Complaints about the national broadband network soared more than 200% over the last six months of last year, according to a new report from the telecommunications industry ombudsman, with rising customer dissatisfaction about phone and internet services prompting a new government review.
With the NBN Co chief executive, Bill Morrow, due to address the National Press Club in Canberra on Tuesday, the latest report from the TIO finds there were 22,827 complaints lodged between July and December 2017 about the broadband network – 14,055 about service quality and 8,757 about delays in establishing an NBN connection.
Given consumer complaints about the NBN, fixed line and mobile services are all on the rise, with almost 85,000 complaints recorded in total over the reporting period, the Turnbull government has produced terms of reference for a review into current consumer safeguards in the telecommunications sector.
The communications minister, Mitch Fifield, said the TIO’s latest six-monthly update showed “the existing model for complaints handling and redress is not working”.
“Customers are continuing to experience poor service and are unable to get their service provider to satisfactorily resolve issues,” Fifield said. “Telcos need to lift their game”.
The minister said the government had already directed the Australian Communications and Media Authority to work to give consumers a better experience during the NBN transition and imposed a complaints handling standard.
“It is now time to look at the effectiveness of consumer protections across the board”.
While the latest snapshot of customer dissatisfaction builds on a wealth of criticism about the national broadband project, NBN Co points to a 16% decline in the rate of complaints in the closing months of 2017 as evidence that it is addressing highly publicised problems in the roll-out.
The NBN Co’s chief customer officer, Brad Whitcomb, said the complaints were made in the midst of “one of the biggest deployment years in the company’s history, with NBN Co increasing the number of activated premises on the network in the six months to 31 December 2017 by 39%”.
Whitcomb said the total number of complaints made to the TIO about services delivered over the NBN network equates to 0.67% of total activated services on the NBN access network. He said that, of the 22,827 complaints, less than 5% (1,052 complaints) were sent to NBN Co to resolve.
Morrow will use his speech on Tuesday to unveil new research on the economic impact of the NBN and polling about customer attitudes. The research compares areas where the NBN access network rollout is more than 90% complete with areas where the rollout was less than 10%.
The outgoing chief executive is expected to tell the National Press Club the new research by management consultants AlphaBeta indicates the NBN network generated an additional $1.2bn of economic activity in 2017 by “helping create new jobs, new businesses, better productivity”.
According to a speech extract, Morrow will say: “This is exciting because it excludes the economic stimulus of the NBN rollout itself – things like capital investments, financing and the workers need to build the network have not been counted in this $1.2bn.
“By the end of the rollout, this ‘NBN-effect’ is predicted to have multiplied to $10.4bn a year. This represents an extra 0.07 percentage points to GDP growth, or 2.7% of the estimated GDP growth rate in 2021.
“By the end of the rollout, the NBN effect is forecast to have helped create 31,000 additional jobs”.
Morrow will also point to evidence the NBN is creating economic opportunity for women who want to work from home. He will say women with access to NBN connections are becoming self-employed at twice the overall rate of self-employment growth in NBN areas.
“In percentage terms, these results are stunning,” the NBN CEO will say. “The number of self-employed women in NBN regions grew at an average 2.3% every year, compared to just 0.1% annual average growth in female entrepreneurs in non-NBN areas.
“If this trend continues, up to 52,200 additional Australian women will be self-employed by the end of the roll out due to the NBN effect.”
Morrow was brought in as CEO of NBN Co in 2014 from his post as CEO of Vodafone Australia, where he had overseen a turnaround of the telco. He replaced the inaugural NBN CEO, Mike Quigley, who clashed with Malcolm Turnbull when he was the then Coalition opposition’s communications spokesman.
He told staff at the beginning of April he would move on from the role by year’s end.