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2016-2017 Annual Report

Online Edition

Introduction

Section One

Judi Jones,

Ombudsman

The telecommunications industry in Australia is undergoing unprecedented change. Given this environment, it is not surprising complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman have increased 41 per cent to 158,016. Australians are relying more than ever before on technology to stay connected, to be informed, and to do business, so it is critical that consumers are able to rely on the services they sign up for.

While it is necessary to acknowledge the role of the national broadband network in driving significant change in Australian telecommunications, complaints have increased across the board.

Complaints about services delivered over the national broadband network have more than doubled. This includes an increase in complaints about connection delays and reliability issues such as faults. The increase is somewhat to be expected given the accelerating rollout of the NBN, but is still a concerning trend. The supply chain for the NBN is complex, and complaints about services delivered over the NBN can be multi-faceted. Problems can arise with retailers, with other intermediaries, and sometimes the problem can be with the residential consumer’s or small businesses’ equipment. We are increasingly working with all the relevant parties in the supply chain to navigate these complexities and get the problem fixed.

The vast majority of complaints (90.8 per cent) were resolved by the residential consumer or small business and their phone or internet provider working directly together to solve the issues. Our large team of dedicated enquiry officers worked with residential consumers and small businesses to make sure the complaint received the attention of the right team within the phone or internet provider to quickly resolve the complaint.

In the remaining 9.2 per cent of cases, where the residential consumer or small business is unable to resolve their case directly with the provider, our dispute resolution officers worked with the residential consumer or small business and their phone or internet provider to understand the issues and find fair and reasonable solutions. Sometimes the solution is getting a service connected or reconnected, or a fault fixed. In other cases, the solution can be a correction to a bill or an early release from a contract.

This year we have again used our systemic investigation powers to raise important issues we have observed during our complaint resolution work. This includes working with providers to ensure the problem is fixed for the broader customer base, not just for the consumers who complained about a particular issue.

We have also drawn on our complaint handling experience to contribute to public debate on policy issues. We are in a unique position to inform Government and regulators about emerging telecommunications issues. Our work in this area contributes to reducing complaints and to improvement in the telecommunications sector more generally.

We remain clearly focused on our purpose – that of providing a fair, independent, and accessible dispute resolution service. In line with the Government’s Benchmarks for Industry-based Customer Dispute Resolution, we strive to balance fairness, independence and accessibility with efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability.

In carrying out my duties as Ombudsman, I owe thanks to several groups of people. To phone and internet providers who work with my office to resolve complaints from their customers. To the consumer organisations that work with us to ensure consumers know our service is available.

To the Board, especially the Chair, Patricia Faulkner, for their confidence, support, and challenge. And finally to our staff – thank you for your commitment, focus, and responsiveness in dealing with this year’s high volume of complaints. We are fortunate to have a strong and dedicated team of people who are committed to making a difference for residential consumers, small businesses and the telecommunications industry.

Finally, it seems likely the ongoing changes in the telecommunications industry will continue to drive up complaints. It is important all members of the industry continue working to improve the customer experience so consumers have reliable services and complaints are resolved quickly when they arise.

Judi Jones

Patricia Faulkner AO,

Chair

In 2016-17, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman developed a new strategy. This clear plan with four focused goals reaffirms the Board’s commitment to the Benchmarks for Industry-based Customer Dispute Resolution. For residential consumers, small businesses and telecommunications providers, this means the Ombudsman focuses on providing an efficient and effective service, whilst remaining independent, accessible, fair and accountable.

The past year has seen a significant increase in the number of complaints, after five years of decline. The Ombudsman has responded to this with an increase in staff numbers and changes to the structure of the organisation.

The Board and the Ombudsman have further developed engagement with stakeholders, acknowledging the interest in our data and our insights into the causes of complaints. We are also focusing on ensuring those who need assistance are aware of the services offered, and that our service is easily accessible.

We made good progress in two key projects. We have continued our review of the funding model, and expect to be able to share the results of this work with stakeholders later in 2017. The Ombudsman moved to new offices in November 2016. The modern, light and flexible workspace supports the goal of developing a sustainable and resilient organisation and infrastructure.

In March 2017, we reduced the size of the Board from 11 to nine directors. In the nine roles, we have expertise from industry, consumer, and non-governmental sectors, as well as technical knowledge, giving us a balanced direction in the delivery of our strategy.

In February, the Board said farewell to Teresa Corbin, Iain Falshaw, Brad Kitschke and Philippa Smith. We thank them for their considerable service and commitment to our Board, especially through a year of change and development. We were very pleased to welcome John Lindsay and Michael Lavarch AO as the newest members of the Board. John brings a career strongly based in the telecommunications industry with roles ranging from working with small providers to government agencies. Michael is a Director with not-for-profit governance experience and expertise from numerous senior roles in government and not-for-profit entities, including serving as Australia’s Attorney-General.

In closing, I thank my fellow directors for their focus and support of the work of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. And I thank the Ombudsman and her staff for responding to the challenges of the year.

Patricia Faulkner AO

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Board of Directors

To ensure our independence, the Board is chaired by an independent Director and contains a balanced mix of Directors with industry and consumer experience, and two independent Directors with governance experience.

