Competition watchdog sees telco market complaints surge

ACCC saw NBN-related complaints rise by 145 per cent in 2015-16

The Australian competition watchdog has revealed that it saw a nine per cent surge in telecommunications industry complaints and inquiries in 2015-16, with National Broadband Network-related complaints rising by 145 per cent compared to the year prior.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) received 2775 complaints and inquiries relating to the local telecommunications industry during the 2015-16, according to figures in its latest annual telecommunications report, published on 8 March.

The ACCC also undertook 15 major investigations within the telco industry during the period.

During the year, the ACCC received 752 NBN-related complaints, with the increase in complaints about Australia’s national network reflecting the accelerated rollout of the network, according to the ACCC, as the number of premises activated increased by 136 per cent compared to the previous year.

“While the number of complaints during the year also increased, it is important to note that in percentage terms the growth in the number of complaints grew less than the number of premises activated,” the ACCC stated in its report.

By comparison, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) received 13,406 new NBN-related complaints in 2015–16, almost double the number of complaints from the previous year.

In November last year, the TIO revealed that new complaints about faults on NBN services surged by 147.8 per cent during the 2015-16 financial year.

The two most significant issues raised with the TIO related to faults, such as slow data speeds, unusable services and drop outs, connection delays, and missed connection appointments.

While the ACCC saw a rise in telecommunications-related complaints during the year, it noted that the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) received 112 518 complaints in 2015-16, a 9.6 per cent drop from the previous year’s tally.

In fact, complaints to the TIO have fallen consistently over the past five years, largely due to the increased focus by industry on improving customer service, according to the ACCC, as well as changes to telecommunications regulations and investments to improve mobile infrastructure.

That said, during the period, the proportion of complaints to the TIO relating to internet services increased by nine per cent, with internet service complaints relating to slow data speeds increasing by 48 per cent from the previous year.

Meanwhile, mobile complaints decreased during the period and, according to the ACCC, can be attributed to investment in mobile infrastructure, increased included data allowances, stronger industry code rules on advertising and the international mobile roaming standard.

ACCC chairperson Rod Sims
ACCC chairperson Rod Sims

The ACCC’s latest telco industry report also revealed that average access payments on NBN of $43 per month outstrip those for national access to the Telstra legacy network, which stand at $33 per month.

However, the ACCC also pointed out that carriers on the Telstra legacy network also need to meet the costs of operating their DSL networks, and thus cannot supply the full range of retail services that are available over the NBN.

At the same time, the ACCC said that overall prices paid for telecommunications services fell in real terms by 1.5 per cent in 2015–16. This is a relatively small decrease – in real prices – compared to decreases recorded in the past 10 years, which averaged 3.1 per cent.

Bucking this downward trend, however, are the prices paid for internet services, with the average real price paid for all types of internet services increasing by 2.7 per cent during the year. The increase in data inclusions suggests that some consumers are paying more to receive more, the ACCC said.

Certainly, a continuing trend amongst consumers is for greater amounts of data on both fixed line and mobile networks. Overall data download volumes increased by 51 per cent between June 2015 and June 2016, according to the report.

“While some consumers may be paying more, they are also getting much more in terms of data allowances,” said ACCC chairman, Rod Sims. “Consumer demand for streaming services, cloud services, and increasingly content rich websites and social media applications is driving this growth in data consumption.

“The rapid evolution of the sector is delivering access to higher quality communications networks and a greater range of services for consumers,” he said.

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