The government has announced it will stage a three-part review of consumer safeguards in the telecommunications sector.
The announcement comes as new figures from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman reveal an almost 29 per cent year-on-year increase in complaints reported to the TIO in the second half of 2017 , including 204 per cent growth in NBN-related complaints.
The government said the review will focus on ensuring consumers have access to an effective complaints-handling and redress scheme and access to reliable telco services including “reasonable timeframes for connections, fault repairs and appointments”.
The government said the third part of the review will focus on ensuring consumers are able to make informed choices and are treated fairly when it comes to issues such as customer service, contracts, billing, credit and debt management, and switching providers.
“The TIO’s six-monthly update report released today shows that the existing model for complaints handling and redress is not working,” communications minister Senator Mitch Fifield said in a statement.
“Customers are continuing to experience poor service, and are unable to get their service provider to satisfactorily resolve issues.”
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is currently consulting on the introduction of new complaints-handling rules for telcos that offer services over the NBN.
The communications regulator last month published research indicating a significant portion of NBN-connected households were unhappy with how their complaints have been handled.
The ACMA research revealed that among households that made an NBN-related complaint and had it resolved, almost a quarter were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with how it was handled.
Earlier this month it launched a consultation on additional regulations to protect consumers during the migration to the National Broadband Network.
Shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland said that Labor was “very concerned that NBN complaints are growing at double the rate of new activations.”
“We hope to see a significant improvement in the next reporting period, because it’s clear that current trends are unsustainable and consumers have had enough of the blame game,” Rowland said.
“NBN needs to accelerate its efforts to address the root cause of problems. Regulators and the TIO need to ensure all parties in the supply chain are accountable for their performance.”
The CEO of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), Teresa Corbin, said that the TIO figures showed there was an urgent need for reform in the sector.
“Continuing high numbers of complaints shine a spotlight on weak consumer protections that have existed in telecommunications for some time,” the CEO said.
“This is upheld by the fact complaint number increases are across the board in mobile, fixed line phones and broadband services.”
“In addition to the new retail measures the government is currently working on, we’ve been calling for reform at a wholesale level, that guarantees timeframes for connections, fault repairs and appointment keeping by NBN, as well as reliability performance measures,” Corbin said. “Retailers can’t deliver good customer service without end to end network guarantees. The right rules have to apply at all levels of the delivery chain.”
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission last year said it would scruitinise NBN’s wholesale service standard levels. The ACCC is considering whether it needs to use its regulatory powers to create new rules around the company’s wholesale service standards.
The director, program management, for Communications Alliance, Christiane Gillespie-Jones, said the telco industry was dealing with significant disruption caused in part by the migration to the NBN but the high level of complaints was still disappointing.
“Industry – including service providers and NBN – are working intensely on a range of measures to improve the overall consumer experience,” she said.
“Some initiatives around broadband speeds are bearing fruit already and we are pleased to see that the speeds customers are receiving – even during peak hour – are often exceeding the promised speeds, as evidenced in the recent ACCC Broadband Speed Monitoring Report.
“Having said that, we acknowledge that further efforts in various areas of customer engagement across service types are required to better address customers’ needs and to ensure that initial positive signs turn into a sustained trend of an improved overall customer experience.”