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Third year of declining phone and internet complaints but problems persist for small businesses

Complaints about phone and internet services decreased 6.1 per cent in the last financial year ending 30 June 2021. During this period, residential consumers and small businesses made 119,400 complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, highlighted in the Annual Report 2020-21 published today.

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While overall complaint volumes continued to decline for the third year running, escalated complaints remained high. Complaints from small businesses reached a three-year high and financial loss continued to be a problem for small businesses.

For all service types and consumers, poor customer service and problems with a bill were the most common complaints. Telcos being uncontactable remained a problem, particularly for small businesses. While this was primarily driven by COVID-19 impacts, consumers also complained about their struggle to navigate new or changed ways of contacting their telco.

Complaints from small businesses increased 6.6 per cent to 19,689. This is the highest number of complaints from small businesses in the last three years. Complaints about financial loss resulting from phone and internet problems grew by 13.3 per cent. Other increases were seen in complaints about failure to cancel a service and telcos being uncontactable. Complaints about a small business not having a working phone or internet service increased by 6.5 per cent. In a positive development for small businesses, fewer complaints were made about problems with phone number loss, intermittent service, and telcos not delivering on agreements.

Internet continued to be the most complained about service type, accounting for 33.4 per cent of complaints from residential consumers and small businesses. Internet complaints declined 7.1 per cent against the previous financial year. Notable challenges faced by consumers during this period included problems contacting telcos, and telco’s failure to cancel a service. There were fewer complaints about telcos not agreeing to and following through with resolutions, and slow data speed. 

Mobile phone services were the next most complained about service type at almost 33 per cent of complaints. Mobile complaints declined 1.5 per cent against the previous financial year.  Complaints increased about problems contacting telcos, variations to contracts or plans, and failure to cancel a service. Complaints declined about misleading conduct when making a contract and delays establishing a service. 

The proportion and volume of complaints about landline services reduced this year. Landline complaints decreased 18.3 per cent and accounted for almost 11 per cent of all complaints. Phone number problems due to connection, disconnection or transfer of a landline service dropped 26 per cent, while complaints about being unable to contact a telco and failure to cancel a service increased. Fault and connection problems continue to make up a significant proportion of complaints, at 47.1 per cent.

Fault and connection complaints declined for internet and landline services, however problems for mobile services increased by 8 per cent. The main driver of this increase was complaints about poor mobile coverage.

Complaints about Telstra increased by 11.3 per cent, accounting for 62.1 per cent of all complaints. Telstra recorded increases in complaints about internet, mobile and multiple phone services. Complaints also increased for Southern Phone Company, Aussie Broadband, Boost Tel and Foxtel. Significant declines were recorded for iiNet, TPG, Dodo, and Optus.

Despite the drop in overall complaints, the number of complaints coming back unresolved and needing further work remained high at 16,607. This is likely to be due to the reliance on telecommunications services during the pandemic, and challenges faced by telcos in responding to consumers’ problems.

Commenting on the release of the Annual Report, Ombudsman Judi Jones said, “The complaints picture for this year is mixed. Overall complaint volumes are down 6 per cent on last year and we have seen significant reductions in some of the problems faced by consumers. It’s been a challenging year for telcos and consumers, and we acknowledge industry efforts to reduce complaints.

“However, we saw an increase in the proportion of complaints returning to us as unresolved, which challenged our response times. This resulted in frustration for consumers wanting to have their phone or internet problems addressed quickly.

“The trend in small business complaints is concerning. Small businesses need reliable phone and internet services, and useful support when those services aren’t working as they should.

“Telcos need to continue focusing on giving great customer service. This includes making it easy for customers to complain when there’s a problem and providing an effective complaints process to fix that problem.

“We will continue reporting on these complaint trends and working with the telcos to reduce these complaints and improve practices.”

FY2020-21 complaints summary


119,400 complaints were received in the last financial year, a decrease of 6.1 per cent.

Residential consumers

  • 99,711 complaints (83.5 per cent) were from residential consumers, a volume decrease of 8.2 per cent against the previous year.
  • Most complaints received from residential consumers had to do with their internet and mobile phone services.
  • Problems with a bill and poor customer service recorded the largest volume of complaints. 

