NBN service quality complaints on the rise

Complaints about service quality, connections and migrations involving Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) rose in the first six months of 2019, despite complaints relating to the country’s broader telecommunications services falling overall during the year ending June.

This is according to the latest figures by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO). The TIO’s annual report for the financial year ending June 2019, released on 25 September, paints a picture of increasing complexity among the issues Australians are complaining about when it comes to their telecommunications services.

“Complaints about phone and internet services in Australia have continued their downward trend, and this is good news for consumers and the telecommunications industry, but this is only one part of the story,” said Ombudsman Judi Jones. “The volume of complaints coming back to us unresolved shows an emerging picture of complexity in technical and small business issues.

“Some measures we have taken to address this are the formation of specialist teams to handle these escalated complaints, and working closely with the phone and internet providers to better understand the barriers to resolving these issues,” she said.

According to the TIO, the 12 months from July 2018 to June 2019 saw 47 per cent of escalated complaints closed within 60 days, compared to 77 percent in FY2017-18.

The top five complaint issues about internet services were no action or delayed action by a service provider, with 13,976 complaints, service and equipment fees (13,509 complaints), slow data speed (8,668 complaints), intermittent service/dropouts (7,915) and delay establishing a service (7,431).

At the same time, the top five complaint issues about mobile services were service and equipment fees, with 12,905 complaints, no or delayed action by provider (11,675 complaints), resolution agreed but not met (4,263), misleading conduct when making a contract (3,656) and termination fees (2,975).

Altogether, the TIO received 132,387 complaints throughout the year, representing a year-on-year fall of 21 percent. However, for the first time, complaints relating to internet services exceeded those of mobile services, with 43,164 complaints – or 32.6 percent – and 40,103 complaints, respectively.

Complaints relating to services delivered via the NBN comprised a large portion of the total regarding internet services. According to the report, 23,362 complaints were recorded in FY2018-19 about service quality on the NBN. Complaints increased from 2.1 per 1,000 premises on the network in the first half of the year to 2.5 per 1,000 in the second half of the year.

Services delivered over the NBN were the subject of 48.2 percent of complaints about service quality during the 12-month period. By comparison, 40.4 percent of such complaints revolved around services delivered via other networks. Mobile networks accounted for 11.3 percent of complaints of this nature.

Meanwhile, 11,635 complaints were recorded in FY2018-19 about changing providers or establishing a connection to the NBN. Complaints increased from 6.7 per 1,000 premises added in the first half of the year, to 8.6 in the second half of the 12-month period.

Indeed, 56.4 percent of all complaints relating to connection and changing providers were about services delivered over the NBN. However, this comes as little surprise, given that, as the national broadband wholesaler draws closer to the completion of its rollout, more end consumers are being connected to the network.

“With transition to the NBN, providers offered a range of new products and services. As a result, we saw a new range of complaints and enquiries from consumers navigating the changed environment. The increase in complaints about internet services is one example of this,” the TIO report stated.

By comparison, such complaints involving services delivered via other networks accounted for 30.6 percent of the total, while mobile network services were at the centre of 13 percent of complaints about connection or changing providers.

Unsurprisingly, the country’s largest telecommunications player, Telstra, claimed the lion’s share of complaints, accounting for roughly 50.2 percent, although it should be noted that the company enjoyed a 19.5 percent fall in complaints from the previous year’s tally of 82,528.

Optus, as the country’s second largest telco, came in second, with 23.9 percent of the total. Like Telstra, Optus saw a fall in complaints against its name, enjoying a 22.2 decrease, year-on-year. Optus was followed by Vodafone, iiNet and TPG Internet, with 5.1 percent of the total, 4.3 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively. All experienced a year-on-year decrease.

“We are pleased to see that complaints decreased in every state, and for all of the providers listed in the report,” said John Stanton, CEO of telecommunications industry body, the Communications Alliance.

“There has been significant work over the past two years by Industry to improve the customer experience, including – but certainly not limited to – NBN Co and RSPs [retail service providers] achieving better communication and coordination for consumers and businesses as they migrate services to NBN-based networks,” he said.

