Here's why the NBN is right to hose down news of 'complaints doubling'

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

More Australians than ever are having to escalate their phone and internet complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, the latest numbers reveal.

The ombudsman received 65,970 complaints during the six months ending December 31. This was up 5.3% from the preceding half-year but, more alarmingly, was a 33.8% increase from the same period in 2015.

Even among the overall rise in dissatisfaction, internet services saw the biggest spike in complaints – seeing a 53.6% increase year-on-year to hit 24,641 cases. Mobile phone complaints saw a 18.8% increase, while landline complaints were up 32%.

Home and business consumers can turn to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman when they find a dispute cannot be resolved directly with their phone or internet provider. Once the TIO contacts the telco with a case, the company has a certain period to respond and resolve the issue before direct intervention from the ombudsman kicks in.

The TIO has the power to collect documents relevant to any complaint and make a final decision on an issue.

“We have the authority to decide the resolution of a complaint (that the telecommunications company is legally obliged to implement) up to $50,000, and make recommendations up to $100,000,” the TIO states on its website.

The ombudsman’s six-monthly report showed that customer service and billing complaints were the most common topics of fury in the second half of 2016, with the cases spread out against 324 different phone and internet providers.

But wait…

Complaints regarding the National Broadband Network went up by just 6.8% from the first half of 2016 but 117.5% from the previous year. However, the TIO says this rate of increase is lower than the rate of new premises that are being connected to the NBN.

The NBN agreed with that interpretation, hailing the latest number of ombudsman complaints as a “downward trend” of 30% after “taking into account the increase in the number of active services”.

“With about 30,000 households and businesses being connected to services over the NBN network every week, an increase in the individual number of issues reported to the TIO reflects the acceleration of the rollout,” said NBN chief customer officer John Simon.

“However, from an NBN perspective, we need to continue to improve the consumer experience as we further ramp up.”

The NBN, as the new universal communications infrastructure network, is set to completely replace the existing copper network that landline telephones and many home broadband connections rely on. The organisation stated a goal in January that 5.4 million premises, equivalent to just under 50% coverage, would have the NBN available by the midpoint of this year.

It’s aiming for 9 million by June 2018, while the government has imposed an ultimate deadline of end of 2020 for all 11.9 million premises.

“That is exactly why NBN is working in collaboration with retail service providers to better educate consumers and business owners about how to get the best experience possible from their internet connection while also improving end to end processes,” Simon said on Wednesday.

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