Complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) about NBN service quality dropped from 4.1 per thousand premises to 2.1 per thousand premises in the space of 12 months.
The TIO today released figures on complaints made to it by consumers and small businesses during the second half of last year. In the six-month period to December 2017, the TIO received 14,000 complaints relating to NBN service quality; in the corresponding ending December 2018 it received just under 9700 complaints.
At the end of 2017 around 3.4 million premises were connected to the network. By the end of December 2018, some 4.7 million were connected.
Overall, complaints to the TIO dropped 27.7 per cent in the second half of 2018 to just under 61,000 compared to the corresponding period in 2017. However, the ombudsman sounded a note of caution: “While I am pleased complaints decreased in the period, this report is a snapshot in a much more complex story,” Judi Jones said.
“The final quarter of this reporting period showed a slight increase in complaints about internet services against the general downward trend. This shows the telecommunications sector must continue to focus on meeting the needs of the residential consumers and small businesses that are increasingly reliant on being connected to phone and internet services.”
Jones said the drop in NBN-related complaints was “encouraging,” adding that the TIO is continuing to “work with phone and internet service providers, the telco industry, and regulators to address issues as they arise and to improve the customer experience.”
Teresa Corbin, the chief executive of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), said that regulatory action appeared to have had a significant effect on complaints.
Corbin said the TIO report “shows that NBN service quality complaints per thousand premises added to the network have nearly halved year-on-year” — potentially due the introduction of the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s NBN Line Testing Determination, introduced in late September 2018.
“As we head towards 2020 with the aim of connecting every Australian household to the NBN, it’s positive to see that steps such as these by the ACMA are making a difference to consumers’ NBN experience,” the ACCAN CEO said.
She said that the level of complaints still indicated that more work needs to be done, however.
An NBN Co spokesperson said the company was pleased by the overall decrease in NBN complaints.
In addition to fewer complaints about service quality, complaints about connecting to the new network or changing provider dropped by more than half compared to the last six months of 2017.
“The total number of complaints about services delivered over the NBN access network as a proportion of all premises connected to the network equates to less than 1 per cent,” the spokesperson said.
“While we welcome the decline in the number of complaints, we acknowledge one complaint is one too many. To this end, we are continuing to improve our installation and fault restoration processes to help residents and businesses with the transition over to the NBN access network.”
The CEO of industry group Communications Alliance, John Stanton, said that although the telco sector welcomed the fall in complaint volumes the results “do not represent ‘job done’, by any means.”
“Industry recognises that there are still challenges to overcome and that we are still in the middle of an accelerating national network rollout – with multiple partners in the supply chain - that inevitably generates a degree of disruption and a level of customer complaints,” Stanton said.
Communications Alliance recently submitted a significantly revised Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code to the ACMA, which the group says will enhance protections for consumers and small businesses.
The government has been pushing for wide-ranging changes to telco complaints handling.