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Who the hell knows how many have complained about the NBN?

Is it your ISP, or is it an issue with the NBN itself? Aussies have plenty of complaints about getting connected, but it turns out we just don't know how bad the problem is.

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NBN

You've had a problem with getting your NBN connected. You've set up a dozen appointments to get the problem resolved. The NBN says it's a retailer issue, your ISP says it's a problem at the NBN end.

It's a complaint we've heard again and again as the NBN rolls out across the country. But exactly how many issues are there?

The answer is, "Who the bloody hell knows?"

A Senate Estimates hearing has today heard there's no clear way of knowing just how many problems Australians are having with the NBN because there are so many different people with a finger in the pie.

Speaking in Canberra today, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Judi Jones told a Senate Committee on the NBN that no matter how many times a particular person complains about their NBN connection, that issue is only recorded as a single complaint, "because it's an ongoing issue."

If a person organises to be at home for six or even 12 appointments -- close to half someone's annual leave as one MP put it -- the TIO only logs one complaint.

According to figures in the TIO 2016 Annual Report, the office of the Ombudsman received 13,406 new complaints about NBN services in 2016 (largely broken into "faults" such as drop outs and slow speeds, and connection issues, like delays and missed appointments).

But speaking today, Jones shed light on this figure.

"These figures wouldn't reflect the number of missed appointments...these numbers reflect a consumer who is having difficulty with the network."

Booked 12 visits to fix your NBN? That's one complaint.

Jones also raised one of the difficulties with resolving the issues around NBN speeds and connections -- a massive lack of communication from the people doing the work behind the scenes. She gave an example of problem with fibre leading to a premise that needed to be repaired. The NBN "referred that complaint back to the RSP [Retail Service Provider]" but the RSP wasn't able to fix the problem, because it was an NBN issue.

"It would help if we had all parties involved in the resolution of the complaint," she said. "There is some confusion with consumers about who to complain about."

So how's it all breaking down? The committee put that question to Bill Morrow, the CEO of NBN, later in the day.

"In the TIO's own explication of what's going on, they revealed there were six site visits before they got their matter resolved, and we are hearing that right across the country," said Labor Senator Deborah O'Neill. "One complaint can be six, 10, 12 incidences of four-hour waits by people across the country."

Referencing the Ombudsman's earlier comments, O'Neill went on: "The TIO indicated there is no capacity to get you and the RSPs in the same room to actually resolve these problems. Is that the case?"

"I believe so," Morrow replied. "I don't believe that's the TIO remit."

The communication issues are not lost on Morrow, and he noted that he'd written to the major NBN resellers to ask them to "to engage in a collaborative approach with NBN" to continue addressing complaints.

Sitting alongside Morrow, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield was quick to dispel the idea that there was no communication.

"The NBN has staff who talk to the RSPs everyday...so it wouldn't be correct to characterise that the NBN doesn't talk to RSPs," the minister said.

Still, Australians -- or as Fifield calls them, NBN's "shareholders" -- are facing massive frustrations with miscommunication and we have no way of knowing how bad the problem is.

The NBN has one set of complaints, the TIO registers its cases (though there is no data on how many separate issues go into each complaint there) and RSPs get complaints direct to their customer service centres, too.

But even with everyone in the same room, we still might not know how bad the problem is.

Morrow admitted that, based on his experience in telco land (Morrow was the former CEO of Vodafone) telcos would have no intention of revealing all the complaints they receive from their customers.

"I don't know if the absolute number [of complaints] is clear to anybody," said Senator O'Neill. "That's part of the problem here. You [NBN] have got sight of some part of it, the RSPs have one side of it, and the TIO have got only the people that are so frustrated with the finger pointing and the process that they've actually figured out there's a place they can go and have gone to the TIO.

"I really actually wonder how they get in touch with them if they've got the problems with the internet -- they must be going to the local library to make their complaint."

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