JOHN STAPLETON. The fiasco of Australia’s telecommunications.

Complaints against the troubled broadband network have risen yet again with the latest Telecommunications Ombudsman’s Report, released this week, showing significant increases in complaints over the last year.

As the government prepares to sell the NBN, levels of dissatisfaction against what critics describe as the worst infrastructure project in Australian history are extremely high.  The disastrous state of the nation’s telecommunications networks is generating not just anger and frustration but significant financial losses.  In overall terms, residential complaints rose to a record 146,957, an increase of 8,141, or 5.9%.  Business complaints rose 8.7% to 20,433, an increase of 1.644.

The worst performing telco by a considerable margin was Optus, with an increase of 35% in complaints.  The next closest was Telstra, on a comparatively modest 7.7% increase.

Telecommunications Ombudswoman, Judi Jones, told The New Daily that Optus was well aware of the problem and her office was in constant communication with them.  “They are working hard on their processes”, she said. “Hopefully next year will see a reduction.”

In terms of states, Queensland, for the second year in a row, showed the greatest increase in the number of complaints – 13.2%.  There is no official explanation.  “We can see nothing in the data to explain that,” Ombudswoman Jones said.  The next worst performing state was WA, with an increase of 10.7%.  In terms of volume, NSW remains the worst state, with 52,989 complaints, an increase of 4.9%.  Twelve percent of residents complained they receive no service at all, while a further 19.1% complained of intermittent service, dropouts and slow speeds.  In terms of customer service a whopping 33.8% of residents complained of either no action or delayed action.  Businesses were even more dissatisfied, with 35.9% complaining of zero or delayed responses to their complaints.

The devastating impacts on business of the botched NBN roll out are clear: 16.2% complained of no service at all. A further 13.9% complained of intermittent service, dropouts and slow speeds.  There were more than 12,200 compensation payouts last year for both residents and businesses.  The maximum payout is $50,000.

While most of the statistics trended up across the year, Ombudswoman Jones points to a modest decrease in the final quarter as a hopeful sign the tide is turning.  Internet activists see it differently.  Former Executive Director of Internet Australia, Laurie Patton, told The New Daily any decrease in complaints was likely to be a result of heavy wholesale discounting by NBN, introduced in panic and under government pressure.  The discounts allowed retailers to increase the bandwidth they purchased and saw congestion levels fall.  “The dilemma is the discounts are about to end”, he said. “It was only a temporary measure. Our internet service is not going to get any better overall until we adopt 21st technologies.”

Patton said he sympathised with Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, who he says has been let down by NBN Co.  “The people who advised the Government back in 2013 are the ones to blame, as are the current NBN Co. Board Members who refuse to concede that what they are now building is a dud.”

Research conducted with the assistance of economics graduate Christopher Collins.

John Stapleton worked as a journalist on The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian for more than 20 years. A collection of his journalism is being constructed here.

This story was originally published in The New Daily, 17 October 2018.



John Stapleton worked as a general news reporter for The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald for more than 20 years. He is the author of a book on surveillance in Australia, Hideout in the Apocalypse.

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5 Responses to JOHN STAPLETON. The fiasco of Australia’s telecommunications.

  1. Avatar Chris Blaikie says:

    ….And a hell of a lot of people haven’t bothered to go through the process of complaining to the ombudsman either. We haven’t and our land line phone hasn’t worked for a year or so now. We’ve just given up on the idea of having one.

  2. Avatar Kim Wingerei says:

    I was reminded of another much overlooked aspect of the failures of the NBN when seeing a “welcome to NBN” letter listing at least 100 alternative resellers to contact with no further qualification of their suitability. Most, of course, tiny operators poorly qualified to service all kinds of customers anywhere and everywhere. The very low barrier to become an NBN reseller is a big part of the problem of service as the main competition is on price, not service. The majority of Telecommunications service providers operate on the principle of lowest common denominator in a race to the bottom that serves nobody.

  3. Avatar Nigel Drake says:

    The whole of the conception and planning of the NBN was a dud.
    Fibre to the Node was flawed from the very beginning, the increasing uptake of digital communications and entertainment was seriously underestimated, and the interference by politicians who paid obeisance to their financial and commercial masters bordered on traitorous.

  4. Avatar John NOBEL says:

    Hmmm, that Nbnco is overdue, overpriced and (fortunately) not yet over here shouldn’t a surprise.
    But surely, given about $50B went in, be it loan or equity, both from the taxpayer, something can be done?
    Here’s my take.
    The, neither sharemarket, just lotsa commercial-in-confidence, nor government approach through re-nationalisation back to a government monopoly doesn’t appear to have worked for shareholders/ government or users, compared to a regulated monopoly, let alone competition, and then there is the state of and too much lengthy copper (for up to 2/ 5 premises, not a few hundred meters but kilometres).
    Presently Nbnco seems to mean that by 2020-ish, and $50-ish billions of taxpayer dollars later for an asset worth may be up to half that, about 88% premises will have up to 50/ 20 Mbps, but 12% of premises on fibre copper or fixed satellite wireless won’t, so far.
    There are continued reports of mass congestion, unreliability and incomprehensible quotas.
    Presumably lessons from Nbnco (2013, LyingN(C)P’s nbn/ 2007, Liebor’s NBN), Opel Networks (2007, LyingN(C)P), vertically-integrated Telecom/ OTC privatisation (1997, LyingN(C)P) and offloading of Aussat (1991, Liebor) have by now been absorbed?
    Though it would seem the Netherlands (telco/ cableco and mobileco competition, DVB-T/C/S competition, Wi-Fi at transport hubs), Singapore (with segregation through the communications stack), New Zealand (with CFH tendering geographic portions to commercial carriers, instead of building a new Nbnco bureaucrazy), France (competition in metro, subsidies in rural), Canada (vast country, small population) and others have done a much better transition to broadband from narrowband.)
    The regulator should have globally sensible benchmarks, be it commercially or technically (Gbps/ $, TB/ $, latency, MTBF and MTTR).
    Nbnco should be split, and [some] pieces sold off.
    The gov should pursue (cableco, telco, mobileco, serviceco) competition for infrastructure and services in extended metro to regional, and focus on holistic regional development for rural and remote. [Maybe HFC to FoxTel, fibre to either TPG/ Vodafail/ SingTel Optus, fibre copper with Nbnco/ Telstra InfraCo, FTW to either TPG/ Vodafail/ SingTel Optus, FSW to not SingTel Optus (besides nano sat constellations are on their way).]
    Let wired and wireless, be it terrestrial or satellite, compete.
    Potentially Nbnco may need to have a FTTN service that is appropriately priced, given its limitations in terms of performance and reliability.
    Or go one better, put up a business case that sees more fibre copper to the node, go to fibre copper to the driveway/ curb, and get moving on changing VDSL2 to G.Fast.

    • Avatar John NOBEL says:

      … and of course, besides putting up a business case for FTTN/ FTTC/ G.Fast, might as well put one up for FTTP/ wireless too!

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