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NBN complaints are up 204 percent

Hey, Australia! Turns out you're not stoked with the service you're getting on the NBN. But NBN Co is trying to see the bright side.

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If you look really hard, you can see the sad face...

NBN

How can you sum up Australia's satisfaction with the NBN network last year? Well, it was the worst of times and it was the worst of times.

The number of formal complaints about the NBN have jumped a whopping 204 percent, according to figures released today by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

But according to NBN Co, the network has turned a corner and the rate of complaints is actually down 16 percent.

So what's the difference? 

The TIO has tracked the number of complaints in the second half of 2017 (July 1 to Dec. 31) and compared them to the same period the year before (July 1 to Dec. 31, 2016). Year on year, complaints were up 203.9 percent. That includes complaints about internet and phone services delivered over the NBN, as well as about NBN Co itself.

That's a massive jump, no matter how you slice it. 

But NBN Co is taking a different tack. In a statement sent out in response to the TIO report, the company said it was "pleased to see a 16 percent decline in the rate of complaints" made to the TIO. But there's more to that number. 

NBN Co is measuring the second half of 2017 against the first half of that year, for starters. The TIO measured the second half of 2017 against the second half of 2016 -- that is, year on year, not 6-months on 6-months. 

NBN also says the "rate of complaints, which is the number of complaints as a proportion of the number of active end users on the NBN access network, is softening."

So once you're on the network, complaints go way down. But it stands to reason once you're actively using the NBN things should be fairly rosy. It's the other side of the coin that's the problem. 

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The company also says that, of the 22,827 complaints to the TIO about services delivered over the NBN, "less than five percent (1052 complaints) were sent to NBN Co to resolve."

NBN Co has been at pains to point out that it's not always responsible for problems Australians experience with the NBN as a whole. It could come down to problems with the telcos who use the NBN's network to deliver services or even problems in an individual customer's home or workplace. 

NBN Co responded to the TIO report by pointing to the steps it took in the back end of 2017 to improve customer experience on the network, which explains its eagerness to compare the two halves of 2017 rather than comparing year on year. These steps include changing wholesale pricing to encourage telcos to increase bandwidth (and therefore reduce congestion), discounting its 50Mbps speed tier (to encourage users to take up higher speeds) and pausing the HFC rollout to address service issues.

Speaking about the TIO report, NBN Co chief customer officer Brad Whitcomb was focused on that "rate of complaints" figure, saying the slowdown was "encouraging." However he added that "NBN Co acknowledges there is still more work to be done."

And that's where the 203.9 percent increase comes in. On this front, NBN Co was only willing to shoulder some of the blame. 

"We acknowledge that the increase in complaints to the TIO about services delivered over the NBN access network demonstrates the necessity and importance of an industry-wide effort to ensure improved customer experiences as we reach the peak years of the build," a company spokesperson told CNET. 

But a 200 percent increase in complaints isn't a good look, no matter how you slice it. Even if telcos are to blame for issues, NBN Co still faces a PR battle to convince Australians that it's delivering the best network it can within the Government's low-cost, copper-inclusive remit.

For plenty of Australians, talking about internet and phone problems quickly descends into a discussion about the problems with the NBN -- whether NBN Co is to blame or not. 

Whether people are disgruntled because of poor service from their telco, from NBN Co or they just want to air their grievances about one of Australia's most heavily politicised infrastructure projects, NBN Co's real task will be convincing Australians that things are improving. Without being selective over the numbers. 

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