Overview of the NBN Customer Experience
A key focus of the committee during its first year of operation has been
the experience of consumers in getting connected to the NBN and using these
services. The committee has heard a broad range of evidence covering all
aspects of the NBN consumer experience.
As the rate of the NBN rollout continues to rapidly increase, ensuring
that customers are well informed about the implications and timing of the NBN
rollout in their area, and have a hassle-free experience in transitioning to
the NBN, will be critical to the overall success of the project.
This chapter examines the different aspects of the consumer experience,
focusing in particular on common areas of complaint from consumers, as well as the
current processes for resolving such complaints. Chapter 5 will then discuss
possible improvements to enhance all aspects of the customer experience during
the remainder of the NBN rollout.
The Department of Communications and the Arts (the Department) stated in
evidence to the committee that it has four key areas of focus in relation to
the NBN customer experience:
Customers should have accurate information to make informed
Retailer and nbn systems and processes should be optimised to
support consumers as they connect to a new NBN service.
Consumers should receive a reliable service and get the plan they
Clear processes should be in place to efficiently address
consumer queries and complaints.
The committee has heard significant evidence about shortcomings in each
of these areas as customers migrate to the NBN from other broadband services.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) provided a broad
summary of these difficulties as follows:
It is fair to say that for a number of consumers the rollout
has not been 'seamless'... [C]onsumers have reported confusion and encountered
problems at every stage. From understanding how and when they will be affected,
to choosing providers and plans, arranging connection, overcoming difficulties
of complex connections, using the service, to finding causes and solutions to
faults and outages; the span of issues is vast. Most of the concerns are not
standard complaints about services, which would fall under the jurisdiction of
the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. These are often problems that
consumers are unsure who to go to for answers, or are unaware that there are
answers. Consumers end up searching for answers from multiple sources or are
passed between nbn, RSPs, local councils, federal and state parliamentarians,
community groups and complaint handling bodies.
These various issues are examined in turn in the remainder of this
Process of getting NBN services connected and established
The committee heard a wide range of evidence in relation to the
processes associated with the migration of customers to NBN services.
Representatives of the Department noted in May 2017:
[T]he customer experience on connecting to the NBN involves
myriad aspects, and there are a number of things that could happen in that
process that could cause some sort of issue that leads a customer to make a
complaint or to be unhappy around their service.
The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) noted in its submission
that complaints relating to connection issues were the most prominent category
of NBN-related issues in 2016, with 5,548 complaints on connection issues lodged
in the calendar year (representing 41.4% of all NBN complaints).
The TIO noted that in its 'connections' complaint category,
90 per cent of these complaint issues related to delays in the
connection process, with key issues contributing to these delays including
missed technician appointments, infrastructure, and the complexity of some
Figure 3.1, provided by the TIO, shows the rate of complaints about
connection delay issues on NBN services versus the overall number of
NBN-activated premises over time, showing a slight decrease in the rate of
complaints relative to the number of activated premises since early 2016.
Figure 3.1 Connection delay complaints vs. number of newly
activated premises per quarter
Provision of information about the
rollout and how to sign up to services
Some submitters argued that when the NBN rollout is active in an area,
many customers still have very little understanding about what the NBN network
is, how to get connected, how their existing services will be affected, and
what their new NBN services will provide. Better Internet for Regional, Rural
and Remote Australia (BIRRR) submitted that the NBN 'is a very complex network
and initially there is a considerable amount of customer confusion about how to
ACCAN noted that switching services to nbn is not automatic, and that
consumers have a number of responsibilities placed upon them in the switch
over, including: informing themselves of the need to migrate; identifying
equipment needed to migrate; and arranging and covering costs associated with
any additional upgrading of wiring or end user premises equipment that may be
These can be near impossible tasks for some consumers. If a
consumer does not understand these responsibilities they may be put in a
vulnerable position. They may lose services altogether by failing to switch
before the legacy network is switched off. Alternatively they may switch but
their services may not work as they expected. Equipment such as handsets and
medical alarms may not be updated, putting these services at risk.