The Board governs the business affairs and property of Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Limited in accordance with the Company Constitution and Terms of Reference.

 

Independent Chair

Patricia Faulkner AO BA, Dip Ed, MBA, FIPAA

Directors with consumer experience

Paul Harrison PhD, GAICD, MAM
Catriona Lowe LLB
Gordon Renouf BA, LLB

Directors with industry experience

David Epstein BA, AMP, GAICD
John Lindsay GAICD, MACS
Jules Scarlett BA, LLB (Hons)

Independent Directors with commercial governance experience

Geoff Nicholson BEc, MBA, FCA, GAICD, CSEP

Independent Director with not-for-profit governance experience

Professor The Hon. Michael Lavarch AO, LLB

Board activities in 2016-17

In 2016-17, the Board met 10 times (excluding meetings of Board committees). In addition to approving the annual budget, the Board’s activities focused on developing the new strategy, continuing work on the funding model review, and supporting the organisation’s response to the increasing number of complaints.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman provides a free and independent dispute resolution service for residential consumers and small businesses who have an unresolved complaint about their telephone or internet service in Australia.

Scope of service

Dispute resolution services include:

  • Dealing with individual and systemic complaints
  • Promoting fair and effective resolution of complaints
  • Providing information and analysis to community, government and members

About the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Ltd was established in 1993, and is a company limited by guarantee. The Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 requires telecommunications providers to be members of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman and to comply with the decisions of the Ombudsman.

Telecommunications Service Providers

Telecommunications service providers are businesses or individuals who are carriers or provide carriage services.

Carriers – persons who own a telecommunications network unit to supply carriage services to the public. The carrier must be licensed through the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Carriage service providers (CSP) – those who supply standard telephone services, public mobile telecommunications services, or carriage services that enable end-users to access the internet, including carriage service intermediaries who arrange for the supply of such services.

The Telecommunications Industry Sector

The Telecommunications industry regulators are the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) www.acma.gov.au and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) www.accc.gov.au

Government and the regulators set policy and regulations for the telecommunications sector. The Communications Alliance is the peak body for the Australian communications industry. www.commsalliance.com.au

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) is Australia’s peak communications consumer organisation representing individuals, small businesses and not-for-profit groups as consumers of communications products and services. www.accan.org.au

How to make a complaint

  • Residential consumers and small businesses should first try to resolve their complaint with their phone or internet provider.
  • If the complaint remains unresolved, the residential consumer or small business should contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman by visiting www.tio.com.au or call 1800 062 058.
  • The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman will determine whether it can deal with the complaint.
  • The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman can work with the parties to resolve the complaint.
  • The Ombudsman has the power to decide the resolution of the complaint.

Strategy and strategic goals

Section Two

Our Purpose 

To provide a fair, independent and accessible dispute resolution service for consumers and the telecommunications industry that complies with Benchmarks for Industry-based Customer Dispute Resolution.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s purpose is clear – fairness, independence in everything it does and openness and transparency with residential consumers, small businesses, and with phone and internet providers. The Ombudsman’s purpose was developed based on the Government’s six Benchmarks for Industry-based Customer Dispute Resolution – accessibility, independence, fairness, accountability, efficiency and effectiveness. This means an approach that is practical and responsive, and follows industry best practice and excellence in dispute resolution and complaint handling.

Four goals lead the Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman’s work:

  • Providing efficient and effective dispute resolution service, without compromising integrity
  • Collaborating, informing, and educating stakeholders to reduce complaints and improve telecommunication services
  • Being known, respected and accessible
  • Building a resilient and sustainable organisation and infrastructure

1. Providing efficient and effective dispute resolution service, without compromising integrity

Maintaining independence and integrity is a vital aspect of our dispute resolution work. And we have to ensure we focus on being efficient and effective. All parties – residential consumers and small businesses, and their phone and internet providers expect us to use our resources wisely, and to focus on resolving complaints effectively and independently.

 

Highlights

2016/17 highlights include:

158,016

complaints received

90.8%

of complaints resolved by referral to the phone or internet provider higher level complaints team

14,556

complaints resolved by conciliation

138,816 (87.8%)

complaints from residential consumers

18,789 (11.9%)

complaints from small business

215,550

calls and 98,341 emails – an average of 1,200 calls or emails every day

447

phone and internet providers have complaints raised against them

43

systemic issues identified and investigated including unauthorised transfers, potentially misleading contracts and consumer privacy concerns

2,612

complaints from the Australian Capital Territory

50,537

complaints from New South Wales

1,043

complaints from the Northern Territory

28,988

complaints from Queensland

12,526

complaints from South Australia

2,964

complaints from Tasmania

43,565

complaints from Victoria

13,623

complaints from Western Australia

2. Collaborating, informing, and educating stakeholders to reduce complaints and improve telecommunication services

A key objective of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman continues to be reducing complaints and providing feedback to improve telecommunications services. We provide regular reports to phone and internet providers about their complaints. Information and analysis is also provided to Government and regulators, highlighting systemic issues and trends to inform policy development.

 

Highlights

2016/17 highlights include:

THE ANNUAL REPORT

A comprehensive overview of phone and internet complaints over twelve months.

SIX MONTH UPDATE

A new report introduced in 2016/17, offering a summary of six months of complaint data.

