Today’s hearing of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has demonstrated that the Turnbull Government process for dealing with communications issues is simply not working.
It is clear that the TIO does not have the powers or framework it needs to be an effective complaints handling body to respond to the rollout of the National Broadband Network.
Evidence to the Joint NBN Committee by the Ombudsman, Ms Judi Jones is that NBN complaints are expected to double this year.
The rollout of the National Broadband Network with its separation of network operator and retail services is a new experience for Australia.
While Members of Parliament and Senators are being flooded with complaints about customers being bounced between NBN and their Retail Service Provider – the Turnbull Government is turning a blind eye to the growing crisis in customer service.
It’s time for the government to step up and ensure there is some accountability. At present, neither NBN Co or the RSPs are willing to take responsibility for resolving the matter.
It is being left to volunteer groups, like Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia (BIRRR) to fill the void for customers.
It is also of concern that the TIO is not collecting the data that matters. The TIO told the Committee today that even though it could, it doesn’t differentiate between the different technology types.
Even this simple mechanism could be easily and quickly remedied by the Minister. However, Senator Fifield is missing in action.
With a range of technology being rolled out as part of the NBN, from satellite, fixed wireless, HFC, FTTN, FTTC etc – it is vitally important that technology is factored in.
The government cannot hope to address systemic, technology-specific issues if it isn’t even asking TIO to collect the data that identifies these.
The TIO does not even have the powers to get NBN and Retail Service Providers in the same room to discuss systemic issues. All they can do is to ask nicely – but have their request rejected.
Regional Australia is bearing the brunt of this. If you have a look at the top ten postcodes for NBN complaints, they are nearly all in regional Australia.
More than a quarter of new complaints in 2015-2016 to the TIO came from regional and rural Australia, a big six per cent increase.
The figures in the most recent TIO Annual Report are of deep concern and confirm the myriad issues that are being reported to MPs offices every week.
According to the TIO, the most common issues consumers have raised are faults, such as slow data speeds, unusable services and drop outs.
The TIO recorded 7,480 fault issues for NBN services – making up 38.5% of internet and landline issues recorded in 2015-16 – a massive 147.8 per cent increase on the previous year.
In addition, complaints about NBN connections rose by 63.2 per cent. NBN complaints now represent 11.9 per cent of all new complaints to the TIO.
At the same time, the TIO told the Committee it has reduced its staff level by 25 per cent, leaving it without the resources to do the task that is needed.
With their poor substitute NBN and lack of TIO powers, the Turnbull Government are leaving Australians stranded, left to deal with complex technical issues on their own.