Wednesday, 20 May 2020 11:44

Complaints about faulty phones, Internet services dominate Ombudsman report Featured

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Residential consumers and small businesses made 32,441 complaints about phone and Internet services to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) over three months between January to March this year - with a massive 70% of the complaints coming from users not having a working phone or Internet service.

The TIO says that while the comparison of the total number of complaints for the three months, against the same period in 2019, shows a decline of almost 14%, complaints about phone and Internet services increased 13% against the second quarter of 2020.

This data is highlighted in the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s third quarter 2020 complaints report published on Wednesday.

The TIO complaints report also drew comment from telecoms lobby group Communications Alliance and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) which said the report “suggests that telcos need a customer service shake-up as consumers continue to deal with no or delayed action”.

ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin said that nearly a third (31%) of complaints escalated to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) by between January and March 2020 “related to issues with no or delayed action from telecommunications providers”, and “an additional 11% of complaints had a resolution agreed to by the telco and consumers, but not met”.

“While we acknowledge that the natural disasters of summer 2019-2020 placed extraordinary demands upon the telecommunications networks, this has been an ongoing issue for consumers for a long time,” Corbin said.

“If there are legitimate reasons for a delay in fixing a consumer’s phone or Internet problem, it’s important that telcos are communicating this openly and often so that their customers can understand what the problem is, and when they can expect it to be addressed.”

Communications Alliance CEO, John Stanton said “ultimately, and as noted in the ACMA’s recent report on the 2019-20 bushfires, network outages were overwhelmingly due to loss of mains electricity, rather than fire damage”.

“The scale of the bushfire tragedy was unprecedented and put enormous pressure on telecommunications networks. Carriers worked around the clock to keep people connected, deploying additional generators and bringing in various technologies to provide temporary services in affected areas”, Stanton said.

“Q3 has historically had the highest number of complaints to the TIO, and despite the impact of these natural disasters, we are encouraged that this is the lowest number of complaints for Q3 in 3 years.

“Unfortunately, the devastating bushfires and floods are not the only crises facing Australians this year. As noted by the TIO, this report does not reflect the impacts of COVID-19, as those impacts began at the end of the quarter. Industry is working closely with the TIO, regulators, and Government to support Australians to stay connected through this crisis.”

The TIO report published on Wednesday reveals that complaints about not having a working phone or Internet service increased almost 70% from the previous quarter - while complaints about this issue were also high in Q3 2019, with the increase in Q3 2020 “coinciding with extreme weather events that appeared to have a greater impact on NSW consumers in February and March”.

The TIO says complaints about Internet services increased 22% from the previous quarter, and when compared to Q3 2019, Internet service complaints decreased by 18%.

There report also shows that there was an increase in complaints from residential consumers of almost 14% compared to the previous quarter, and for residential consumers, problems with missed appointments replaced complaints about termination fees in the top 10 issues.

Meanwhile, complaints from small businesses increased 8% against the previous quarter, with the top 10 issues impacting small businesses remaining unchanged from Q2 - with poor customer service, issues with a bill, and faults and connections problems continuing to be the most complained about issues by small businesses. 

“The resilience of Australia’s phone and Internet services has been tested in 2020. During the devastation of the bushfires, remaining connected to family, friends and community was critical to our safety,” said Ombudsman Judi Jones

“While the COVID-19 pandemic did not impact Australia until the end of the quarter, it has also highlighted our need for reliable phone and Internet services,” Jones said.

“Telco issues we could accept before the pandemic have shifted significantly. Confined to our homes, we are working, running our small businesses, educating children, and keeping in touch with family and friends. Our lives are happening in the digital space and it is our phone and Internet services that allow this to happen.

“During this time, the cooperation between government, the phone and Internet providers, NBN Co and the regulators has been extraordinary, and we continue our collaboration to address the issues we’re seeing in our data. I urge all parties to maintain their focus on keeping people and small businesses connected, and ensuring they have access to financial hardship programs.

“My message to residential consumers and small businesses remains the same. If you are experiencing problems with your phone or Internet, or you’re having trouble paying a bill, contact your provider as early as possible to try to fix the problem. If your problem does not get fixed contact us, we’re here to help.”

The TIO lists complaint highlights for Q3 2020 as:

  • 32,441 complaints were received from residential consumers and small businesses
  • Down 13.7% against the same period in 2019.
  • Up 13% against the previous quarter.
  • In the top 10 issues in complaints, “No phone or Internet service” increased almost 70% against the previous quarter.
  • Internet was the most complained about service type for quarter 3.
  • "Missed appointment" appeared in the top 10 issues for residential consumers, replacing "Termination fees".
  • Faults and connection complaints made up 50.3% of complaints for the period, compared to 47.1% in Q2. Internet, landline, and multiple services delivered over non-NBN networks saw greater growth in faults and connections issues.  
  • “Number problem due to a connection, disconnection or transfer” dropped out of top 10 issues that came back unresolved after referral to the provider, replaced by “Bill unclear or not received”.
  • Boost Tel dropped out of the top 10 providers replaced by Primus Telecom

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired and is a "volunteer" writer for iTWire. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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