TIO reports for the first time on NBN complaints

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TIO reports for the first time on NBN complaints

Connection delays top list, while excess mobile data charges dominate overall.

Delays in connecting users to the national broadband network dominated the first set of NBN-related complaints reported by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

The TIO released figures on NBN-related complaints for the first time in its most recent annual report, published today.

The Ombudsman revealed 3982 complaints were made overall regarding the NBN during the 2013-14 financial year, with 1122 internet users and 783 landline customers complaining of delays to new connections.

More than 500 NBN users reported missed appointments, while 571 users experienced fully unusable services, the TIO revealed.

The majority of the complaints - 98 percent of the 3982 - were made across more than 50 different retail service providers: only 57 complaints related specifically to NBN Co, the TIO said, and these generally involved damage to property.

Additionally, a further 364 enquiries were made to the TIO as to how to make a complaint about an NBN-related issue.

At the start of the TIO's reporting period, the NBN had 70,100 active users across new and existing developments, satellite and wireless services. At the end of the fiscal year, NBN Co reported 213,814 activated premises.

NBN complaints made up 2.9 per cent of all new complaints across the telecommunications sector for the year, the TIO reported.

Ombudsman Simon Cohen said the number of NBN complaints increased each quarter over the fiscal year, which he called "predictable" given the increased rollout.

“A theme in these complaints has been communication breakdown, with consumers often reporting that they don’t know who to turn to solve their problem," he said.

Complaints fell within two categories - communications breakdown (where a consumer claimed they weren't informed about a cancelled appointment, and a provider claimed not to have received enough notice from NBN Co); and availability information not matching a customer's circumstances.

Cohen said NBN-related complaints were difficult to resolve, and accounted for more than 18 percent of all TIO investigations. The agency undertook 98 NBN-related investigations and 800 conciliations. 

“Resolving these complaints often takes time, and it can prove very difficult to put connections back on track when something goes wrong,” he said.

“The TIO has established a specialised NBN team in 2014, and is trialling new procedures to increase the cooperation between service providers and NBN Co to solve consumer complaints.”

NBN Co was contacted for comment.

Excess data charges top list

Overall, the TIO received 138,946 complaints for the year, down 12 percent on the previous fiscal year. This was the lowest number of new complaints in six years, a result of less issues with mobile coverage and customer service.

However, the most common cause of complaints was excess data charges, which experienced a 27 percent growth in reported issues for the fiscal year.

Most of the 14,534 issues reported related to excess data charges on mobile services.

More than half the complaints about excess data charges involved a disputed amount of $440 or more.

Seven complaints involved amounts greater than $50,000, the TIO said, while the highest came in at $76,103.

"The increase in complaints about excess data charges comes at a time of increased use of data services on mobile devices and networks, and ongoing improvements to mobile networks and devices that allow consumers to download data more quickly."

- TIO annual report

The ongoing investments into telecommunications networks by Vodafone, Telstra and Optus paid off, with the TIO reporting a significant drop in mobile coverage complaints for each company.

Vodafone has struggled significantly in recent years with mobile coverage issues, but complaints about its network - in which it has invested heavily since the Vodafail movement starting 2009 - fell 58 percent to 8143 in the last financial year.

Optus also recorded a 60 percent drop in mobile coverage complaints (to 1623), and issues about Telstra's mobile coverage fell by 19 percent to 1526.

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