MONTHLY REPORTING

to key government, telecommunications and consumer bodies.

DAILY COMPLAINT HANDLING DATA

available to each phone and internet provider through a secure online portal.

MEMBER ENGAGEMENT

Member Services team working with around 1,500 phone and internet providers as members. This year, 172 service providers joined the Ombudsman Scheme and 210 left the scheme.

M NEWS

The Ombudsman’s email newsletter was sent each month to over 3,378 recipients working for phone and internet service providers.

MEMBER INFORMATION

New and existing members have access to an online training portal on dispute resolution best practice as well as information on how the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman deals with complaints.

MEMBER SURVEY

An engagement needs survey shaping communication channels and opportunities between phone and internet providers and the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

3. Being known, respected and accessible

Engagement with residential consumers and small businesses, telecommunications companies, representative bodies and government ensures the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman reaches its stakeholders appropriately and effectively. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman engages through a mix of integrated channels to create awareness of its role, its independence and accessibility for all communities. Data on the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s complaints is highly sought after to provide valuable insight into the telecommunications sector and the experience of consumers in Australia.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman regularly informs the debate on the development of policies and regulation of the telecommunications sector.

Highlights

2016/17 highlights include:

SEVEN SUBMISSIONS

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman made seven submissions. These included the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into the future direction of the Universal Service Obligation (USO); the Review of the Australian Communications and Media Authority; the review of section 593 of the Telecommunications Act 1997; Australian Consumer Law Review Interim Report; and the Joint Standing Committee Inquiry into the national broadband network.

Full details can be found in the Submissions section of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s website.

KEY RELATIONSHIPS

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is a major stakeholder as the regulator of the telecommunications sector. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman shares information with the ACMA about complaint trends and reports non-compliance in the telecommunications sector. In 2016-17, three providers were referred to the ACMA for not complying with an Ombudsman decision. A further nine providers were referred for not becoming members. Of the nine providers referred to the ACMA, six subsequently became members, one was granted an exemption, with two still under investigation by the ACMA.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman worked regularly with stakeholders across the telecommunications, consumer and ombudsman sectors on planning, policy development, service improvement, and information provision. Stakeholders include the Minister for Communications and the Arts, Department of Communications and the Arts, Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), Communications Alliance, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman, Judi Jones, is a member of the peak body for Ombudsman in Australia and New Zealand. The Australian and New Zealand Ombudsman Association (ANZOA) is a professional body for ombudsman and provides opportunities for sharing best practice, discussing challenges, and leading the development of ombudsman offices. Judi Jones is the chair of ANZOA.

SMALL PROVIDER FORUMS

The Ombudsman and Board members hosted a series of Small Provider Forums across the country. 2016/17’s forums were held in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, and offered an opportunity to hear directly from small providers on the issues and challenges they face.

4. Building a resilient and sustainable organisation and infrastructure

When achieving goals, it is vital to have an organisation that is efficient, adaptive to challenges and well managed. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman wants to attract the best people, invest in their training and development, and see their success in the services it provides. The organisation constantly assesses and improves its operational processes and systems for efficiency and responsiveness to a fast changing telecommunications sector.

Highlights

2016/17 highlights include:

NEW ORGANISATIONAL STRUCTURE

A new organisational structure focused on dispute resolution and complaint handling with three groups, Dispute Resolution, the Ombudsman’s Office, and Shared Services.

A NEW PEOPLE TEAM

The People Team was restructured and new team members recruited. Over the year the team has introduced improved processes for recruitment and employee professional development, and worked to ensure the office remains a welcoming place to work.

 

NEW RECRUITMENT APPROACH

A streamlined recruitment process was introduced to improve the quality of employees entering the organisation and help stabilise recruitment costs.

EMPLOYEE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

There was a continued focus on professional development for dispute resolution staff through the Graduate Certificate in Dispute Resolution, the in-house qualification delivered in partnership with Box Hill Institute.

 

4. Building a resilient and sustainable organisation and infrastructure (continued)

 

LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

The foundations were laid for the launch of major leadership development programs scheduled to commence in the new financial year.

GENDER EQUALITY

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman is committed to gender equality in the workplace. Last year, 44% of management roles were performed by women (compared to a 38% national average), 45% of board positions held by women (double the national rate) and the overall workforce comprising 49% women and 51% men.

WELLBEING

Staff are entitled to 16 weeks of employer funded paid parental leave (maternity or adoption), higher than the national average of 10 weeks. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman also funds paid parental leave for partners (one week plus additional 10 weeks if they are the primary carer) and provides equal access to flexible work options for men and women. Additionally over the last year, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman has supported the design of an open and engaging office, a staff social committee and a program of wellbeing activities.

VALUING DIVERSITY

Recognising diverse cultures and communities is fundamental to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman as an independent and accessible dispute resolution service. In the last year, cultural events and traditions have been celebrated, such as Harmony Day, Reconciliation Action Week, and NAIDOC Week. The cross-organisation Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership Group has also made inroads in recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

 

FLEXIBLE TECHNOLOGY

ICT services have moved from on premise infrastructure to cloud technology, improving cost effectiveness and better supporting fluctuations in demand for service.

PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE

Telecommunications services were upgraded to support newer technology and multi-channel communications such as SMSchat, Webchat, video calls, 3-way conferencing and social media integration for the Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman’s future plans.

EARLY RESOLUTION RESOURCE IMPROVEMENTS

Teams were cross-skilled to better leverage technology developments and improve the delivery of work. This has resulted in reduced wait times across phone calls and online complaints for residential consumers, small business and telecommunications organisations.

Case Study

WENDY JAMES*
Serious consequences of breach of privacy

Wendy completed a Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman online complaint form about her mobile phone provider AAA Telco*. Wendy felt AAA Telco did not protect her personal information from her ex-partner. Wendy was seeking compensation for distress, as well as the financial expenses she had incurred because of the privacy breach.

Wendy explained she had moved multiple homes to escape a long-term violent relationship. She purchased new mobile services for herself and her son. She specifically told the AAA Telco representative her ex-partner was not to have access to any of her numbers or new address.

Despite Wendy’s instruction, AAA Telco sent an email confirming the details of Wendy’s new services, including numbers and address, to her ex-partner’s email address. Wendy said after AAA Telco disclosed her personal information, her ex-partner contacted her and she was harassed by him. Wendy also said her ex-partner interfered with her account information.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman led the discussions during conciliation. This included how the disclosure occurred and the potential compensation package. The settlement between Wendy and AAA Telco included release from contracts without penalty, waiving all charges and a payment to cover re-location costs. When the settlement was formalised, the case was closed.

 

*Name of individuals, organisations and companies have been changed

Case Study

CREATIVE OFFICE DESIGNS PTY LTD*
A small business and a new start

After a period under voluntary administration, the management of Creative Office Designs Pty Ltd was handed back to its original directors under a deed of company arrangement. Creative Office Designs Pty Ltd could not afford their telecommunications bill of $17,000 per month. Creative Office Designs Pty Ltd’s telecommunications provider, Go Fast Telco*, suggested they create a new account with reduced services and monthly costs. The new account had to be in a different name because Creative Office Designs Pty Ltd had only recently come out of administration.

For two years, Creative Designs Pty Ltd complained to Go Fast Telco about the charges on the Creative Office Designs Pty Ltd account, which they wanted closed. Creative Office Designs Pty Ltd lodged a complaint with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman against Go Fast Telco holding them liable for $70,000 in accrued charges. They said the problem continued for so long because of differences between Go Fast Telco’s regional manager and head office.

By lodging the complaint with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, the issue was referred to senior complaint handlers within Go Fast Telco. During conciliation by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman there was an analysis of Creative Office Design Pty Ltd’s account history and its communication with Go Fast Telco. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman led negotiations between the Creative Office Design Pty Ltd and Go Fast Telco which involved offers and counter offers. The dispute was eventually resolved when Creative Office Designs Pty Ltd agreed to pay around $20,000 in business directory charges and Go Fast Telco agreed to waive accrued charges in the order of $50,000.

 

*Name of individuals, organisations and companies have been changed

Case Study

SIMON YAUN*
Landline connection in a remote location

Simon and his wife purchased a property in a remote rural location with poor mobile phone coverage and a satellite internet service. Simon had a contract with Green Phones* to connect a new landline service which would also be used for his business. The new landline service required preparatory digging, trenching and cabling works at Simon’s property.

Simon lodged an online complaint with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman when the service was still not installed four months after the scheduled start date. Simon said he was frustrated dealing with Green Phones because of their staff’s lack of knowledge about the works to be completed, their lack of accountably and the difficulty he had communicating with them.

The complaint was not resolved, so the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman started conciliation. The aim of conciliation was to progress the installation of the landline service as quickly as possible and for Green Phones to establish an interim service. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s Dispute Resolution Officer sought information to explain why the trenching work had not started and who was responsible for this work. Green Phones provided information about the costs of possible solutions, a satellite voice service and installation of a copper extension. The most viable solution was a copper extension. Green Phones offered Simon an interim service but despite requests from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s Dispute Resolution Officer to fast track this, the solar satellite interim service was not installed. Simon’s frustration was compounded further when technicians twice failed to meet appointments, leading to the postponement of business meetings in Sydney.

The case progressed to an investigation by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman about the continued delays. During the investigation, Green Phones undertook parallel processes of arranging the landline installation and the supply of the interim service. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s Dispute Resolution Officer worked directly with Simon and Green Phones to clarify misunderstandings about the interim service. Green Phones said Simon had declined an interim service. Simon responded by saying the two options offered to him would not work. Offering and providing an interim service impacted directly on Simon’s entitlement to a payment under the Customer Service Guarantee Standard.

Green Phones explained the two appointments to install the solar satellite interim service were postponed when the technician discovered that parts needed to complete the work were missing. Ultimately, Green Phones successfully installed Simon’s landline service before the interim service was ever delivered. The landline was connected at Simon’s property nine months after the order was placed. Simon accepted a credit for all connection charges and payment of over $7,700 under the Customer Service Guarantee Standard.

 

*Name of individuals, organisations and companies have been changed

Case Study

ANDREA EDDY*
Repayment arrangement and debt collection

In 2014, Andrea fell into financial difficulty and her phone and internet services were cancelled. She entered into a fortnightly payment arrangement to repay the outstanding debt of $4,500.

