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WA telco, NBN complaints soar over fees, bad service

ABC Business logoABC Business 16/04/2018

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For Stephen Wood, joining the National Broadband Network (NBN) was a temporary business disaster.

The North Fremantle mechanic signed up with telco M2 Commander last year to switch across to the national network.

"I got a box delivered to me and then someone rang me up and said 'just unplug everything and plug it back in'," Mr Wood recalls.

"There was over 30 different wires and it's not my game, so I just said 'please, someone come down, just fit it for me, I don't mind paying. I just don't want my business getting disrupted'."

A week later, Mr Wood said a technician arrived to install the equipment, but they did not connect a metallic ringer in the workshop that was previously hooked up to the office landline.

He estimates that omission cost "a couple of grand" in missed work, with his business reliant on the ringer in the absence of a receptionist.

"There's noise when you're working on cars and there's only a small ringer on the telephone in the office, so we were just missing telephone calls," Mr Wood said.

"I wasn't able to work. I had to just sit basically next to the phone.

"I explained to them many, many times 'I can't work here … could you please send someone down to fix it?' They said 'there's no-one'."

After switching to a different telco, Mr Wood lodged a complaint with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) three months ago, but has not yet resolved the issue.

a man sitting on a counter: Mechanic Stephen Wood is one of hundreds of WA small business owners to report issue with their telcos. © ABC News/Emily Piesse Mechanic Stephen Wood is one of hundreds of WA small business owners to report issue with their telcos. Internet complaints highest in WA

From July to December last year, Western Australia had the second highest increase in complaints to the ombudsman.

In total, 7,381 complaints about WA landline, mobile and internet services were lodged with the TIO — a 36.5 per cent jump compared to the same period in 2016.

The figure was lower, however, than in the first half of 2017, when 8,215 complaints were made.

Internet service prompted 30.3 per cent of all complaints in WA — the highest percentage of any state.

Telecommunications ombudsman Judi Jones said it was not clear why WA had an above-average increase in complaints in the latter half of 2017.

"Perhaps there were some weather events. We certainly were doing some awareness raising in WA [about the TIO complaints process]," Ms Jones said.

"That will be part of the picture, but it certainly doesn't explain the whole story."

Top five telco complaints in WA

Complaint categoryNo.
Charges & Fees3,556
Provider Response3,130
Poor Service Quality1,817
Connection/Changing Provider1,087
No service1,054

NBN complaints triple nationally

At a national level, the TIO received 84,914 complaints, with billing and customer service, faulty equipment and poor service quality among the top issues.

Loss of service, similar to Mr Wood's case, was the third highest category of complaints from small businesses.

"That's concerning because for small businesses, having your telephone or telco service working is so vital to the running of [the] business," Ms Jones said.

"It's not an uncommon issue."

Meanwhile, NBN complaints more than tripled across Australia to 22,827, with about two-thirds relating to poor service quality.

The remaining third were due to delays in establishing a connection.

In a statement, telco industry body Communications Alliance said it was "disappointed with the high level of complaints".

"With 'Provider Response' being the top issue raised by customers who complain in relation to a service delivered over the NBN, our industry will be working to improve the end-to-end experience, including through improved assistance between providers in the supply chain to resolve complaints," said program management director Christiane Gillespie-Jones.

The ABC contacted Commander Australia for comment but did not receive a response.

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