Aussie telcos ordered to keep blocking sites hosting Christchurch terror footage

The federal government has ordered Australia’s largest internet service providers (ISPs) to keep blocking eight websites hosting footage of the terrorist attacks last March in Christchurch, New Zealand along with the manifesto of the alleged gunman.

The direction, issued by the office of the government’s eSafety Commissioner on 9 September, compels ISPs to implement a six month block, during which time the eSafety Commissioner will review and remove sites from the list if and when the offending content is taken down.

The action comes several months after the country’s major telcos, including Optus, Telstra and Vodafone, independently moved to block more than 40 websites that were hosting video of the attacks or the manifesto of the alleged perpetrator in the days immediately following the Christchurch attacks.

The ISPs, as members of a task force subsequently set up by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and tasked with looking into terror and violent online content, pressed the Government to provide some direction, given that the ISPs did not have a clear legal footing for the action they had taken independently.

As such, the new direction, the first of its kind exercised by the eSafety Commissioner, is expected to offer ISPs certainty to continue their blocking activities, while also clearing the way for ISPs to remove the blocks they had voluntarily placed on other websites that have since taken down the material.

“Australian internet service providers acted quickly and responsibly in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Christchurch in March this year to block websites that were hosting this harmful material,” said Paul Fletcher, Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts.

“ISPs called on the Government to provide them with certainty and clarity in taking the action they did, and today, we are providing that certainty,” he said.

The eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant, meanwhile, has consulted with both ISPs and website administrators, giving the websites in question “ample opportunity” to remove the content.

“Those hosting this material do so in the full knowledge that Australia will take action to halt its continued proliferation,” Inman Grant said. “The remaining rogue websites need only to remove the illegal content to have the block against them lifted.”

According to John Stanton, CEO of telecommunications industry body Communications Alliance, the direction has been welcomed by the country’s ISPs.

“Industry recognised that this was the right thing to do, without explicit Government direction, and we are pleased to see the framework that is now in place as a result of constructive collaboration between industry, government and its agencies,” he said.

The eSafety Commissioner is continuing to work with industry to develop an additional protocol to govern the rapid removal of terrorist and extreme violent material in a crisis event which, according to Inman, is expected to be undertaken infrequently.

“The decision to block websites will be taken only under extraordinary circumstances and will need to meet an extremely high threshold,” said Inman Grant.

Aborted mobile rollout leaves A$237m dent in TPG financials

TPG Telecom’s (ASX:TPM) aborted mobile network rollout plans have hit the telecommunications provider’s finances for the year to the tune of A$236.8 million.

The publicly-listed telco halted its mobile network rollout in January after the Australian Government banned the use of equipment made by Chinese telecommunications manufacturer Huawei – slated to be a key equipment supplier for the network – in Australian 5G networks.

In its preliminary financial report for the year ending July 2019, published on 5 September, TPG told shareholders that its decision to halt the rollout of its mobile network result in an impairment expense of $A236.8 million.

The scrapped rollout also led to an increase in amortisaton and interest expense related to mobile spectrum licences it bought to enable its mobile play, the company said.

The company’s results were also impacted by A$9 million in one-off transaction costs associated with its planned merger with Vodafone Hutchison Australia, which has been put on ice by the Australian competition watchdog.

On 30 August last year, TPG and Vodafone Hutchison Australia entered into an agreement to merge their two businesses and establish a combined entity that would boast both TPG’s fixed line infrastructure and Vodafone Australia’s mobile network.

However, the move was opposed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). TPG and Vodafone Australia subsequently launched legal proceedings in the Federal Court in a bid to have the decision reversed.

The case is set to be heard in the Federal Court from 10 September and wrap up within three weeks of that date. If the Court sides with TPG and Vodafone Australia, and the merger does eventually go ahead, the merged group will be listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) and renamed TPG Telecom Limited.

These factors, among others, contributed to a 56 percent tumble in TPG’s profit for the year, to A$175 million. The company’s preliminary reported earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA), meanwhile, came to $572.6 million, well short of the $A826.7 million it notched up the prior year.

However, TPG saw only a relatively minor 0.7 percent drop in revenue during the period, to nearly A$2.5 billion, although the company said that EBITDA continued to be adversely impacted by the loss of margin as DSL and home phone customers migrate to low margin National Broadband Network (NBN) services.

