The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsmen (TIO) is warning broadband users to beware of file sharing software and to be mindful of their usage download limits, following an increase in the number of complaints across broadband Internet services.
Latest figures from the TIO have found customer complaints relating to xDSL and cable broadband Internet services rose by 45 per cent between April 2002 and March 2003, hitting a total of 1151. Complaints recorded across broadband services are based on faults, contracts and provisioning and do not include billing complaints.
Figures for the last quarter also illustrated a rise in broadband problems, with complaints in the March 2003 quarter reaching 349, up from 240 complaints in the June quarter 2002.
TIO spokesperson Rebecca Fredericks said out of those complaints the TIO recorded, faults with the service were the most common at 48 per cent. Grievances with broadband contracts took up 30 per cent of the total complaints made against broadband services, while the remaining 22 per cent of complaints related to provisioning.
Of those complaints made, xDSL complaints were higher than those made against cable services at a ratio of 3:2, Fredericks said. She warned however, that TIO staff usually selected xDSL as the default service if a customer could not identify the type of service they had on their premises.
Fredericks added that total complaints against each broadband provider reflected the size of its customer base.
“We did not have any standouts in terms of ISPs for broadband complaints,” she said.
But despite the rising statistics, Ombudsman John Pinnock said the general increase in complaints was not a “cause for concern in itself”, as the rise was in line with growing consumer take-up of broadband technologies.
“Complaints are always high when it comes to new technologies,” he said. “It can take months or even years for consumers and the industry to become accustomed to new methods and systems for billing and provision.”
Pinnock said he was concerned however, that some users were still unaware of the conditions of use for broadband services and were subsequently winding up with higher bills.
To help broadband users keep their usage bills to an acceptable level, Pinnock suggested users double-check usage conditions when signing up for a service, including how usage is calculated, what tools are available for monitoring usage and what charges will be incurred for exceeding monthly download limits.
In addition, those who use file sharing software should also note that it is possible for files to be uploaded from their computer even when they are not at home.
“You may wish to consider logging out of your Internet service and turning you computer off when not in use,” he said.
In a bid to aid broadband users to understand their broadband usage bills, Fredericks said the TIO has also spent the last 12 months working on a test case with Telstra BigPond to ascertain whether its broadband real-time usage meter and usage tally system provided adequate information for customers using its services.
Problems identified included delays with Telstra’s real-time meter, which meant that by the time a customer had received a warning, they had already exceeded their limit, Fredericks said. Another problem was with the way download amounts were recorded – both in Megabytes and Gigabytes. "This is misleading because on a 3000MB plan the limit is 3000MB which is substantially less than 3GB because 1 GB = 1024MB," she said.
As a result of the test case, Telstra is now providing more information via its Web site on the nature of its broadband services and usage methods, she said. The telco has also made changes to its real-time meter which gives customers a more timely reminder when they are about to hit their monthly usage limit.
Overall, Fredericks said the TIO is happy with the way Telstra now presents information to users.
“We’re certainly grateful to BigPond for cooperating with us,” she said.
Fredericks said the TIO now intends to present the test case results to all other providers, along with its guidelines on broadband services. The TIO has also added new systems in its own backend to record “appropriate” information from consumers in relation to broadband services, she said.
Changes to TIO’s method of recording complaints in the next quarter will see complaints on billing divided into service types, she added.