Regional, rural and remote NBN users are turning to well-connected volunteers to mediate and escalate issues with fixed wireless and Sky Muster connections, leading to calls for a more permanent solution.
Better Internet For Rural, Regional And Remote Australia (BIRRR) used a submission [pdf] to the regional telecommunications review to reveal its growing role in customer support and troubleshooting.
The BIRRR team itself - and its website - rank above both RSPs and NBN Co in helping regional, rural and remote users overcome issues with NBN connections.
The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) didn't make the list of helpful parties.
Those that had called on BIRRR - which is a volunteer group - to have NBN issues fixed said the organisation was able to open doors they couldn’t individually.
They also invariably complained that the onus for troubleshooting and fixing NBN issues was still largely on the end user, and often took up considerable time.
“BIRRR spends a large proportion of time in troubleshooting specific members’ connections,” the organisation said in its submission, published yesterday.
“Our team believe it should not be the role of a volunteer group to assist people in escalating
or solving their issues.
“There is a real need for providers to solve their customers connection issues and for independent technology advice for regional consumers.”
BIRRR welcomed recent moves by both NBN Co and Telstra to address the needs of regional, rural and remote (RRR) Australians separately.
“Recent moves by NBN Co and Telstra to have RRR specific call centres is a very welcome example of how a simple solution like improved customer service can have very positive outcomes,” the organisation said.
“Regional consumers have very different and limited connectivity to metropolitan consumers, and as such their support and customer service needs should be tailored to meet these differences.”
However, BIRRR saw an opportunity for the government to also step in and offer a support and advice service that was independent - or at least at arm's length - from the provider or wholesaler.
It has recommended that the government set up a “regional tech hub to support, advise and
provide relevant information to regional consumers.”
“The tech hub could be modelled on the services and techniques already utilised with success by BIRRR, and should include a call centre, online forum, chat or online support, website and the development of an online tool to help regional users review plans and choose a connection based on their needs for reliability, data, speed and customer service.
“This hub could, where appropriate, interact with and pass on customers to regional providers (who will be encouraged to establish regionally focused support centres.”
BIRRR suggested the hub could be funded through an industry levy, or potentially out of pots of government money allocated to infrastructure funding for regional Australia.
Another option it suggested was that the funds be drawn from “government departments that expect their users to use the internet to conduct business with them, like Centrelink, MyGov, Health, etc.”
Customers in all parts of Australia have long complained of the runaround between NBN Co and RSPs in trying to get connection issues addressed.
NBN Co invested in trying to turn around customer service issues in the back half of last year.
However, that is unlikely to stop the company from being held to much higher standards, with both the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) formulating new service standards.