The Queensland Government noted in its submission that provision of
clear information was particularly important for disadvantaged or vulnerable
Information about how to sign up to the NBN in a range of
formats such as easy English, Auslan, large print, and key languages, would
greatly benefit people with a disability, people with literacy difficulties,
people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, young people and
Confusion around role of nbn,
subcontractors and RSPs during installation and connection processes
The committee heard evidence that the involvement of multiple parties
during the installation and connection process (for example, nbn
representatives, installers contracted by nbn or by contracted delivery
partners, and RSP technicians and sales representatives) has the potential to
cause considerable confusion among customers, particularly when there are
delays or problems with the installation process. This is compounded by the
fact that installation processes often vary depending on the technology type
and location involved.
Ms Teresa Corbin, CEO of ACCAN, told the committee that these factors
made it challenging for ACCAN to provide accurate advice to consumers who came
to them with questions about the rollout process:
It makes it very, very difficult to explain it to the
customer. We have had situations where people have reported to us that they had
problems with their installation. They say that NBN Co came out with a few
extra people who were from NBN Co, as well as the contractor. The contractor
was wearing a vest that said 'NBN'. The report is that nothing can be done by
the NBN; it is something that the retail service provider will have to solve.
They went away, and later that day the same person with a different vest, a
different van and a different logo rocked up and said, 'Okay, I'm the retail
service provider for this half of the day. I've been contracted for that, and
now I can fix the service.' For the customer, that is just so confusing.
Ms Jo Shannon, a representative from Rural Councils Victoria, related to
the committee an example of a family that has experienced significant
difficulties establishing their NBN connection, involving multiple missed
appointments from technicians, incorrectly working modems provided by the RSP,
and various periods without a functional landline phone or internet service. Ms
Shannon described the confusion about responsibility between nbn and the RSP
during the latter stage of this experience:
...Four weeks later the NBN man arrived and did something to
the external connection, and they were back to having no phone and no internet.
The matter was again escalated to the Telstra regional manager. Telstra advised
it was an NBN issue, and NBN advised it was a Telstra issue. The customer ended
up calling Telstra to be told again it is an NBN issue. During that call, they
put NBN on hold and called Telstra and connected them up so there was a
three-way conversation between all the parties to resolve the issue. There was
still finger pointing about who is responsible—which party has responsibility
for getting this service operational. That call was earlier this week and it is
still not resolved...This is a simple connection to an NBN system, but now there
is no internet and no phone.
Ms Shannon argued that customers do not necessarily care who is involved
in getting their service connected, but rather just want their service to work
When people commission a service they expect to get the
service that was committed. When I connect to the electricity, I do not
particularly care that there is an electricity generator, distributor and
retailer; I just want electricity connected to my property. When I connect to
water, I do not particularly care that there is a government water wholesaler
and a separate retailer; I just want water to my property. It is the same with
phone and internet. There needs to be a more seamless approach to providing
what is now an essential utility for Australian families.
Mr Andrew Connor, Spokesperson for Digital Tasmania, argued that at
least in the initial connection phase, nbn had to take ultimate responsibility
for getting services established:
There is, no doubt, a circle of blame that can exist between
NBN and RSPs. They can be equally to blame. But, ultimately, the buck needs to
stop with someone. The NBN Co is the one providing this network, ultimately, to
the clients. The RSPs are not quite a dime a dozen, but there are 160 odd—at
the last count that I saw. So the NBN does need to take this as the final stop.
They need to make sure that connection works to the client—at least initially
to get it going.
Delays and other problems with
Various individuals and groups noted to the committee that significant
delays and other problems can occur in a variety of circumstances during the
NBN rollout to an area, causing significant impacts to individuals and
businesses. Some individual examples are included in this section to illustrate
the issues presented to the committee.
Mr Matthew Leggett, who operates a caravan park in Mansfield,
Victoria, related his story to the committee attempting to get an NBN
connection established at his business:
I made the biggest mistake in 15 years of operating my
business in September, 2016, when I decided to contact my phone/ internet
provider, Dodo, to ask about going to the NBN network.
