Non-NBN broadband, NBN voice services fare poorly in ACMA complaints report

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has released its first snapshot of telecommunications complaints data as part of a number of ACMA measures to tackle rising dissatisfaction with broadband and phone services.

Although data released by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has revealed an alarming rise in NBN-related complaints over the last few years, an ACMA report published today and covering the two quarters between July and December 2018 reveal that telco providers received proportionally more complaints about non-NBN broadband services. NBN voice services, however, fared poorly in the ACMA data.

(The nature of the NBN means that it can be difficult to determine from data released by the ACMA and TIO whether a complaint about a service relates to the access network operated by NBN Co or to the component of a broadband service that a retail service provider (RSP) is responsible for.)

In the three months to September 2018, data released by ACMA shows it received 201 complaints per 10,000 services in operation (SIO) for NBN broadband services. That dropped to 199 per 10,000 in the three months to the end of December 2018.

When it came to non-NBN fixed broadband, telcos covered by the report received 204 complaints per 10,000 SIO in the July-September period, rising to 331 per 10,000 SIO in the subsequent quarter.

NBN voice-only services, however, generated a significantly higher number of complaints: 803 per 10,000 SIO, dropping to 490 per 10,000 SIO, compared to 98 and 90 for non-NBN fixed line voice services.

When it came to NBN Co’s mix of access technologies, fibre to the curb (FTTC) recorded the highest number of complaints, at 547 per 10,000 SIO (compared to 246 for FTTB, 226 for HFC, 216 for FTTN, 185 for fixed wireless, 141 for FTTP, and 57 for satellite).

However, the ACMA cautioned that the data “shows that the higher rate of complaints about FTTC connections in the September 2018 and December 2018 quarters was attributable to only a few of the 30 reporting providers.”

FTTC is also the newest of the NBN technologies: NBN Co only began its commercial launch of FTTC in April 2018.

“At the end of the December 2018 quarter, FTTC accounted for 1.5 per cent of SIOs delivered over the NBN,” the ACMA reported said. “It may be inferred that the relative newness of this technology contributed to the high rate of complaints.”

The ACMA data is based on telco providers with 30,000 or more services in operation. The ACMA said that in the December quarter telcos covered by the report received more than 448,000 complaints, up 12.7 per cent from almost 398,000 in the prior quarter. Over the two quarters complaints per 10,000 services rose 10.2 per cent to 108.

“The high level of complaints reported for voice-only services delivered by telcos over the NBN is of real concern as they are critical to the most vulnerable in our community,” said ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin.

“The ACMA will be taking a close interest in efforts by telcos to deal with the cause of these complaints.”

Prior to the ACMA initiative, regular telco complaints data was primarily available from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman; however, the TIO only captured complaints that were escalated to it, rather than all complaints made to a provider of telecommunications services.

“The telecommunications sector is undergoing rapid change – more than 600,000 premises were activated on the NBN during the reporting period,” said communications minister Paul Fletcher.

“Telco customers deserve to have their complaints dealt with quickly. This report builds a clearer picture of complaints across the industry and provides a baseline for future trends. This will help Australia’s telcos to further focus on improving the customer experience.”

Consumer advocacy group the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) said the ACMA data revealed the need for greater reliability safeguards.

More than a quarter of the complaints about NBN broadband in the December quarter related to faults. ‘Connection’ issues were responsible for about 10 per cent of complaints and speed for about 7 per cent. For NBN voice-only services, faults were cited in almost 35 per cent of complaints. (In both categories ‘other’ was the most common category for complaints).

“When people buy a product or service, they rightly expect it to work as promised. It’s simply unacceptable for the millions of Australians who are connected to essential communications services to be left waiting for days on end without the service they have paid for,” said ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin. “Consumers should have a right to reliability.”

Mobile services rise

The data reveals a drop in voice-only and non-mobile broadband services . Voice, including both fixed voice and NBN voice-only, declined 6.3 per cent to about 4.14 million services, and broadband services declined 3.2 per cent in the last quarter of 2019 to 6.95 million. Mobile services, in contrast, rose 3.4 per cent to 30.06 million.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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