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Investigation finds telco problems costing small businesses unnecessary time and money

Summary
Small businesses experiencing financial loss, signing up to unsuitable plans, breakdowns in communication when fixing faults, and lack of a suitable backup plan when phone and internet services are disrupted are issues highlighted in the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s latest report: “Addressing the causes of small business complaints” published today (Wednesday 3 June, 2020).

Small businesses experiencing financial loss, signing up to unsuitable plans, breakdowns in communication when fixing faults, and lack of a suitable backup plan when phone and internet services are disrupted are issues highlighted in the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s latest report: “Addressing the causes of small business complaints” published today (Wednesday 3 June, 2020).

Since July 2016, the proportion of complaints from small businesses to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman has steadily increased. At the end of the last financial year that proportion was 14.7 per cent with more than 19,000 complaints from small businesses about their phone and internet services. Many of these were complex, difficult to resolve and had a significant impact on small businesses.

The investigation into the causes of these complaints found: small businesses may commit to products unsuitable for their needs; connecting new services can take longer than expected; providers and small businesses don’t always work well together when faults occur; and small businesses can suffer financial loss if they don’t have a back-up plan.

The report also reveals the financial impact of disrupted phone and internet services on some small businesses. Between September 2019 and March 2020, small businesses made approximately 1,100 complaints involving claims for business loss compensation.

Nine phone and internet providers contributed to the investigation by offering their perspectives on the issues. They also shared examples of good industry practice and insights into the challenges in resolving small business complaints. These providers represented 90 per cent of complaints from small businesses in the last financial year.

On publishing the report Ombudsman Judi Jones said “We carried out this investigation before the devastating bushfires and COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges to so many small businesses. While the top complaint issues reported to us by small businesses are so far unchanged, the impact of these issues may very well be greater. 

“The relationship between small businesses and their providers is vital to the businesses’ ongoing success. Any issues between a small business and their provider in the delivery of a service can have significant consequences.

“During government restrictions to curb the pandemic, many small businesses became solely reliant on phone and internet services to continue operating. As we begin the return to workplaces, our guidance around working together to fix faults and having a back-up plan may be crucial at this time.”

Recommendations for small businesses and phone and internet providers

  • Work together to identify the business’s needs, consider suitable options, and focus on key relevant terms before an agreement is signed.
  • Minimise the risks when connecting new services by checking the business address is correct, communicate expected connection timeframes or delays, and plan for enough connection time.
  • Adopt a collaborative approach to fixing faults, and actively communicate with each other. 
  • Minimise financial loss by ensuring there is a back-up plan in place if phone or internet services are disrupted.

Resources

Ends

Notes to editors

Media enquiries 

For all media enquiries please contact the Media Team on 0437 548 540 or via email

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. 

Residential consumers and small businesses should contact tio.com.au or 1800 062 058. 

The Telecommunications Industry Sector 

Government and the regulators set policy and regulations for the telecommunications sector. 

The Telecommunications industry regulators are the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) acma.gov.au Media enquiries to (02) 9334 7719 or media@acma.gov.au and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC): accc.gov.au. Media enquiries to 1300 138 917 or media@accc.gov.au. After hours 0408 995 408. 

Peak Bodies 

Communications Alliance is the peak body for Australian communications industry: commsalliance.com.au. Media enquiries to Sefiani Communications sefiani.com.au or 0431 478 558. 

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) is Australia’s peak communications consumer organisation representing individuals, small businesses and not-for-profit groups as consumers of communications products and services, accan.org.au Media enquiries to 0409 966 931 or 02 9288 4000. 

Acknowledgement of Country 

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, culture and community. We pay our respects  
to Elders past, present and emerging, and extend our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples from all nations of this land.