More and more users of the National Broadband Network (NBN) are unhappy with their service and are protesting in record numbers.
- In the 2016-17 financial year, the TIO received 27,195 complaints about NBN services
- That’s up from 10,487 in the previous financial year
- The NBN said the increase was being taken seriously but it represented only 1 per cent of connected homes
Complaints have increased a whopping 160 per cent, with more than 27,000 reports lodged with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) in the last financial year.
It’s a worrying sign, ombudsman Judi Jones conceded.
Ms Jones said the increase in NBN complaints was expected as the rollout ramped up — however in the last half of the financial year, dissatisfied consumers outstripped the rate of rollout.
From January to June this year, NBN issues reported to the TIO quadrupled.
According to the annual TIO report, nearly 10,000 homes were left without useable internet or landline due to the NBN rollout in the 2016-2017 financial year.
Nearly 4,000 complaints were made about slow data speeds over the network.
We have had some speed complaints where it has been multi-layered and it can take months to resolve, Ms Jones said.
I think the NBN is concerned, the retailers are concerned, and the minister and the regulator are also concerned. So everyone is focusing on it.
Top complaint issues about NBN
- New internet connection delay — 7,035
- Unusable internet service — 4,816
- Unusable landline service — 4,140
- New landline connection delay — 3,936
- Slow internet data speed — 3,917
The ombudsman said the figures may not be representative of the true scale of the problem, as most complaints were usually resolved by service providers before they reached her office.
NBN chief executive officer Bill Morrow said less than 15 per cent of NBN complaints made to the ombudsman were directed to them to solve, and it equated to 1 per cent of the activated premises.
However, he added the increase in complaints was being taken seriously.
The company said so far 3 million homes had been connected to the network, and about 40,000 homes were activated every week.
But the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network said the massive increase in complaints showed consumer safeguards needed updating.
Many consumers are being left with no connection or a service that is unusable. This is not acceptable.
‘No-one is listening’
Julie Waites said her 85-year-old mother Patricia Alexander has been without a working phone at her Redcliffe home, north of Brisbane, since June when the NBN was connected in the area.
Her mother has dementia and is considered a medical priority. Ms Waites said her mum often fell and hurt herself, and she was worried about switching over.
I didn’t want to switch over but I didn’t have a choice. Telstra said the phone would be switched off, Ms Waites told the ABC.
She said since the NBN was connected, her mother’s phone continuously dropped out and important stored numbers got wiped.
Ms Waites said she had complained to the TIO and Telstra, and multiple technicians from both the telco and the NBN had come out to inspect the problem, but the phone line still dropped out after a few days.
The technicians have so far left five different Telstra modems, two NBN modems, two different phones, and a mess of cables.
“No-one is listening and they just try and do the same thing,” Ms Waites said.
“If she didn’t have an emergency alarm I don’t know what I would do.”
‘I live in Sydney and I can’t get the internet’
The ombudsman said she had enough powers to deal with complaints, but RMIT Associate Professor Mark Gregory said consumers ended up in a loop where the NBN, the TIO and the service providers did not take responsibility.
He said the ombudsman needed powers to handle complaints where there was a lack of ADSL or NBN infrastructure.
“We are seeing many consumers pushed into a black hole,” he said. “The TIO leaves them hanging.”
That’s the situation freelance web designer Amy Kirchhoff finds herself in.
She’s been without an internet or phone line to her Sydney rental property for seven months, despite contacting Telstra, Optus and the ombudsman’s office.
“Everyone has a solution that doesn’t work and so I’m constantly saying, ‘I have tried that, I’ve tried that’. I can’t do anything,” Ms Kirchhoff said.
“I get a completely different story [every time] — anything from, ‘You might be able to get it but it will take three to five months to determine, and the NBN is coming soon but you won’t be able to get that either’.”
People could die: doctor
Psychiatrist Dr Oleh Kay runs a Perth clinic treating mental-health patients both in person and over the internet for those in remote areas.
Dr Kay said they got better speeds from the old ADSL than with the NBN fibre to the premises.
“Our download speeds can get down to 2.2 megabits a second and uploads speeds can be zero. That happens fairly regularly — it might even be daily,” he said.
He said every six months the whole connection dropped out, which was not just frustrating but also life threatening.
“I think potentially people could die, to put it bluntly.”
At one point, Dr Kay said his patients were calling Telstra to try and reach him, and the telco requested he give them a mobile number to reach him on.
“We said no, why don’t you fix the NBN? So we actually have the service we contract you to provide.”
In total, the ombudsman received 158,016 complaints last financial year relating to landline phones, mobile phones and internet services, and a total of 41,283 enquiries — but it did not breakdown what the enquiries related to.
The Federal Government says the rise in complaints remains “broadly in-line with the rate of the NBN rollout”.
The number one complaint to the ombudsman was to do with customer relations, which the Government stressed has nothing to do with the NBN rollout.
Note: If you’re experiencing issues with the NBN we can quite likely help. We can attend your home today and isolate the issue. In some cases it can be a ‘localised’ issue in that the problem is with your modem and/or computer. In other instances we rule that out and we can then speak to your ISP on the phone on your behalf and get the problem sorted, or assist you in getting a fault logged with NBN Co. We have assisted hundreds of customers in getting their internet running up to its maximum potential speed and we can do the same for you. Call us today and let us visit you onsite and resolve your internet issues as we have done with countless other happy customers.