The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman is trying to get access to NBN Co’s core systems to automatically match complaints it receives to the last-mile access technology being used.
Such a system would add significant rigour to the ombudsman’s growing store of data on the NBN user experience, and allow for a deeper understanding of NBN-related complaints being made.
But an independent review of the TIO [pdf] has also warned that the ombudsman risks being further thrust into a role of “overseeing the rollout or performance of the NBN” when this should remain the responsibility of government.
The TIO admitted earlier this year that it does not track NBN complaints in much detail, and that it did not record what type of last-mile access technology a complainant had, because they often did not know themselves.
That came after requests from parliamentarians from the joint committee on the NBN for the data, since neither the government nor NBN Co has been particularly forthcoming on releasing their own numbers.
iTnews has previously sought a similar breakdown of NBN complaints data collected by the TIO, without success.
It has now emerged that the TIO is trying to match complaints data with NBN access type, though it appears the early efforts have been difficult.
“The TIO has asked NBN Co about the feasibility of an automated system-to-system enquiry of NBN Co’s database to obtain information about the technology utilised for national broadband services (fibre to the node, fibre to the premises, HFC cable, wireless, satellite),” an independent report into the TIO states.
“Early signs are, however, that this is unlikely to happen in the near future.”
The TIO had attempted to dissuade parliamentarians against the data matching exercise, because it could place the ombudsman in a “supervisory” role of the NBN that was outside its remit.
The firm that reviewed the TIO’s operations - CKR - in part backed up these concerns.
“There is an expectation that the TIO’s complaints data will help to shine a light on consumer experience of the national broadband network in the interests of public sector accountability,” the review said.
“From our review, it is evident that many smaller telecommunications providers also share that expectation.
“While in our view, there is great value to be had from the TIO’s unique experience and data, we recognise that there are significant constraints upon the TIO’s ability to respond to these expectations of government, politicians, media, regulators and, to a lesser extent, telecommunications providers.”
NBN analysis 'overdue'
However, CKR said the TIO did have a role “to interrogate its own data with a view to identifying potentially systemic issues” around the NBN.
“So far as we understand, this has not happened in relation to national broadband network complaints and in our view, this is overdue,” it said.
The TIO reports annually on “systemic issues” it identifies by looking across its complaints data.
However, despite rising complaints numbers, no systemic issues were identified with NBN Co.
The independent review questioned why missed appointments by NBN contractors is not a “systemic issue”, based on the large number of complaints in the TIO data.
It said the TIO had raised the issue with NBN Co but not formally called it out in its reporting.
“The reasons driving the large numbers of these is what we believe a systemic issues investigation should have inquired into, so as to ascertain whether in fact NBN Co’s processes are adequate to address its obligations and, if not, what improvements should be made to minimise future complaints,” CKR said.
The review also said the TIO had not conducted any “follow up monitoring of complaints
about NBN Co missed appointments to ascertain whether procedural changes agreed to by NBN Co has reduced the flow of complaints to the TIO".
Making NBN Co pay
One of the more intriguing recommendations by the independent review is to begin charging NBN Co - and indeed any wholesaler - if they are the root cause of rising complaints.
The TIO has already altered how it is able to engage with a wholesaler to deal with complaints, but it appears more could come of this effort with respect to the NBN.
Presently, retail service providers (RSPs) incur fees from the TIO to resolve complaints from their customers.
However, the review noted that it may be time for a new charging model in a situation where a wholesaler’s actions were causing many problems downstream.
The review recommends levying “a complaint fee on a carrier or wholesaler joined as a party to a complaint to at least partly cover the TIO’s costs of dealing with the carrier or wholesaler and to provide the carrier or wholesaler with an incentive to resolve the complaint and prevent complaint fees escalating for the retail services provider".
That incentive to act is important: CKR found smaller RSPs were being swamped by TIO fees that they did not have the “commercial muscle” to recover from their wholesale supplier.
In some cases, it said, the complaint fees paid were higher than the revenue earned from the end user.
The TIO said it would reserve changes to its charging model.
“The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman will consider the approach to fees for involving other parties in a complaint once the funding review is concluded in the first half of 2018,” it said in response to the review.