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Communications issues in regional Australia

23 October 2015

Performance standards for landline connections and repairs should be retained for consumers in regional and remote Australia, the TIO has recommended to the 2015 Regional Telecommunications Review.  

Our submission focused on the different experiences consumers in regional and remote Australia have with telco services.  

Complaints in regional and remote Australia

Since the last Regional Telecommunications Review in 2011 (the Sinclair Review), we have seen decreases in TIO new complaints from regional and remote Australia, consistent with overall decreases in all TIO new complaints. These decreases are across all service types, with mobile new complaints reducing by more than half over this timeframe. Complaints from regional and remote Australia make up about a fifth of all new complaints received by the TIO.  

Our complaints data shows that the issues consumers from regional and remote areas report to us are similar to those raised in metro areas. However, consumers in regional and remote areas say having no or poor quality services can have serious effects on their lives, livelihood and safety.

2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15
Total new complaints 193,702 158,652 138,964 124,417
Regional and remote new complaints 39,374 30,589 28,793 26,208
Internet 7,531 7,161 7,377 6,904
Landline 10,824 8,856 9,487 9,240
Mobile* 21,019 14,572 11,929 10,064
Proportion 20.3% 19.3% 20.7% 21.1%

*includes mobile premium services

Landline complaints

Despite the overall reductions, complaints about landline connection and fault issues increased substantially in regional and remote Australia, by around 149 per cent and 46 per cent respectively since 2011-12. These issues also increased in metro areas, although not as significantly as in regional and remote Australia. Landline connection complaints went up by 59.4 per cent and landline faults complaints went up by 29.3 per cent in the same period. 

As with complaints from major cities, rectifying landline fault and connection delay problems can be complex because: 

  • consumers say they have difficulty getting through to a person at their provider who can deal with the issue
  • providers tell us they have to deal with wholesalers to deal with the issue, or
  • providers have to attempt several times to repair problems, especially if they have to engage contractors.

In regional and remote areas, these difficulties are compounded by other obstacles such as harsh weather and distance.  

Landline new complaints about connection and fault issues in regional and remote Australia 

Internet complaints

New complaints from regional and remote Australia about internet connection issues increased by close to 140 per cent in 2014-15 when compared with 2011-12 (the last Regional Telecommunications Review).

TIO complaints data suggests that the increase in issues about internet connections in regional and remote areas is partially driven by the rollout of the NBN in some of the early release sites.  

New complaints about internet fault issues from these areas reduced by around 4 per cent over the same timeframe. 

In comparison, both of these issues increased in major cities, with internet connection complaints going up by 78.3 per cent and internet faults going up by 13.5 per cent. 

Internet new complaints about connection and fault issues in regional and remote Australia

Our recommendations to the Regional Review

Because of the upward trend in landline connection and fault complaints between 2011-12 and 2014-15 from regional and remote areas, we recommended to the review that the Customer Service Guarantee (CSG) Standard be retained in these areas. The CSG Standard legislates minimum timeframes in which providers need to repair or connect landline services.

We also recommended that similar protections be expanded to other services such as internet and mobile, given that recent research by the communications regulator, the Australian Communications & Media Authority (ACMA) shows an increasing number of people in regional and remote areas relying exclusively on mobile services.  

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