Andrea called the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman about the issue. She wanted her telecommunications provider, Future Mobiles*, to acknowledge the regular payments she had made to them. She also wanted their debt collector to stop sending letters and calling her to demand repayment of the full amount.

Future Mobiles maintained there was never a repayment arrangement in place. At conciliation, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s Dispute Resolution Officer asked Future Mobiles to provide information from its customer records and the payment history for Andrea’s account.

The information showed there was a repayment arrangement and Andrea consistently made payments. Future Mobiles agreed with this and said it cancelled the arrangement because the payments were overdue. Andrea explained her payments coincided with her pension payment and normally she always paid her bill. In this case it was a couple of days late.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s Dispute Resolution Officer discussed the issue further with Future Mobiles and Andrea and outlined possible options to resolve the complaint.

Future Mobiles said it would consider a new payment arrangement if Andrea was in financial hardship. Andrea provided a statement of financial position and the parties agreed on a new repayment arrangement with repayment dates matching her pension payments.

During the conciliation, Andrea complained that Future Mobiles continued to send her default notices. Once alerted to this they agreed to stop sending the notices.

Andrea then discovered that Future Mobiles had listed a default in payment at the time the complaint was being conciliated. When Andrea complained again, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s Dispute Resolution Officer noted Future Mobiles’ actions were in breach of the law and industry codes.

The Privacy Act 1988, Part IIIA, the Privacy (Credit Reporting) Code and the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code protect a consumer from credit management when a repayment arrangement is in place and when a complaint is being considered by a recognised external dispute resolution scheme, such as the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

After the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman outlined Future Mobiles’ obligations under the law and industry codes, Future Mobiles agreed to remove the default listing. Future Mobiles also agreed to waive the remaining balance of over $1,000 as compensation payable under the Privacy Act 1988 for injury to feelings and humiliation. Andrea accepted the resolution.

 

*Name of individuals, organisations and companies have been changed

Case Study

STARTER COMMUNICATIONS*
Land access objection

Carrier Starter Communications* issued a Land Access and Activity Notice to Sarah Kendall*. Sarah was the owner of a narrow strip of land where Starter Communications wanted to install a cable for telecommunications services to be supplied to Sarah’s neighbourhood.

The Notice included a summary of Schedule 3 of the Telecommunications Act 1997. This included information about Sarah’s right to seek compensation for any financial loss or damage suffered as a result of Starter Communications’ activities, the purpose of the activity and the objection process.

Sarah objected to the proposed work on the basis it was not a low-impact facility within the meaning of the Telecommunications (Low Impact Facilities) Determination 1997 as her land was an area of environmental significance.

Starter Communications and Sarah were unable to resolve the objection during the consultation process, and the objection was referred to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman’s decision found the activity was not a low impact activity and it could not proceed.

The decision included an examination of the Notice to ensure it met with legislative requirements, which it did. The decision then examined the arguments put by Starter Communications and Sarah against the provisions of Schedule 3.

Sarah said the land was of environmental significance as it is protected from significant disturbance by being within a protected conservation zone under a local council interim development order.

Starter Communications argued the land was not an area of environmental significance because extensive development is allowed on the land. It also argued that as it was exercising its carrier powers under Schedule 3, the proposed cabling was exempt from any planning laws.

The Ombudsman concluded that the land was an area of environmental significance on the basis of the zoning under the local council order. The local council order was a law of the State under the Telecommunications (Low Impact Facilities) Determination 1997 and protected the land from significant environmental disturbance. This meant the proposed activity was not a low-impact facility and could not proceed.

 

*Name of individuals, organisations and companies have been changed

Complaints

Section Three

Complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

Complaints about landline phone, mobile phone and internet services all increased in 2016/17.

158,016

total complaints received in 2016/17

41.1%

increase in complaints

138,816

complaints from residential consumers

18,789

complaints from small businesses

Complaints numbers vs Previous Years

Complaints, enquiries and conciliations
Complaints about landline phones, mobile phones and internet services
Who complained to the telecommunications industry ombudsman
Top Complaint Issues
Issue2016/172016/17%
Customer service76,93248.7%
Billing and payments66,14241.9%
Faults57,72336.5%
Complaint handling49,26831.2%
Contracts30,73119.4%
Connection25,60416.2%
Credit management15,6199.9%
Transfer3,6082.3%
Privacy2,5981.6%
Land access6660.4%
*Column one shows the number of complaints involving each issue. Column two shows the percentage of all complaints involving the issue. Complaints may also involve multiple issues.
Top 10 Postcodes for complaints
PostcodeSuburbState2016/17
2560CampbelltownNSW769
4350ToowoombaQLD768
3029Hoppers CrossingVIC752
3030WerribeeVIC739
3064CraigieburnVIC737
2250GosfordNSW707
2170LiverpoolNSW680
3977CranbourneVIC675
2259Hamlyn TerraceNSW643
4870CairnsQLD607

Complaints about services delivered over the national broadband network

As the national broadband network rollout widens, complaints about landline phones and internet services across the network have grown.

nbn co limited (nbn or the company) was established in 2009 to design, build and operate Australia’s new high-speed, wholesale local access broadband network. Retail service providers contract with nbn to access the national broadband network and sell broadband internet access to end users. The national broadband network at 2017, uses both wired (copper, optical fibre and hybrid fibre-coaxial), and wireless (satellite and fixed wireless) communication networks.