The effects of the NBN rollout are set to be felt for at least another year, with TPG telling shareholders that its 2020 financial year is expected to be the year that suffers the greatest impact from customer migration to the NBN. Indeed, the combined impact from residential DSL and home phone customers migrating to the NBN is expected to be around $85 million for the group.

TPG said that the annualisation of the deterioration of profitability of existing NBN customers experienced in the second half of the company’s 2019 financial year as a result of increased NBN wholesale cost per user is forecast to create a further NBN headwind for FY20 of approximately A$25 million.

It is anticipated that, by the end of FY20, TPG will have less than 15 percent of its residential broadband customer base remaining on ADSL, as more customers migrate to the NBN.

“Operating cost efficiency programs across the Group are expected to continue to deliver savings and another of growth is forecast for the Group’s Corporate Division but, in this peak year of NBN headwinds, organic growth for FY20 is not expected to be sufficient to offset the headwinds,” the company told shareholders.

ACCC fixes software glitch behind early TPG-VHA merger rejection announcement

Australia’s competition watchdog has patched its website content management system (CMS) and apologised, after publishing its decision on TPG’s proposed merger with Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA) before it was meant to be made public.

In a somewhat unprecedented move, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released a statement on 16 May explaining how it accidentally published its rejection of the proposed TPG-VHA Australia merger a day before it was expected to reveal its decision.

“We apologise unreservedly for this unfortunate and serious incident,” ACCC chief operating officer Rayne de Gruchy said.

“We have thoroughly reviewed all of the processes and information technology systems that led to this error, and we want to assure our stakeholders this incident will not be repeated,” she said.

The publication of the decision to reject the merger sent the share price of both TPG and VHA’s 50 percent stakeholder Hutchison Telecommunications tumbling.

The ACCC said it had conducted a full investigation into the incident and claims that a fault in its website CMS, which has now been rectified thanks to a software patch, was to blame.

According to the regulator, when the information relating to the merger was being put into the back end of the mergers register, a third-party user was trying to access the existing webpage at the same moment as it was being updated.

“Instead of the new information being treated as draft content requiring internal approval, the flaw meant the content was live for eight minutes,” the ACCC said in its statement.

The information went live just before 3PM, giving the ACCC the opportunity to quickly issue a statement confirming the merger decision to both the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) before the end of the trading day.

The ACCC’s rejection of the merger, which could effectively put an end to TPG’s ongoing efforts to become a major player in the country’s mobile telco market, saw VHA and TPG move to launch legal action against the regulator over the decision.

VHA CEO Iñaki Berroeta said on 9 May that the company remains firmly committed to the merger.

“VHA respects the ACCC process, but we believe the merger with TPG will bring very real benefits to consumers.  We have therefore decided that VHA should, together with TPG, pursue approval of the merger through the Federal Court,” said Berroeta.

The merger agreement between VHA and TPG has been extended to 31 August 2020 to allow the legal proceedings to run their course before the proposed deal lapses.

Australians’ international roaming bill put at $1.4B

Australian mobile phone users have spent somewhere in the vicinity of $1.4 billion on international roaming fees, according to new estimates by market research agency YouGov Galaxy.

The study, commissioned by Vodafone Australia as a vehicle to tout the telco’s $5-per-day international roaming product, suggests that up to 5 million Australians have been subjected to international roaming fees.

Of these 5 million people — who represent about 41 percent of smartphone owners in Australia — the average international roaming fee per person comes to $290, the research suggests, equating to about $1.45 billion in total. It should be noted that this figure is not restricted to a particular period of time.

The study also suggests that around 250,000 Australians claim to have paid more than $1,000 in international roaming fees.

Interestingly, the research found that Australian Baby Boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — were far less likely to have been charged international roaming fees than younger Australians, with just 29 percent having paid roaming fees. This is compared to 45 percent and 51 percent for Millenials and Gen X, respectively.

Regardless of the billion-dollar estimated total amount paid for international roaming by Australians, Vodafone Australia’s chief commercial officer Ben McIntosh claims that just 3 percent of smartphone users will continue to use their phone as normal while travelling.

