Telco Industry Ombudsman: Australians Expect Too Much From The Internet

  • 9.5 million households and businesses due to switching broadband contracts in the next few years, things are set to get a lot worse in the land of consumer complaints
  • It is estimated that about 65% of FTTN lines can get between 50-100 Mbps
  • The NBN won't accept as a 'fault' a connection sold on a wholesale basis as 25 -100 Mbps but only doing 14 Mbps.

 

Are you someone who expects a little too much from the internet? Well, that is what Telco industry Ombudsman Judi Jones thinks! According to Jones, consumer expectations in Australia for internet speeds, quality and availability are getting higher and higher, leading to an inevitable increase in complaints, according to the industry body responsible for resolving disputes with telco companies.

 

Whilst once upon a time, people were patient enough for people were once patient enough for pretty much snail speeds on mobile networks and dial-up fixed connections, the same cannot be said about consumer expectations in today’s modern and fast-paced world. None of us are willing to wait agonising minutes for a website to load - we want things to happen instantaneously, right here and right now. In a quest to figure out why this expectation of super speedy internet has become so recurrent, Judi has concluded that the industry's advertising tactics are partly to blame. According to the Ombudsman, the complaints where people's experience don't meet their expectations are caused by what advertisements promise and offer to their consumers and sometimes fail to provide.

In fact, the Ombudsman saw complaints reach a historical low last year only for its phones to start ringing off the hook again as the mass migration from Telstra's old copper network onto the National Broadband Network began to gradually increase. With about another 9.5 million households and businesses due to switching broadband contracts in the next few years, things are set to get a lot worse in the land of consumer complaints. In fact, Jones says there is no doubt the National Broadband Network is leading to increased complaints as it forces millions to choose new broadband plans for their homes and businesses. In her own words, “Whenever there is change an Ombudsman scheme is likely to get more complaints. Sometimes people misunderstand what they are buying or it’s not explained to them and it’s all a learning process.”.

In the coming weeks, the competition watchdog will release an updated market report showing how many customers are choosing which speeds with each major retailer. It will also be keeping a very close watch on misleading marketing material that telcos release in order to attract consumers and will be threatening legal action against any companies who persist on doing so.

When phrases such as "super fast", "very fast" or "high-speed"/ "high performance" and NBN Co's own advertising of video calls and holograms may just be exactly why consumers expect noticeable improvement when the NBN arrives. Even so, Jone cannot seem to pinpoint exactly why consumers seem so disappointed with the NBN services they are currently receiving.  In her own words, “For the vast majority of complaints, we don't know what the problem ended up being”.

According to Jones, people complain about a wide variety of reasons. Often times, it is because they are on too-low a speed tier for what they were expecting when signing up for their broadband plan. Other times, it is congestion when too many people are using the internet at once. Once in awhile, there are indeed problems in the network that cause customers to grumble. If the consumer is getting by and large what they have contracted for, unfortunately, there is no fix. Consumers may just have to change or upgrade their plans if they want a faster and better service. It is also important to realise that many consumers are signing up to plans that offer speeds available via an ethernet cable directly connected to the computer. If WiFi is utilised instead, speeds can and most often do suffer from lags.

 

When it comes to playing the blame game, there is a ton of finger pointing among industry, regulators, and telcos about who is to blame for the NBN's performance. NBN Co, for one, blamed consumers, saying 76% of Aussies don't know what internet speed they are receiving and that 35% were unaware they have a choice of speed when switching to the NBN. To resolve confusion, the NBN will be launching a national advertising campaign. However, it is good to take note that speed tiers are not available on every NBN product and that not all technologies are equal. In fact, the 188,000 regional consumers who are on fixed wireless are limited to a maximum of 50 Mbps and 76,000 remote customers on satellite are limited to 25 Mbps. However,  fiber-to-the-premises customers should be able to have their pick of speeds up to 1GB per second.

A spokeswoman for the NBN confirmed that the average speed on fibre-to-the-node lines is currently about 70 Mbps on download speed and 30 Mbps for upload speeds. It is estimated that about 65% of FTTN lines can get between 50-100 Mbps during the switchover phase. Craig Levy, Chief Operating Officer at TPG, claims that one of the problems experiences is the quality of technical work during connections and the fact that NBN Co won't investigate their slower FTTN speeds until switchover is complete.  In his words, "Even in the old copper world we have always been able to lodge faults with Telstra Wholesale. But with NBN FTTN we are not allowed to lodge a fault unless the line performs less than 12 Mbps sync speed."

What does this mean? It means that the NBN won't accept as a 'fault' a connection sold on a wholesale basis as 25 -100 Mbps but only doing 14 Mbps.  Acting managing director of Aussie Broadband, John Reisinger, has also said that 17 percent of its customers are buying 100 Mbps, but their actual experience depends on the length and condition of cabling all the way from the node to their device. It recommends that FTTN customers start on 25 Mbps and once lines are activated, potential sync speeds can be checked, giving everyone a good idea of what speed their line is capable of. Customers should also find substantial speed improvements after changing their in-home wiring, with one customer reporting an improvement from 8Mbps to 48 Mbps.

 

All in all, we can be sure that once all these issues are identified and corrected, most of us Aussies will be gifted with much faster and much more efficient broadband connections that live up to our initial expectations when we sign up for a new connection. Here's hoping!