2 weeks later on the 29th September, 2016, my land line was
turned off leaving me with no phone or internet services the day before a long
weekend. We were fully booked that weekend and had no access to our booking
Mr Leggett stated that problems arose in relation to his RSP not
coordinating with NBN to ensure that both the NBN household box and the RSP
modem were at the premises, and the RSP refusing to recognise that there were
multiple residents living at the caravan park who needed separate addresses and
connection points. Mr Leggett continued:
Over the next few weeks I spent hundreds of hours on the
phone trying to solve the problem. NBN corporation would not talk to me saying
I had to go through my phone provider. Dodo kept insisting that I had a NBN box
and should plug into that. The Ombudsman took up the complaint but dropped it
as 'resolved' when Dodo moved the matter to their NBN complaints office.
... For the last six months we have been using the neighbours
internet to conduct our business. For weeks I had no eftpos facility until I
worked out a deal with my neighbour to use their phone line each night to
process credit cards....we could not offer any eftpos transactions through
savings or cheque accounts to our customers. This continued for nearly 3 months
until we were able to get a landline reinstalled to our office.
Mr Leggett was then forced to change service providers in order to be
able to keep his existing landline number, which he had used for his business
for over 15 years. Unable to revert to an ADSL service, Mr Leggett then
had to transfer to a third RSP to establish an NBN service, with the same
issues that had arisen during the initial attempt to get connected subsequently
recurring, before a connection was finally established in April 2017.
Mr Leggett summarised his frustrations as follows:
I regret so much the initial phone call I made last September
to enquire about this NBN thing. As a result I have had no phone line for 3
months, no eftpos facility for 3 months and no internet to my business for over
It is impossible to work out how much business I have lost in
that time due to lack of communications but my figures are down about 15% over
I have had to spend hours every week on the phone (mobile) to
resolve every issue as it has occurred. It would add up to well over 300 hours
in the 6 months, which is 300 hours I could not spend operating the day to day
needs of the business.
Mr Damian Ivereigh, CEO of Launtel, an internet service provider based
in Launceston, commented that the process of connecting business clients to the
NBN was often particularly problematic:
We found, particularly in the business world, that the large
carriers spectacularly mismanage it, often leading to significant outages and
downtime and businesses unable to receive calls. There's no question that is a
It's simply because...you have several different parts to the
whole process. You have to think about phone systems. You have to think about
IT systems. You have to think about alarm systems. You have to think about
printing, faxing, photocopying and the like. All those integrate with the
internet in some way or another. So there are easily three or four parties
involved in this transition. It has to be carefully managed as to exactly what
happens when, because if it's done in the wrong order then suddenly their phone
won't work or whatever. Big telcos often are around saving costs. They try to
do whatever they can not to engage with anybody else. They want to talk to the
customer, and that's it, so they will come up with a solution that will work
most of the time as long as the process is exactly followed and nothing goes
wrong. We've had issues where NBN is scheduled to turn up for a particular date
to do the install and they set the port date, which is the date that the
telephone numbers get moved over from one network, on the same day. That makes
sense, except that sometimes there are technical issues, NBN cannot complete,
the port goes through and the number's now disconnected...[T]hat's a simple,
obvious thing that we saw happening time and time again.
Service class zero premises and
provision of service to new estates
One issue discussed was nbn's practice of designating premises with
complex or unusual installation features as Service Class 0 (or the related
service classes 10 and 20)
and then leaving the installation at these premises until after other
installations in the area have been completed, leading to delays of months or
more for these premises to receive a service. Mr Mike Hendry, South West
Independent NBN Adviser for Regional Development Australia-South West, argued
at the committee's Perth public hearing that providing greater transparency
about these premises would ameliorate some of the concern around this issue:
There is a need for greater transparency with service class 0
and service class 10 premises. Essentially with the rollout, for various
reasons up to 10 per cent of each area does not go live when the rest of
the community does so. The delay in getting these premises information and
connection causes great concern across the community with this 10 per cent
greatly reflecting on the performance of NBN. A slight upgrade to the ability
of the website that NBN have that would show what the problem is and the
projected remediation date would be a great help.
ACCAN highlighted a separate issue that has arisen in some newly
constructed housing estates where nbn is responsible for providing internet
services. ACCAN pointed to an example where, due to delays in nbn's local
network build, residents in a new estate were left for months without any
internet connection, services, or knowledge about what was occurring.