How the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman records complaints about services delivered over the national broadband network

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman receives complaints about services delivered over the national broadband network and about nbn, the company rolling out the network.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman started recording and reporting complaints about services delivered over the national broadband network from financial year 2013/14.

Complaints about services delivered over the national broadband network include:

  • cases lodged against service providers where the residential consumer or small business tells the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman the complaint is about a service, and
  • cases lodged against the nbn, where the complaint is about damage to property or access required to a property for the purposes of installing or repairing the network.

27,195

total complaints received about services delivered over the national broadband network

16,221

total fault complaints about services delivered over the national broadband network

6.7

fault complaints per 1,000 total premises activated

11,224

complaints about delays in connection to the national broadband network

8.3

connection delay complaints per 1,000 premises activated

Complaint Numbers VS Previous Years Year over year change: 159.3%
Fault complaints against total number of premises connected
Connect delay complaints against total number of premises being connected*
Complaints about type of service delivered over the national broadband network
Who complained about services delivered over the national broadband network
Top Complaint Issues about services delivered over the national broadband network
IssueNo. of Complaints
New internet connection delay7,035
Fully unusable internet service4,816
Fully unusable landline service4,140
New landline connection delay3,936
Slow internet data speed3,917

Australian Capital Territory

2,612

total complaints received from the Australian Capital Territory in 2016/17

42.3%

increase in complaints since 2015/16

1.7%

of national complaint numbers

Australian Capital Territory
Complaint Numbers VS Previous Years Year over year change: 42.3%
Complaints about landline phones, mobile phones and internet services
Who complained to the telecommunications industry ombudsman
Top Complaint Issues
Issue2016/172016/17 (%)*
Customer service1,31950.5%
Billing and payments1,13843.6%
Faults93435.8%
Complaint handling80230.7%
Contracts47218.1%
Connection38714.8%
Credit management2198.4%
Transfer793.0%
Privacy471.8%
Land access160.6%
*Column one shows the number of complaints involving each issue. Column two shows the percentage of all complaints involving the issue. Complaints may involve multiple issues.
Top 10 Postcodes for complaints
PostcodeSuburb2016/17
2615MacGregor256
2602Lyneham221
2913Casey205
2617Bruce190
2905Bonython183
2914Harrison177
2611Stromlo174
2614Hawker108
2612Reid102
2906Gordon93

New South Wales

50,537

total complaints received from the New South Wales in 2016/17

43.6%

increase in complaints since 2015/16

32.0%

of national complaint numbers

New South Wales
Complaint Numbers VS Previous Years Year over year change: 43.6%
Complaints about landline phones, mobile phones and internet services
Who complained to the telecommunications industry ombudsman
Top Complaint Issues
Issue2016/172016/17 (%)*
Customer service24,69348.9%
Billing and payments20,40540.4%
Faults19,70639.0%
Complaint handling15,72231.1%
Contracts9,47318.7%
Connection8,33916.5%
Credit management4,4928.9%
Transfer1,2222.4%
Privacy8891.8%
Land access2040.4%
*Column one shows the number of complaints involving each issue. Column two shows the percentage of all complaints involving the issue. Complaints may involve multiple issues.
Top 10 Postcodes for complaints
PostcodeSuburb2016/17
2560Campbelltown769
2250Gosford707
2170Liverpool680
2259Hamlyn Terrace643
2155Rouse Hill522
2148Blacktown437
2145Westmead436
2261The Entrance399
2770Mount Druitt328
2200Bankstown260

Northern Territory

1,043

total complaints received from the Northern Territory in 2016/17

29.7%

increase in complaints since 2015/16

0.7%

of national complaint numbers

Northern Territory
Complaint Numbers VS Previous Years Year over year change: 29.7%
Complaints about landline phones, mobile phones and internet services
Who complained to the telecommunications industry ombudsman
Top Complaint Issues
Issue2016/172016/17 (%)*
Customer service49647.6%
Billing and payments44542.7%
Faults37235.7%
Complaint handling35333.8%
Contracts20019.2%
Connection19919.1%
Credit management10410.0%
Transfer232.2%
Privacy181.7%
Directories40.4%
*Column one shows the number of complaints involving each issue. Column two shows the percentage of all complaints involving the issue. Complaints may involve multiple issues.
Top 10 Postcodes for complaints
PostcodeSuburb2016/17
0870Alice Springs211
0810Rapid Creek132
0820The Gardens112
0830Palmerston99
0812Leanyer77
0832Rosebery65
0836Humpty Doo54
0800Darwin51
0822Angurugu47
0850Katherine33

