The number of complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) were up in the third quarter, with the TIO and the Communications Alliance both pointing to natural disasters as a primary reason for the increase.
The number of complains increased over the period of January to March 2020 by 13 per cent, year-on-year, to 32,441, according to the TIO’s Quarter 3 (Q3) Complaints report.
This is up from 28,720 the quarter prior, with the latest tally ending four quarters of consecutive complaint declines, yet the latest increase is in fact 13.7 per cent lower than the same quarter a year ago, at 37,599 complaints.
Complaints from residential consumers and small businesses and others were both up at 27,443 and 4,888, respectively.
Judi Jones, Australia's Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, said the nation's phone and internet services have been tested during the events that have arisen in 2020.
“During the devastation of the bushfires, remaining connected to family, friends and community was critical to our safety,” she said.
John Stanton, CEO of the Communications Alliance, echoed Jones’s sentiments, claiming that the bushfires that were felt across the country throughout the end of 2019 and the start of 2020 “put enormous pressure on telecommunications networks”.
“Carriers worked around the clock to keep people connected, deploying additional generators and bringing in various technologies to provide temporary services in affected areas” he said.
“Ultimately, and as noted in the ACMA’s [Australian Communications and Media Authority] recent report on the 2019-20 bushfires, network outages were overwhelmingly due to loss of mains electricity, rather than fire damage.
“The telecommunications industry is working with federal and state governments, emergency services agencies and electricity providers to bolster communications and improve our responses in any future disasters. Additionally, government has recently announced additional investment to help communities stay connected during emergencies,” he added.
The most complained about issues for both small business and residential consumers were service and equipment fees, followed by no or delayed action by providers, no phone or internet service and delays in establishing a service.
The top 10 most complained about telcos remained largely unchanged, with Telstra out on top, followed by Optus, TPG, Vodafone, iiNet, Dodo, Southern Phone Company, and M2 Commander taking out places two through eight and Exetel at 10. Number nine was Primus, replacing Boost Tel from the quarter prior, which dropped to 11 in Q3.
The coronavirus pandemic was largely not captured by the third quarter results, as its effect on services was not felt until the end of the quarter, Jones added.
“[The pandemic] has also highlighted our need for reliable phone and internet services. Telco issues we could accept before the pandemic have shifted significantly,” she said.
“Confined to our homes, we are working, running our small businesses, educating children and keeping in touch with family and friends. Our lives are happening in the digital space and it is our phone and internet services that allow this to happen."