While this percentage may seem small, international roaming has been under some scrutiny recently, with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) wrapping up a review of the International Mobile Roaming (IMR) Standard in Australia in October last year.

According to the review’s report, released in October 2018, there were some key areas found that could be improved upon “to make regulation more flexible in light of changes to mobile phone use overseas”.

“TIO [Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman] data indicates that complaints to it about IMR services has risen again in recent years. While complaint numbers remain low, the amounts in dispute per complaint can be high,” the report said.

The Vodafone-commissioned YouGov Galaxy study comes just a few months after industry analysis firm Juniper Research found that operator revenues from international mobile roaming are expected to remain flat over the next four years, representing about 6 percent of total operator-billed revenues and $51 billion in value.

Which major Aussie city suffers from the slowest mobile download speeds?

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Of Australia’s five largest cities, Sydney experienced the slowest average mobile download speeds across the country’s three big wireless network providers, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, during the three months ending 31 March, new research shows.

In Sydney, the average mobile download speed experience across all three of the major mobile operators during the three-month period was 40.3 megabits per second (Mbps), based on figures in new analysis by mobile analytics firm Opensignal.

The 40.3 Mbps download scorecard for Sydney was drawn from an average mobile download rate of 48.6 Mbps for Telstra, 39.1 Mbps for Optus and 33.3 Mbps from Vodafone, as outlined in Opensignal’s latest Australia Mobile Network Experience Report, which took in over 489 million measurements from some 110,000 devices during the period.

For Melbourne, the average download speed across the three mobile network providers came to 41.2 Mbps, with Telstra in the lead at an average of 48.8 Mbps during the period, followed by Vodafone with 38.5 Mbps and Optus, which claimed an average of 36.3 Mbps.

Meanwhile, Perth saw an average download speed experience of 50.6 Mbps from Telstra, 38.6 Mbps from Optus and 35.8 Mbps from Vodafone, equating to an average download speed of 41.7 Mbps across all providers during the period.

According to the research, Telstra scored an average download speed experience of 55.7 Mbps in Brisbane, with Optus and Vodafone trailing with 38.9 Mbps and 34.9 Mbps, respectively — equating to an average of 43.2 Mbps across all three providers.

Adelaide enjoyed the fastest speed overall, compared to the other major cities, seeing an average download speed during the period of 47.6 Mbps across all three providers, with Telstra, Optus and Vodafone claiming 63.2 Mbps, 43 Mbps and 36.7 Mbps, respectively.

Opensignal’s research also revealed that, across the country, Telstra claimed an average download speed experience of 41.1 Mbps, putting it in top place in terms of download speed, followed by Optus and Vodafone, both of which claimed average download speeds of over 30 Mbps — 36.4 Mbps and 32.8 Mbps, respectively.

Additionally, the report revealed that, on a national scale, Optus claims the highest 4G availability rating, with an availability score of 91.9 percent, followed by Vodafone with a score of 90.3 percent and Telstra with a score of 89.4 percent.

Meanwhile, Optus and Vodafone drew in terms of latency, with Optus claiming an average latency experience of 34.6 milliseconds (ms), compared to Vodafone’s 34.4 ms. For its part, Telstra’s average latency experience over the period was 41.8 ms, according to the report.

Vodafone targets Chinese tourists with Australia-wide Alipay partnership

Vodafone has struck a strategic partnership with Alipay, which will enable 110 of the carrier’s stores across Australia to accept China’s primary payment method.

Under the agreement, Vodafone will offer Chinese tourists their preferred QR code payment method in-store, opening a new marketing channel to reach Chinese nationals before, during and after their visits to Australia.

Vodafone will utilise Alipay’s  in-app marketing functionality to promote its pre-paid sim cards to Chinese nationals on holiday or travelling for business.

Vodafone  – which noted it is the first major telco in Australia to sign an agreement with Alipay – said that following a successful testing period, the technology has now been switched on nationwide.

“This includes Vodafone stores in each of its international airport locations where it is targeting Chinese visitors who want to access local mobile services shortly after touching down,” it added, noting that Alipay has some 700 million active users in China and that about 10,000 Australian merchants accept Alipay payments.