Missed and delayed appointments
The committee heard evidence from individuals and groups about problems
with technician appointments being missed, delayed or cancelled during the
process of connecting NBN services, and when attempting to resolve faults in established
services. Mr Andrew Conner of Digital Tasmania described situations 'where
people book time off weeks in advance, stay home for the morning or afternoon,
but see no‑one rock up to install the NBN'.
The committee heard many examples of missed or cancelled appointments causing
significant difficulties for individuals and businesses, in terms of lost time
and money. 
Mr Kenneth Knight, an artist residing on the Central Coast of NSW,
provided one such example at a public hearing of the committee. Mr Knight
stated that he had been left without an internet service between early November
and late December 2016, having been forced to take up an NBN service due to his
copper service being decommissioned.
The gap in service cost Mr Knight an estimated $60,000 to $70,000 in business
during the busy pre-Christmas period. Mr Knight then experienced continuous
problems with his internet connection during January and February 2017, before
the connection was lost completely for almost a month in March 2017 before
being re-established. Mr Knight told the committee:
I have spent an estimated 28 hours on the phone. The
ineptitude, indecision and inaction by Telstra and NBN, particularly relating
to unreturned phone calls and cancelled appointments, has been exasperating. I
have felt a significant sense of hopelessness and frustration. From my
experience, the wrong team was frequently sent out. NBN appointments were
cancelled without explanation and with very short notice.
Mr Bill Morrow, Chief Executive Officer, nbn, stated publicly in June
2017 that 90 per cent of activated premises have the appointments met right the
first time, leaving about 10 per cent of connections involving some form of
Mr Morrow advised that there were 82,552 missed appointments in total for the
calendar year 2016.
Providing apparently contradictory information, nbn noted further that,
as at 14 June 2017, the average rate of missed appointments due to
nbn rescheduling in the course of the 2017 calendar year is 1 per 100
When asked about what requirements or guidelines are in place concerning
how to deal with missed appointments, the Department stated:
Commercial agreements between NBN Co Limited (nbn) and retail
service providers (RSPs) include processes and performance indicators relating
to customer appointments.
nbn is working closely with RSPs on a strategic program of
work to improve the quality of the consumer experience. This program includes
working with delivery partners to increase the number of appointments where
installation is completed on the first visit and a strategy to ensure timely
communication with customers.
As these commercial agreements between nbn and RSPs do not create any
contractual rights or obligations that are of benefit to end-users, the
solutions and remedies have been difficult for consumers to pursue and obtain.
This is a systemic shortcoming that is only likely to be cured by effective
Mr Morrow advised at a public hearing of the committee in August 2017
that nbn is actively working with RSPs to improve installation processes and
will continue to collaborate on these issues:
[There] is a vast amount of collaboration between us and the
retailers around how we can each perfect our processes for a better
installation experience—whether it is the time between when a consumer orders
the service and when it actually gets installed, missed appointments or the
length of time it takes to get that up and working. The issues are both related
to NBN processes and retail processes. This is where we are saying we should
collaborate and figure out new ways of doing things so we can make it better
overall for the end-user.
Mr John Stanton, Chief Executive Officer of the Communications Alliance,
contended that the customer migration process is still working well overall,
given the scale and complexity of the rollout:
Please try to recognise that creating a new network and
migrating a nation to it is one of the most complex and disruptive activities
you could hope to undertake in the telco space. The vast majority of times,
that process is working well and is delivering a reasonable result to
consumers—typically a much improved result. In an environment where you have
got so many moving parts and so many potential points of failure—some of them
within the control of NBN Co, some of them within the control of RSPs, some of
them within the control of the consumer—there will always be points at which it
is hard to diagnose the nature of a problem. I think everybody who is a
stakeholder here recognises the need to get better at that and to minimise the
number of instances in which those difficulties are occurring. But you will
never eliminate them completely. Such is the nature of an operational rollout.
Mr Michael Schuman, Chief Information Officer at Townsville City
Council, said the quality of service appeared to be dependent on the
subcontractor installing the last connection point. He gave evidence about the
inconsistent and sometimes substandard quality of work by some NBN
That last bit of connectivity from where it hits your
premises to where it terminates at the box inside your home is all done by
subcontractors. We have had reports that the quality of those subcontractors is
shoddy. I personally had a couple of lovely young blokes come into my house and
do an amazing job, very neat and very tidy, but then I can go to somebody
else's house and see galvanised staples, where they have taken a piece of
optical fibre and stapled it to the side of the house to get it in. Now, any
time you are working with optical fibre, that is a delicate operation; stapling
is not advised in the first instance, not to mention that it is very untidy and
there are all kinds of opportunities for that to lead to quality issues.