Small businesses

  • 19,689 complaints (16.5 per cent) were from small businesses, a 6.6 per cent increase on the previous year and the highest volume of small business complaints in the last three years.
  • Complaints about multiple services accounted for 34.1 per cent of complaints, an increase from 30.6 per cent last year, with multiple services remaining the dominant service type for small business complaints.
  • Small businesses made 3,946 complaints about internet services, which made up 20 per cent of small business complaints. the highest proportion and volume of internet complaints for small business in the last three years.
  • Complaints about business loss continue to be an issue for small businesses, growing by 13.3 per cent.

Complaints about internet, mobile, multiple and landline services

  • Complaints about no or delayed action by provider increased most for mobile services (22.8 per cent), but also increased for multiple (11.1 per cent) and internet (7.2 per cent) services. These complaints were mainly driven by consumers complaining about general delays in providers responding to COVID-19 related issues, delays in transferring their services to another provider, missed appointments, and delays in fixing billing issues.
  • Complaints about providers being uncontactable and failure to cancel a service* increased across internet, mobile, multiple, and landline services. These two complaints were often related, with consumers complaining about providers not cancelling a service because they were not contactable. Complaints about providers being uncontactable reduced substantially by the fourth quarter, which is a positive development for consumers.
  • Complaints about missed appointments remained in the top 10 issues for internet services, increasing by 7 per cent when compared to 2019-20. They were more of an issue in the later part of the year due to issues with the scheduling of NBN technician appointments.
  • Complaints about poor mobile coverage and equipment faults for mobile services increased by 9.3 per cent and 7.3 per cent respectively.

Complaint issues in phone and internet services

  • Poor customer service and problems with a bill were the most common problems reported by consumers. While these issues are frequently part of a complaint driven by other issues, complaints involving no or delayed action increased by 11.7 per cent as consumers expressed frustration with their provider's failure to resolve their issues.
  • Complaints about providers being uncontactable increased by 88.4 per cent. This issue was primarily driven by COVID-19 impacts, although changes by several providers to their consumer contact channels also impacted this issue, as some consumers struggled to navigate these.
  • Complaints about failure to cancel a service* continued to increase in 2020-21 as a result of both COVID-19 processing delays and problems with porting. Complaints about enhanced or add-on features to a service increased by over 100 per cent and were driven by a known problem with a single provider in the first half of the year.

Fault and connection complaints about services delivered over the NBN and other networks

  • Complaints involving fault and connection issues continue to be a significant proportion of our complaints at 47.1 per cent. This was slightly lower compared to last year’s 49.2 per cent.
  • Fault and connection complaints reduced by 10.1 per cent across all service types, with noticeable volume reductions for internet services (9.1 per cent), multiple services (13.8 per cent), and landline services (22.3 per cent) when compared to the previous year. Complaints about faults and connection problems for mobile services increased by 8 per cent. Complaints about internet services delivered over the NBN also increased by 4.9 per cent.
  • The main driver of the increase in faults and connection complaints about mobile services was an increase in complaints about poor mobile coverage. We also saw large increases in complaints about many other faults and connections keywords. However these did not reach the top 10 issues for mobile services.
  • There was an increase in the proportion of fault and connection complaints about internet, landline, and multiple services delivered over the NBN, but this is to be expected with most services moving to the NBN.

Complaints about service providers

  • Complaints about Telstra accounted for 62.1 per cent of all complaints, increasing from 52.4 per cent in the previous year. Telstra’s complaint volumes increased by 11.3 per cent in the year.
  • Complaints also increased for Southern Phone Company Ltd, and new top 10 entrants Aussie Broadband Limited, Boost Tel Ptd Ltd, and Foxtel Management Pty Ltd replacing M2 Commander, Exetel and MyRepublic.
  • Optus accounted for 15.8 per cent of complaints, with Optus complaint numbers falling by 27.9 per cent in 2020-21. Declines were also recorded against TPG (down 39.5 per cent), iiNet (down 48.8 per cent), and Dodo (down 32.5 per cent).

Complaints by State

  • The Northern Territory and Tasmania were the only two states or territories to record increases in the reporting period. NT consumers made 707 complaints, a year-on-year increase of 5.4 per cent, and in TAS consumers made 1905 complaints, an increase of 4.7 per cent.
  • Complaint decreases were recorded in ACT (down 8.3 per cent), NSW (down 6.1 per cent), QLD (down 4.3 per cent), SA (down 7.2 per cent), Vic (down 4.9 per cent), and WA (down 14.9 per cent).


Notes to Editors

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About the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

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 phone or internet service.

Consumers and small businesses should contact or 1800 062 058.