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Phone and internet complaints increase following outage, but year-on-year decline continues

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Media Release

The latest data from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) reveals that consumers and small businesses made 14,671 complaints between October and December 2023, an increase of 13.4 percent compared to the previous quarter, but a 17.9 percent decrease compared to the same time last year.

Explore the interactive data dashboard

The most notable increases were in complaints related to a network outage and complaints about no phone or internet service, following the Optus Outage on 8 November 2023.

The TIO received 919 complaints from consumers who were impacted by the Optus outage, with 20 percent of these from small businesses. Most consumers sought outcomes including credits, a refunded or discounted service, financial compensation, exiting a contract early, or apologies from the telco.

Overall, six of the top ten issues increased compared to last quarter, with complaints about customer service and problems with a bill continuing to be the top issues for consumers.

Following complaints about a network outage or no internet or phone service, the largest increase was for complaints about a delay establishing a service (25.8 percent increase). The Local Government Areas (LGAs) with a significant increase in complaints about a delay establishing a service were all in Queensland – Gold Coast (43.7 percent increase), Moreton Bay (16 percent increase), and Logan (72.7 percent increase).

Complaints from small businesses made up 12 percent of all complaints, and increased 7.2 percent in volume compared to the previous quarter. Complaints about business loss increased 35.7 percent and was the third most complained about issue for small businesses, after customer service problems and problems with a bill.

This quarter 451 people contacted the TIO about problems with financial hardship or repayment arrangements. Of these contacts, 331 were raised as complaints, a decrease of 5.7 percent compared to the previous quarter.

Other key points:

  • Complaints about internet services increased 23.3 percent compared to the same time in 2022 and made up more than a third of all complaints to the TIO.
  • The top five LGAs with the highest complaints were Brisbane (602), Gold Coast (323), Moreton Bay (291), Sunshine Coast (213) and Wyndham (206).
  • The TIO received 402 complaints from consumers who identified as First Nations – a substantial 78.7 percent increase from the previous quarter. This jump is attributed to improved data collection as more First Nations consumers share their information with us.
  • After English, Arabic and Hindi continued to be the most used languages spoken by consumers who approached the TIO.
  • Complaints about Telstra comprised 36.8 percent of all complaints, and complaints about Optus made up 31.4 percent of all complaints.
  • By volume, nine of the top ten providers recorded increases in the last quarter, with only Southern Phone registering a decrease of 28.9 percent, from 294 complaints to 209.

Quote attributable to Ombudsman Cynthia Gebert:

“Whenever there is disruption in the telco industry, we see complaints increase – and this is exactly what has happened with the Optus outage on the eighth of November.

“For some people, the offer of free data to compensate for a full day outage is fair and reasonable. But businesses who lost profit, people who couldn’t call triple zero, or who experienced other significant losses told us that free data is not enough.

“Despite the increase in complaints this quarter-on-quarter, it’s really pleasing to see that financial hardship complaints have decreased, along with the continued year-on-year decline.

“If consumers or small businesses need help resolving a phone or internet problem with their telco, they should contact us on 1800 062 058 or make a complaint online.”

 

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6 comments

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  1. Andrew Smith

    Other issues too, are locked phones and variety of charger plugs.

    In the EU, what is it good for?

    Consumer rights including no locked phones and standard charger plugs, the former allows one to transport SIMcards for the best deal and competition, anathema to our cartels…..

  2. Terence Mills

    During Cyclone Jasper we lost power instantly (trees down on power lines evidently) and mobile and landlines shortly after.

    Power was reinstated after five days, mobiles took longer but you could drive to an area where reception was available : all Telstra there is no Optus in my area. Landlines took ten days to be reinstated.
    It seems that mobile towers, when they lose grid power, have limited battery backup for only for a few hours – that’s where the major problem seems to be – surely it’s not insurmountable ?

  3. Lambchop Simnel

    Of outrages and Octopus..

    Found Andrew’s comments interesting..

  4. Zathras

    From my many years experience –

    Mobile Base Stations typically have backup batteries which should last for a number of hours – depending on the amount of telephony traffic (which would be higher during catastrophic conditions).
    .
    Telcos rely on mains power to be restored before battery power is exhausted and when there is likely to be no restoration then they can send someone to site with a portable AC generator to get the site back on air.

    Obviously during times of natural disaster many remote sites become inaccessible so restoration times are prolonged.

    The loss of a site or two can result in minimal disruption but when it’s widespread the effects are magnified.

    I can’t imagine any viable power alternative – it’s the price we pay for our dependence on increasingly complex technology.

  5. Terence Mills

    Zathras

    Thanks for that explanation, it clarifies a lot but it also poses a societal weakness that we need to address.

    During a time of stress, be it fire, flood or cyclone there is a need for reliable communication particularly the need to contact emergency services.

    For instance, when a tree came down opposite our place during Jasper it brought down power lines (which were believed to already be dead but we were concerned about a power surge) but we could not alert authorities – a passing motorist was able to find mobile connection remote from where we are and he alerted emergency services on our behalf.

    I don’t have a solution but I can see a problem that needs to be sorted, perhaps longer duration batteries .

  6. Zathras

    Telecom gear works on around 50Volts DC but requires high current,especially when transmitting high power radio signals up the mast. I believe the batteries are designed to last up to 8 hours but in times of catastrophe (fire, flood, cyclone) remote sites may be cut off for days let alone getting mains power restored.

    The original (1G) GSM technology could transmit up to 35km but as we progressed from 1G and now up to 5G the range has dropped significantly requiring many more sites to fill in “holes”. There are a multitude of “microcells”: scatted around city streets and even inside buildings that usually go unnoticed.

    However if the aerials or waveguides are damaged by high winds or fire, power supply becomes irrelevant and fast restoration is even more difficult,

    The only real remedy would be the use of satellite phones but these are not generally consumer items.

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