AUSTRALIAN broadband services are in disarray as the telecommunication industry’s peak body revealed complaints about internet access skyrocketed 64 per cent this year, and outnumbered mobile phone gripes for the first time.
A soaring number of complaints about faults and delays to National Broadband Network services helped fuel the trend, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman annual report revealed, though complaints across the communications industry surged by more than 40 per cent compared to last year.
Despite the huge influx in complaints, Ombudsman Judi Jones said consumer frustration with telecommunications services was even higher as complaints made to the TIO were a last resort, only lodged after communications with providers broke down.
“It takes a lot of energy to pursue a complaint so people don’t do it for one bad experience. It tends to be when things have gone wrong repeatedly, or when there’s a mixture of issues,” Ms Jones said.
“With the changes in the industry, maybe providers have taken their eye off the consumer-service ball.”
READ MORE: NBN under review over ‘speed and performance issues’
Australians lodged more than 158,000 complaints about poor telecommunications experiences in the financial year to June — up from almost 112,000 last year — including 64,892 complaints about internet services alone.
Ms Jones said this year was the first time broadband services attracted more complaints than mobile phone issues, and demonstrated Australians’ growing reliance on the technology.
“We are much more dependent on internet services now so we get frustrated when things aren’t going well,” she said.
“We wouldn’t put up with the speed of a dial-up modem any more.”
Complaints about NBN services surged at an even higher rate, soaring 159 per cent over the year, with most complaints about faults and connection delays.
Ms Jones said the TIO had expected a rise in NBN complaints as more households and businesses connected to the network but called the scale of grievances “a concerning trend”.
“First consumers complain about difficulties getting connected and, once connected, it turns into complaints about a fault, or perhaps about speed,” she said.
“The NBN is a very complex project and there are lots of opportunities for things to go wrong.”
In a statement, NBN Co said the increase in complaints was “regrettable” but came as the network connected more than one million premises over the past six months.
“It is important to note that no large-scale construction project has ever been problem-free,” the statement read.
“We are working with retail service providers and industry as a priority to improve these figures and the overall experience for customers.”
The TIO report showed most complaints centred on customer service, followed by billing, faults, and complaints handling.
Ms Jones said the office also identified 43 “systemic issues” within the telecommunications industry, and dealt with privacy issues including a case in which a carrier sent details of a woman’s new services to her violent ex-partner despite explicit requests not to do so.
The carrier later paid for her relocation.
The TIO also found New South Wales residents lodged the greatest number of complaints but South Australia had the greatest rise in reports, at 51 per cent, followed by Western Australia, at 49 per cent.
Telstra attracted the greatest number of complaints about providers, at 76,650, though it also had the greatest number of customers, while complaints about iiNet services increased the most, at 79 per cent.
Despite the surge in complaints, the peak body representing carriers claimed complaints had dropped in the months following the report, between July and September this year.
Communications Alliance chief executive John Stanton said its figures showed complaints fell from 9 in 10,000 services to 8.3.
“The industry is dealing with significant disruption that has been difficult for some customers and has generated worrying increases in complaint levels for the past 12 months,” he said.
“Industry, including service providers and the NBN, are working intensely on a range of customer, service, and process initiatives to improve the overall customer experience.”
TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPLAINTS 2016-2017
158,016 complaints, up from 111,949 last year
NBN complaints up 159% this year
Internet service complaints made up 40%
Mobile phone service complaints made up 33%
Landline phone complaints made up 26%
COMPLAINTS BY STATE
New South Wales: 50,537 complaints, up 43 per cent, most complaints from Campbelltown
Victoria: 43,565, up 41 per cent, most complaints from Hoppers Crossing
Queensland: 28,988, up 42 per cent, most complaints from Toowoomba
Western Australia: 13,623, up 49 per cent, most complaints from Mandurah
South Australia: 12,526, up 51 per cent, most complaints from Paralowie
Tasmania: 2964, up 38 per cent, most complaints from Launceston
Australian Capital Territory: 2612, up 42.3%, most complaints from MacGregor
Northern Territory: 1043, up 29%, most complaints from Alice Springs
COMPLAINTS BY PROVIDER
Telstra: 76,650 complaints, up 43 per cent
Optus: 28,766 complaints, up 31 per cent
Vodafone: 10,684 complaints, up 37 per cent
iiNet: 10,170 complaints, up 79 per cent
TPG: 6,995 complaints, up 44 per cent
Dodo: 3309 complaints, up 1.1 per cent
Virgin Mobile: 1354 complaints, down 11 per cent