Mr Keith Green, the manager of Arid Land Communications, provided
photographic evidence to demonstrate poor workmanship following weekend
installations down his main street:
you have a look there [at supplied photographs], you have exposed cables, you
have conduit doing really weird things, you have penetrations of asbestos and
you have a cable box mounted at chest height with the cables exposed where they
can just be grabbed by anybody.
Other witnesses mentioned that the location of the installation was
sometimes problematic, with rushed installers opting for the easiest placement
rather than the resident's preferred placement. For example, Mr John Banks, the
CEO of Port Augusta City Council, said people "had boxes installed in
areas that they thought were inappropriate—within their bedrooms".
Poor organisation and time-management among sub-contractors also
appeared to be an issue, leading to missed appointments or multiple visits to
the same address to install a service.
Mrs Joanna Gibson from the Isolated Children's Parents' Association of
Australia cited the case of a South Australian member, who had three different
technicians visit her remote property over 10 months (following numerous
cancellations) to have the service installed, followed by four technician
visits when the dishes moved on a windy day:
Installers who do not know what they are doing or are
incorrectly installing the equipment [means that] the next person who comes out
has to fix it. Also installers are travelling huge amounts of kilometres to do
one thing and then a couple of days later someone else comes to do the same
thing—and it is the same property, just a different building.
Alternate models for installation
The committee heard evidence about the installation process utilised by
Chorus NZ in its rollout of high speed broadband in New Zealand. Representatives
from Chorus NZ informed the committee that, following a customer ordering a
broadband service through an RSP, a three stage installation process occurs,
involving two or more visits where the homeowner needs to be present:
a scoping visit where a technician will meet with the householder
to talk about what the installation will look like and where the customer would
like to have the optical network terminal (ONT) placed inside the home
(generally in the lounge behind the customer's TV);
an external build process, connecting the fibre infrastructure
from the street to an external termination point on the customer's property;
an internal installation visit where the service is connected
within the home to the ONT, and testing occurs to ensure the service is working
Mr Kurt Rodgers, Network Strategy Manager for Chorus NZ, explained that
the final installation appointment ensures the customer's product is
functioning properly before responsibility for the service is handed over to
For some retail service providers, we actually stock their
residential gateways. So our technician will install the ONT, plug in the
residential gateway, plug in a laptop and then do a speed test and validate
that it is all working. For other retail service providers, they send the wi-fi
router to the consumer by courier. Again, we coordinate that and install it. In
some cases we also install and connect set-top boxes. Our policy is not to
leave until the consumer's internet is working awesomely.
Mr Rodgers stated that the final step in this process is not overly
[A]ll our technician is doing is literally plugging their
wi-fi router in and turning it on. We have worked over the years with retail
service providers to ensure that is all plug-and-play. We have allocated a
15-minute timeslot there, once the ONT is installed, to ethernet plug the
router in, plug a laptop in, do a speed test, and that is the commissioning bit
at the end. In the first few years there were a few issues about getting that
all working, but now in pretty much most cases that is just a plug-and-play
Associate Professor Mark Gregory suggested that nbn should investigate
whether the installation process followed by Chorus in New Zealand could be
applied in Australia:
All of the issues and complaints that NBN Co are suffering at
the moment would be diminished if they adopted the Chorus approach—that is,
that the installation team includes people that are specialists in connecting
everything in the home to the broadband. They do not leave the premise until
everything is connected all the way through. At that point, Chorus, the
wholesaler, hands over to the retail service provider. It is a very, very
positive approach that means that they are getting very few customer complaints
in New Zealand, and it is something that NBN Co should look at in Australia.
Associate Professor Gregory argued that this approach could ultimately
be a more economical installation process:
I think that [the Chorus model] would be a much simpler
situation, and I believe that it would actually save NBN Co money, because they
would not have all the follow‑on call-outs, the truck rolls. I know
people who have had trucks out to them five to 10 times. The cost of the
remediation, the constant backwards and forwards, the time on the phone and the
anguish is just impossible.