Queensland

28,988

total complaints received from the Queensland in 2016/17

42.7%

increase in complaints since 2015/16

18.3%

of national complaint numbers

Queensland
Complaint Numbers VS Previous Years Year over year change: 42.7%
Complaints about landline phones, mobile phones and internet services
Who complained to the telecommunications industry ombudsman
Top Complaint Issues
Issue2016/172016/17 (%)*
Customer service14,08348.6%
Billing and payments12,51443.2%
Faults10,39435.9%
Complaint handling9,25731.9%
Contracts5,74719.8%
Connection4,75316.4%
Credit management2,89110.0%
Transfer6492.2%
Privacy4151.4%
Property1300.4%
*Column one shows the number of complaints involving each issue. Column two shows the percentage of all complaints involving the issue. Complaints may involve multiple issues.
Top 10 Postcodes for complaints
PostcodeSuburb2016/17
4350Toowoomba768
4870Cairns607
4670Bundaberg562
4510Caboolture473
4655Hervey Bay432
4209Upper Coomera429
4207Greater Logan Area383
4740Mackay380
4215Southport366
4211Nerang351

South Australia

12,526

total complaints received from the South Australia in 2016/17

51%

increase in complaints since 2015/16

7.9%

of national complaint numbers

South Australia
Complaint Numbers VS Previous Years Year over year change: 51%
Complaints about landline phones, mobile phones and internet services
Who complained to the telecommunications industry ombudsman
Top Complaint Issues
Issue2016/172016/17 (%)*
Customer service6,08348.6%
Billing and payments5,05140.3%
Faults4,63337.0%
Complaint handling3,80430.4%
Contracts2,36318.9%
Connection2,07416.6%
Credit management1,26110.1%
Transfer2642.1%
Privacy1941.5%
Property500.4%
*Column one shows the number of complaints involving each issue. Column two shows the percentage of all complaints involving the issue. Complaints may involve multiple issues.
Top 10 Postcodes for complaints
PostcodeSuburb2016/17
5108Paralowie304
5159Aberfoyle Park260
5158Hallett Cove249
5162Morphett Vale230
5114Andrews Farm227
5043Mitchell Park207
5109Salisbury East202
5113Davoren Park189
5112Elizabeth Vale143
5000Adelaide BC142

Tasmania

2,964

total complaints received from the Tasmania in 2016/17

38.4%

increase in complaints since 2015/16

1.9%

of national complaint numbers

Tasmania
Complaint Numbers VS Previous Years Year over year change: 38.4%
Complaints about landline phones, mobile phones and internet services
Who complained to the telecommunications industry ombudsman
Top Complaint Issues
Issue2016/172016/17 (%)*
Customer service1,46349.4%
Billing and payments1,13938.4%
Faults1,05135.5%
Complaint handling97833.0%
Connection59620.1%
Contracts50517.0%
Credit management2608.8%
Transfer662.2%
Privacy571.9%
Directories240.8%
*Column one shows the number of complaints involving each issue. Column two shows the percentage of all complaints involving the issue. Complaints may involve multiple issues.
Top 10 Postcodes for complaints
PostcodeSuburb2016/17
7250Launceston185
7018Bellerive169
7310Devonport157
7010Glenorchy138
7000Hobart134
7011Claremont125
7009Moonah115
7030Mangalore103
7008New Town94
7050Kingston67

Victoria

43,565

total complaints received from the Victoria in 2016/17

41.1%

increase in complaints since 2015/16

27.6%

of national complaint numbers

Victoria
Complaint Numbers VS Previous Years Year over year change: 41.1%
Complaints about landline phones, mobile phones and internet services
Who complained to the telecommunications industry ombudsman
Top Complaint Issues
Issue2016/172016/17 (%)*
Customer service21,18648.6%
Billing and payments18,63342.8%
Faults14,89234.2%
Complaint handling13,44930.9%
Contracts8,73220.0%
Connection7,04416.2%
Credit management4,77311.0%
Transfer9662.2%
Privacy7221.7%
Property1740.4%
*Column one shows the number of complaints involving each issue. Column two shows the percentage of all complaints involving the issue. Complaints may involve multiple issues.
Top 10 Postcodes for complaints
PostcodeSuburb2016/17
3029Hoppers Crossing752
3030Werribee739
3064Craigieburn737
3977Cranbourne675
3175Dandenong574
3150Glen Waverley561
3350Ballarat471
3805Narre Warren South423
3199Frankston401
3023Caroline Springs399

Western Australia

13,623

total complaints received from the Western Australia in 2016/17

49.1%

increase in complaints since 2015/16

8.6%

of national complaint numbers

Western Australia
Complaint Numbers VS Previous Years Year over year change: 49.1%
Complaints about landline phones, mobile phones and internet services
Who complained to the telecommunications industry ombudsman
Top Complaint Issues
Issue2016/172016/17 (%)*
Customer service6,59348.4%
Billing and payments6,00344.1%
Faults4,98236.6%
Complaint handling4,27831.4%
Contracts2,76520.3%
Connection1,91314.0%
Credit management1,37610.1%
Transfer2842.1%
Privacy2111.5%
Directories640.5%
*Column one shows the number of complaints involving each issue. Column two shows the percentage of all complaints involving the issue. Complaints may involve multiple issues.
Top 10 Postcodes for complaints
PostcodeSuburb2016/17
6210Mandurah469
6112Armadale393
6065Wanneroo355
6030Clarkson333
6163Hamilton Hill332
6107Cannington311
6164Atwell253
6056Swan View228
6155Canning Vale226
6061Balga188

