Resilience tested, phone and internet complaints decrease in year of challenges

Complaints about phone and internet services decreased 4 per cent in the last financial year ending 30 June 2020. In this period, residential consumers and small businesses made 127,151 complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, highlighted in the Annual Report 2019-20 published today.

Read the TIO Annual Report 2019-20 here.

Over the financial year complaints about mobile services remained steady, but for internet and landline complaints it was a financial year of two distinct halves.

In the first half, complaints about internet and landline services continued the previous quarter’s decline. This was a positive indicator of sector efforts over the past three years to reduce complaints and improve the delivery of telco services and products.

In the second half, a summer of natural disasters followed by the COVID-19 pandemic tested the resilience of networks and telcos to respond to unforeseen impacts on services.

Between January and March 2020, the bushfire and flood season highlighted the vulnerability of Australians living in regional, rural, and remote areas. Complaints during this time about not having a working phone or internet service increased almost 70 per cent compared with the previous quarter.

For consumers impacted by natural disasters, not being connected to phone and internet meant exclusion from basic services and running a business. During this time the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman worked closely with telcos to ensure consumers experiencing vulnerability were prioritised.

Between March and June 2020, the pandemic highlighted the reliance of Australians on phone and internet services to connect to loved ones, access healthcare, work or study from home, or run a business.

In the face of worldwide lockdowns, the industry, government, and regulators worked quickly to provide temporary financial relief and extra capacity on the NBN. While the circumstances were unprecedented, telcos largely continued to deliver phone and internet services.

However, the pandemic put significant pressure on telco call centres and back office functions based overseas, forcing many of these functions to close. This led to an almost 1,500 per cent year-on-year increase in the number of complaints from consumers who were unable to contact their telco about internet services. In response, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman worked closely with affected telcos to quickly escalate systemic issues and publish information to assist consumers.

Ombudsman Judi Jones said, “While the complaints we deal with stem from technology, the problems we are solving are ultimately human ones. The extraordinary events of the year meant that consumers have increasingly had to rely on telecommunications services and internet to continue to live, work and educate and many have faced frustrations as providers worked to adapt to unprecedented challenges.

“The lessons learnt from the rollout of the NBN over the last three years has galvanised and matured Australia’s telecommunications sector. These lessons have strengthened the telco ecosystem with industry, government, regulators, advocates, and Ombudsman, each playing a part to ensure continuity of service for consumers in the face of great change. But as this year’s events have shown us, there is always more work to do.

“Each day, my office strives to resolve phone and internet complaints more effectively and efficiently. We are making significant progress in moving to be an agile organisation flexing to respond to the complexities of the changing telecommunications landscape. This was tested during the transition to working from home at the beginning of the pandemic, and I am proud of the way we looked after our people while continuing to deliver our service for telco consumers and their providers.”

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Media Release 30/09/2020