While it’s had its fair share of success stories, the NBN has come under a fair amount of criticism over recent years as more and more people get connected – and some of them find out that their new, super-fast broadband connection isn’t actually all that fast after all. Venture onto any tech-minded forum or browse through the comments section of any newspaper article about the NBN and you’ll almost certainly find a sampling of unhappy customers.
Australia’s Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman – the TIO for short – has long been a point of last-resort help for people who are unhappy with their communications service, whether that be home phone, mobile or Internet. But as was widely reported last year, complaints to the TIO about the NBN jumped 117% in a year as more and more people were moved onto the new national network. Many of those complaints were about the speed of the new service, with many discovering their new broadband connection was almost unusable in the evening when they wanted it the most. Others found their connection was not only slow, but it also dropped out multiple times during the day. This has been a particular problem with HFC connections that use the old Foxtel cable – so much so that the NBN has temporarily halted HFC connections and is now changing many of those installations to the superior Fibre to the Curb (FttC).
When to File a Complaint
While the TIO has substantial powers across the entire industry, it’s actually the last thing you should try if you’re unhappy with the speed or quality of your connection. If you’re not happy with the service or are having technical issues that need to be fixed, the first point of contact is still the NBN service provider you’re signed up with. They need to be given an opportunity to resolve the problem first – since the TIO won’t get involved until your dealings with your provider reach a roadblock. That can be, for example, the classic situation where a provider blames the NBN for slow speeds, but the NBN blames the provider – and nothing gets fixed.
At that point, you can get in touch with the TIO and make a complaint. The best way to do this is via their website, if you can – that gives you a chance to clearly outline the issues you’re having, and follow the progress of the complaint as the TIO investigates it.
Before you take this step, though, let your provider know that you’re about to do so. A complaint to the TIO involves some financial cost to the provider and they’d rather things not escalate that far – and sometimes politely letting them know you’re going to take your complaint to the TIO is enough to spur them into action.
Otherwise, though, the TIO will talk to the provider on your behalf and try to come to an acceptable solution. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that your slow-speed woes will automatically go away. It also doesn’t automatically mean the TIO will agree that your broadband speed is too slow – for example, if you’re on a Fibre to the Node connection and the node box is a long distance from your home, there’ll be limits on what speed you can possibly achieve with that connection that no amount of complaining will be able to fix.
But if you, say, signed up for a plan with 100 Mbps speed and the provider didn’t tell you that you’d never be able to achieve it – but won’t let you out of your contract so you can choose a more suitable NBN plan – that’s where the TIO can step in to help.
What to Expect From the TIO
It’s not just NBN broadband speed issues where the TIO can help out, either. If you have any legitimate complaint about your provider – and you’ve contacted them first to try to resolve it, only to be given the brush-off – the TIO is there to help. That includes complaints about everything from billing to the non-arrival of a technician, and even Internet pay TV (yep, that includes Netflix!)
The speed issue is the big one, though – people who sign up for what’s meant to be fast broadband only to find out that they can’t even stream a show on Netflix when they get home from work, for example. It became such a prominent issue last year – with that huge spike in NBN-related complaints – that another Australian organisation, the ACCC, decided to do something about it. That’s why you’ll now see, when shopping for an NBN broadband connection, a “typical evening speed” mentioned for each NBN speed tier. The goal was to stop providers from “over-selling” their service – signing too many customers up for the available total speed they’d bought from the NBN. The sheer number of complaints to the TIO was the catalyst for actual change.
The TIO can’t magically fix every problem, broadband speeds included. But the service they provide as a means for you to get the attention of the right people from your Internet provider – rather than spending hours on hold being shunted around between people who aren’t in a position to help – is invaluable.