The ramp-up of the nationwide NBN rollout means that more Australians are finally getting connected to the National Broadband Network. And that's a good thing. But the telecommunications industry ombudsman's bleak 2016-17 annual report shows that complaints about Australia's internet have overtaken mobile phones in volume, and over 27,000 complaints about the performance of the NBN represent a 160 per cent rise versus the year past.
According to the TIO report, 27,195 complaints about "services delivered" on the NBN mean a jump of 159.3 per cent year on year. That's 16,221 complaints about faults and 11,224 complaints about connection delays — 6.7 faults and 8.3 delays per 1000 activated premises.
TIO has been monitoring NBN rollout and complaint performance since 2013-14, and says that the widening rollout does correlate with the growth in complaints. To put the ramp of activated services in context, it took NBN five years to activate its first million premises, less than a year to hit the second million, and six months to hit the three million it currently has.
NBN's response to the TIO has been, as per usual, to shift blame from itself to the ISPs delivering retail services to customers. NBN CEO Bill Morrow said that fewer than 15 per cent of complaints were directed to the network builder itself, accounting for around 1 per cent of the number of activated premises hooked up to the NBN.
NBN also blamed the ambitious scale of the project for its shortcomings. "It is important to note that no large scale construction project has ever been problem-free. 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."
Consumer advocacy group ACCAN is pushing for a customer service guarantee on internet services, in part to push NBN and internet providers to give customers timeframes for fixing faults and completing connections. Says deputy CEO Narelle Clark: "The complaint statistics show that many consumers are being left with no connection or a service that is completely unusable. This is not acceptable and it’s clear there is an urgent need for updated consumer guarantees. Considering the rollout of the NBN has reached scale and more consumers are making the switch, this must change."
The government-run company behind the NBN rollout is working on advanced fault detection on its network to allow remote diagnosis of problems — whether they exist at the ISP level or with the network itself — and to allow better distribution of technicians to actual problems rather than those of a "turn it off and on again" variety. [TIO]