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Here's why complaints about ISPs and telcos have skyrocketed

We're not happy with our phone and internet services, and we're complaining like never before. But there's more to the numbers than bad copper connections.

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Australia: You are officially not stoked with your internet and phone services. And you're complaining about them more than ever before.

The latest complaint figures from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) have been released, and they paint a sorry picture for the state of telco services in Australia. In the space of one year (July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017) complaints about landline phones, mobile phones and internet services went up 41 percent.

The key culprit? We're not happy with our internet connections, and we're directing our frustration at the NBN.

Complaints about mobile phone and landline services, over things like customer service, billing, connections and service faults, were up 28 percent and 30 percent respectively year-on-year. Complaints about internet services, however, were up 65 percent.

NBN 

Once you pull out the complaints just about services delivered via the NBN, it gets worse. Australians made 27,195 complaints about these services (of 158,016 made during the year). Compared to last year, complaints were up 159 percent.

The increase in NBN issues was somewhat expected, according to Ombudsman Judi Jones, especially considering how many more people are connecting to the network as the rollout speeds up.

That's certainly part of the issue. The rollout of the NBN is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Australian history, and there are tens of thousands of households switching services, disconnecting and reconnecting every week. Telstra alone says it's transitioning 20,000 premises to the NBN every week. And in the words of NBN (responding to today's complaints figures), "no large scale construction project has ever been problem-free."

nbn-1

Gimme that sweet fibre.

NBN

"With a workforce of close to 30,000 people digging trenches, hauling cable, climbing poles and going into people's yards and homes, there are inevitably going to be some issues," the company said in a statement.

It also noted that less than 15 percent of complaints about the NBN were actually directed at NBN Co. 

Who's to blame?

But even though we're shaking up telco services that have run in the same way for decades, the industry ombudsman still said the increase in complaints around the NBN was a "concerning trend."

"The supply chain for the NBN is complex, and complaints about services delivered over the NBN can be multi-faceted. Problems can arise with retailers, with other intermediaries, and sometimes the problem can be with the residential consumer's or small businesses' equipment," she said.

And that's the key issue. NBN provides the wholesale network, but your ISP is the one that buys access to that network. In fact, your ISP might even be buying access off another ISP who buys it off NBN.

There are lots of different links in the chain, and that can make issues tough to resolve -- a problem the ombudsman acknowledged at Senate estimates in March this year.

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

And this is where the industry needs to do better. The onus shouldn't be on Australians to deal with 20 different customer service reps across their retailer, reseller or at NBN. They just want to be able to use the internet or get their sweet, sweet Netflix hit without waiting for buffering. 

What should you do?

So what hope is there if you're the person stuck with the garbage internet connection that goes full potato every time you try and stream a TV show?

  • Make sure you're on the right speed tier
    An ISP can't exactly put you straight onto the most expensive plan when you switch to NBN (even if it's what you need). So check what you're on. If you're a half decent internet user, you should be on at least the 25/5 tier, minimum. This isn't like mobile plans, where data caps matter most. Speed is king.
  • Don't just go for the lowest price
    Your ISP should offer a good price, but also factor in customer service. What happens if something goes wrong? The cheap and cheerful provider may not be so cheery when it comes to solving problems.
  • Hassle your ISP about CVC
    There have been a lot of issues around the way NBN prices its wholesale network. NBN says it has to recoup costs, but ISPs complain the pricing model is a disincentive to offering higher speeds. It all comes down to CVC: about how much bandwidth ISPs buy wholesale off NBN. You can read our full explainer on that here, but if your ISP is skimping on CVC then you're going to get bottlenecks. ISPs don't release details of how much they're buying (it's considered a commercially sensitive figure), but the industry average is 1.1Mbps per end user. As our internet usage increases, we need to hassle our ISPs to make sure they're getting us enough bandwidth where it counts.
  • Volunteer for the ACCC's speed testing program
    The consumer watchdog has launched a program to monitor broadband speeds across Australia, and the industry says this will be a massive indicator of real-world experiences. The results won't be out for a while, but if your speeds are truly terrible, share them with the world!
  • Make a complaint (not just on Facebook)
    There's no doubt the industry is going to sit up and take notice with the massive increase in complaints this year. So let your voice be heard and make a complaint to the TIO if you have issues. 

Got a telco or ISP gripe? Feel free to vent in the comments!

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