Small Business

18,789

total complaints received from the small businesses in 2016/17

31.3%

increase in complaints since 2015/16

 

Small Business
Complaint Numbers VS Previous Years Year over year change: 31.3%
COMPLAINTS ABOUT LANDLINE PHONES, MOBILE PHONES AND INTERNET SERVICES
Top Complaint Issues
Issue2016/172016/17 (%)*
Customer service8,78446.8%
Faults7,85441.8%
Billing and payments6,86336.5%
Complaint handling5,91531.5%
Contracts3,41018.1%
Connection3,23217.2%
Credit management1,5538.3%
Transfer8144.3%
Directories3281.7%
Privacy2901.5%
Column one shows the number of complaints involving each issue. Column two shows the percentage of all complaints involving the issue. Complaints may involve multiple issues
Top 10 Postcodes for Complaints
Suburb2016/172016/17 (%)*
2000SydneyNSW137
4870CairnsQLD127
3000MelbourneVIC113
2250Central MangroveNSW112
3175DandenongVIC111
2170LiverpoolNSW97
4350ToowoombaQLD87
2560CampbelltownNSW82
2148BlacktownNSW76
2750PenrithNSW76

Complaints about phone and internet providers

As part of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s commitment to transparency and independence, this report features a breakdown of complaints about providers with the largest number of phone and internet complaints.

The data in the graphs is not adjusted for the number of customers or services in operation during the reporting period.

The ten service providers whose data is published in this report accounted for 90.9% of complaints in 2016/17.

Phone and internet providers have been listed in order of total number of complaints.

Telstra

Complaints about Telstra in the 2016/17 financial year

76,650

total complaints received compared to 53,425 received in 2015/16

43.5%

increase in complaints

13,536

complaints about services delivered over the national broadband network

Optus Group

Complaints about Optus Group in the 2016/17 financial year

28,766

total complaints received compared to 21,929 received in 2015/16

31.2%

increase in complaints

3,938

complaints about services delivered over the national broadband network

Vodafone Group

Complaints about Vodafone Group in the 2016/17 financial year

10,684

total complaints received compared to 7,772 received in 2015/16

37.5%

increase in complaints

Vodafone Group did not provide services delivered over the national broadband network in this financial year

iiNet

Complaints about iiNet in the 2016/17 financial year

10,170

total complaints received compared to 5,681 received in 2015/16

79%

increase in complaints

2,197

complaints about services delivered over the national broadband network

TPG Group

Complaints about TPG Group in the 2016/17 financial year

6,995

total complaints received compared to 4,826 received in 2015/16

44.9%

increase in complaints

1,916

complaints about services delivered over the national broadband network

Dodo

Complaints about Dodo in the 2016/17 financial year

3,309

total complaints received compared to 3,272 received in 2015/16

1.1%

increase in complaints

726

complaints about services delivered over the national broadband network

Southern Phone Company

Complaints about Southern Phone Company in the 2016/17 financial year

2,068

total complaints received compared to 564 received in 2015/16

266.7%

increase in complaints

865

complaints about services delivered over the national broadband network

Primus Telecommunications

Complaints about Primus Telecommunications in the 2016/17 financial year

1,917

total complaints received compared to 1,451 received in 2015/16

32.1%

increase in complaints

300

complaints about services delivered over the national broadband network

M2 Commander

Complaints about M2 Commander in the 2016/17 financial year

1,704

total complaints received compared to 1,360 received in 2015/16

25.3%

increase in complaints

259

complaints about services delivered over the national broadband network

Virgin Mobile

Complaints about Virgin Mobile in the 2016/17 financial year

1,354

total complaints received compared to 1,532 received in 2015/16

-11.6%

decrease in complaints

 

Virgin Mobile did not provide services delivered over the national broadband network in this financial year

Case Outcomes

When the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman closes a conciliation or investigation, outcomes are recorded. These can have a financial or non-financial benefit to the residential consumer or small business. The most common financial outcome for consumers in 2016/17 was a debt or fee reduction or waiver, followed by a billing adjustment. The median value in financial outcomes was $350, and the most common non-financial outcome for residential consumers or small businesses was an explanation or assistance, followed by cancellation or change to a contract, service or plan

While the median financial outcome is relatively modest, often knowing the bill was right or the explanation provided by the provider was correct can provide significant value to both parties.

The Distribution of conciliation and investigation case outcomes in 2016/17

16,482

Closed Conciliations and Investigations

Examples of conciliation and investigation case outcomes

FinancialNon-financial
Debt/fee reduction or waiverExplanation or assistance
Billing adjustmentCancellation or change to a contract
Payment arrangementRepair of equipment, service or property damage
Customer Service Guarantee paymentConnection or reconnection
Compensation for non-financial lossApology
Correction of a record

Land access objections

Under the Telecommunications Act 1997, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman deals with objections from landowners or occupiers about the proposed inspection, maintenance or placement of “low impact facilities” such as antennas or cabling on their land. Senior Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman staff with knowledge of the legislation work on these cases, and cases about land damage by a carrier when installing or maintaining telecommunications equipment. The Ombudsman makes the decisions on land access objections.

This year the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman received 16 new land access objections compared to six the previous year. There were six objections in New South Wales, four in Victoria, four in Queensland and two in Western Australia