Editorial: BigPond paddled

Editorial: BigPond paddled

A quick scan of this week’s ARN reveals that Telstra takes up a lot of column inches, with the main focus being discussion of its BigPond ADSL broadband service. Our coverage includes its plans to extend the reach of current exchanges, a national survey on customer perception of broadband services that champions the performance of smaller Internet service providers (ISPs) while painting the major players — particularly Telstra — in a less favourable light and a letter of complaint from a disgruntled Telstra customer.

Let’s start on a positive. The nation’s largest telco has announced plans to offer its BigPond ADSL service to a further 400,000 residential and business customers by extending the transmission limit on existing changes by a further 500 metres. The extra capacity is expected to be available by the end of March and, according to Telstra, will not impact on the quality of service received by customers. Sounds good, right?

Yet this story had been posted on the ARN website for less than a day when we received a letter of complaint from a frustrated Telstra customer in the Gold Coast. He claimed he was unable to receive Telstra’s ADSL service despite living just two kilometres away from the exchange at Robina.

While no company can please all of its customers all of the time, results from the Australian Broadband Survey — which was conducted by Whirlpool at the end of last year and gleaned responses from more than 10,000 respondents — would suggest Telstra is failing to provide an acceptable quality of service to many its current ADSL customers.

For example, while 97 per cent of WestNet customers said their ISP provided adequate assistance when contacted, only 68 per cent of BigPond ADSL customers felt the same way about the way their queries were handled — the lowest satisfaction rate of all 10 ISPs included in the survey.

More than half (51.9 per cent) of BigPond customers claimed it took longer than 10 minutes to get through to the right person when calling customer support. By comparison, more than 80 per cent of WestNet, DART and Swiftel customers claimed they spoke to the right person within four minutes.

A total of 50.5 per cent of BigPond customers completing the survey said they had problems getting online when signing up — phone line problems (22.2 per cent) and inadequate instructions (13.9 per cent) were highlighted as the biggest stumbling blocks.

And when asked if they were satisfied with the reliability of their Internet connection, 37.1 per cent of BigPond respondents said they were either ‘not happy’ or ‘outraged’. More than 70 per cent of Swiftel WestNet, DART and OptusNet Cable customers claimed to be ‘very happy’.

Whirlpool, in an introduction to its findings, issued a stark warning to ISPs: “Providers should pay close attention to this [survey] demographic, because the days of the uninformed consumer are numbered.”

Some, it would seem, have more to fear than others. While many people signing up for an Internet package for the first time will opt for a big name service provider, word of mouth is a critical performance indicator of any business. If the results of the Australian Broadband Survey are representative of the bigger picture — and 10,335 qualified responses from informed users seems like a good effort to me — it suggests that there will continue to be room in the maturing Australian broadband market for smaller ISPs that get customer service right.

In response to recent criticism, Telstra issued a statement reminding ISPs that it launched a demand register in October and would be prepared to extend ADSL services into areas where it was sure to make a nice return on its investment (ARN, page 10). This recently led to an exchange being ADSL-enabled in Loxton, SA, but some ISPs have already expressed doubts about implementation speeds and overall feasibility of the scheme. What do you think?

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