold, multiple internal transfers and poor communication skills by front line staff are major concerns held of Australian telecommunication customers.

ACCAN acting chief executive officer, Teresa Corbin, said the results showed customers were “fed up” with the way they were treated by their service providers.

“Customers are forced to endure long periods spent on hold and being transferred from operator to operator,” Corbin said. “Add to that the frustration experienced by a customer who cannot make themselves understood or understand the person at the other end of the line.”

Corbin said that consumers blamed management, rather than call centre staff, for not providing adequate training for staff and for not giving these staff the authority to resolve simple issues.

The call follows hotly on the heals of a report compiled by the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre from the University of NSW which also found the Australian communications sector’s complaints process is “unacceptable”

“Time’s up for the telcos,” Corbin said. “We’re very hopeful that the ACMA’s customer service inquiry will bring about real change so that the past dark decade or so of appalling customer service can be consigned to history.”

The call will come as no surprise to Telstra (ASX:TLS) with the company’s chief executive, David Thodey, noting in June that the telco’s need to become more focused on its customers, a shift he said could take as long as five years.

The Australian Telecommunications User Group (ATUG) has also been vocal in its calls for the telco sector to lift its customer service.

In June, the ATUG claimed the take-up of services on the National Broadband Network (NBN) could potentially be hindered by poor telecommunications customer service and the high level of consumer complaints it has received in recent years.

ATUG managing director, Rosemary Sinclair, said she expected the problems to magnify under the NBN.

“The industry assures me I’m worrying about nothing... but if consumers have been burnt so far, it is going to make them uncertain about the NBN and take-up will be less than required to ensure that transformation and productivity,” Sinclair said.

“I think there needs to be a rethink of the role of the TIO [Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman] which is a statute that has been in place for a long time. The cost-benefit equation may be better if the industry puts a bit of money into the TIO without having to invest so much into fixing customer service problems.”

Despite this, the TIO in July flagged accessibility as a major focus with the appointment of new TIO, Simon Cohen, and claimed new technologies were needed to ensure the telco sector complaints were handled.

Tags customer serviceaccanISPsatugtelcos

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"rethink the role of the TIO"

How about having an Ombudsman that isn't bias to the customer.

The lack of personal responsibility for poor planning or failing to actually look at what they are signing up for is beyond a joke.

Granted there are issues with quality of information from first and second level Call Centre staff. However in a game of cost cutting to improve margin, there is a preference of AHT over quality.

With such complex products, customer education becomes hard when the subject's are generally not tech savy or just plain stupid.



ISPs could go a long way just by having call centres in Australia instead of making their customers talk to someone overseas with a poor grasp of the English language.

Peter Carabot


Unless a call centre is in Australia and I can understand clearly the person at the other end I either change carrier or call a dealer that can help me. Recently I must have got lucky, every time I had to ring Telstra the cue was no more then a couple of minutes and the person I ended up talking to was courteous very helpful and well mannered.
One of the ISP that we use for work on the other hand had me screaming in the phone within 10 minutes. Guess what no longer our ISP.....
The various assorted plans and combinations that they have are designed to confuse and to avoid scrutiny, after trying to make head or tail of 10 or 20 "plans" from different brands that use different Jargon you end up with a page full of numbers and none the wiser!!! In the end you end up ringing a dealer and signing up with whoever they recommend!! For NBN is going to be the same thing ...........SSDD



You are on the wrong track when you blame lack of training etc Front line people are well trained. It's the KPi's that force operators to transfer calls and other things....get rid of KPI's and you will have the best Customer Service in the World.
KPi's and Customer Service don't mix

Jahm Mitt


I had an account with internode, and they disconnected me without warning over $16, then people in the accounts department told me to check my email.... and they refused to escalate my call; and when I said, "Enoughs enough" - and moved to another carrier - they sent my account to a debt collector....

There will be repercussions for this.



Its just a matter that you can't have it both ways.

TIO is heavily biased towards customers at the moment. Most customers escape any sort or responsiblity. Anyone in the game will tell you that.

Next, you can't expect operators to be a jack of all trades and be the best of everything. The money just isn't there to hold onto experienced people for too long and management way to rigid to make the workplace a comfortable place to be.

I can't see any of this changing anytime soon.

Gary Khol


You were refered to your E-mails I believe because of the 30 day notification of transfer or disconnection, it is standard operating practise for companies in this situation.

It does not make the experience pleasent I grant you, but it is a legal formality and within the rules.



Unfortunately, those operators have to deal with customers are completely incompetent themselves, and are beyond helping, and they are the ones that do the most complaining. Just speaking with a friend of my mother the other week reaffirms this, she was ranting and raving about how they couldn't help her, but in reality, it was nothing but her compete incompetency that was stopping her from performing the tasks on the computer, despite me showing her numerous times how to do it.

ISP Worker


Consumers should have to get an Internet licence before they can get an account with an ISP.

Also, have any of the consumers who complain about lack of service etc... actually ever worked in an ISP call center? You try getting paid slightly above minimum wage and being abused by customer after customer (mainly due to the customers incompetence).

The major complaints in the ISP's appear to be lead times for connections or fault resolution. These lead times can be easily explained. It is Telstra's fault for any lengthy lead times for a PSTN (Copper Network) based connection.

Telstra doesn't want to allow competitors access to the Copper Network (phone lines, telephone exchanges and back haul connections), and therefore make it as difficult as legally possible (sometimes you can question the legally part).

They also will not wholesale their own equipment at a reasonably competitive price and recently reduced their Bigpond plan prices below the wholesale price. Therefore being extremely anti-competitive. The only loser of Telstra Wholesale being privately owned is the end user.

Bring on the NBN. Unfortunately with an incompetent Labor Government to build it.



Consumers & Govt expectations are a joke. Talk about bias.

Reduced prices & reduced margins do not equate to increased training and better service. This is economics 101; seriously how do consumers & govt expect better service with plummeting prices without something necessarily giving way (ie service)????

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UPDATED: 4G in Australia: The state of the nation