The actual cost of sending someone into a home to whack the
modem in, connect it and then make sure that the local PC in the home and so
forth is connected up to the new wi-fi modem takes no more than about half an
hour. If that person is part of the installation team, you have solved all your
problems. You then do an end-to-end test to make sure everything is working,
and then you hand it over to the RSP.
In June 2017, Mr Bill Morrow, nbn CEO, described possible changes to
nbn's installation procedures that are under consideration to ensure customers
have a better experience:
We want to move to, 'What is the end user experience like?'
We are even starting to look at how we can measure whether that service is
working before our technician leaves that home. In the past we would have done
all of our work and left, but the service is not working, because the retailer
still had a lot of work to do that they had not completed, and the end user
feels like, 'The NBN technician just left, and I'm still without service; I
don't feel satisfied.' That is why we are trying to readjust this.
Review of the Migration Assurance
As noted in Chapter 1, the Department is currently in the process of
updating the Migration Assurance Framework, a document that sets out the
different roles and responsibilities in the process of connecting customers to
a new NBN service. On 30 June 2017 a new draft Migration Assurance
Framework was released for public consultation, with the period for public
comment finishing on 28 July 2017.
A representative from the Department informed the committee at a public
hearing on 1 August 2017 that the Department was currently considering the
responses received from stakeholders, in order to provide advice to the
Minister about the revised framework.
In a response provided on 16 August 2017 to a question taken on notice at the
hearing, the Department stated further that consultations on the updated
framework have been finalised and it 'is expected to be released shortly'.
Issues with NBN service speeds and performance faults
Various issues were discussed in evidence relating to the issues
experienced by customers once their NBN services were installed and activated.
The primary concern raised with the committee was in relation to the speed of
services provided over the NBN, with many customers unhappy with the
performance of their service in this regard. Other issues included the
reliability of services and dropouts; and issues with the resolution of faults
in the NBN network, including lack of clarity around fault resolution processes
and long timeframes for the resolution of some faults.
The TIO provided the committee with statistics on the number of
fault-related complaints it received between 2013 and the end of 2016, noting
that in the 2016 calendar year 5,472 complaints relating to 'fault' issues were
Within the faults category, subcategories include issues relating to slow data
speeds, connection drop outs, and fully unusable services.
Figure 3.2, provided by the TIO, shows that the number of fault-related
complaints has increased over time, but at a rate that appears to be slower
than the rate of increase in the overall number of premises connected to the
Figure 3.2 TIO fault complaints for NBN services vs number
of premises activated over time
Issues relating to the speeds
experienced by customers on the NBN
Various individuals and consumer groups that gave evidence to the
committee indicated that a significant number of customers on the NBN network are
not receiving the speeds they were promised, and that their service is
considerably poorer than they expected. One such example was presented to the
committee by Mr Neil Keele at a public hearing in August 2017:
I had the NBN connected just over 12 months ago. My
expectations were that I was going to have wonderful speed and everything. I
paid for the highest package available. I am getting speeds like 42 and 70
kilobits per second instead of 100 megabits per second, and that is quite
regular. With the speed tests you do through your provider, if it hits a high
speed for a fraction of a second, that is the speed recorded as your speed,
which is far from what is actually happening.
The committee heard that there may be a number of reasons why some
customers are having negative experiences in terms of the speed and performance
of their NBN service. These issues include consumer knowledge and poor
communication from RSPs, provisioning issues on the part of the RSPs and
technical limitations of some NBN technologies.
Factors affecting the speed and performance
of NBN services
nbn provided the committee with a diagram outlining the various factors
that can affect internet speed and performance over the NBN (Figure 3.3). These
factors in the home controlled by the end user (e.g. state and
location of in home wi-fi equipment; number of devices in use
modems or other in-home equipment supplied by the RSP;
infrastructure limits, including both the length and quality of
the legacy copper that is used for FTTN, and also faults in the NBN segment of
- and faults in the NBN segment of the network;
the amount of Connectivity Virtual Charge (CVC) purchased by the
RSP, which determines the amount of congestion experienced by end users over
the NBN network (this is discussed further in Chapter 7); and
congestion in the RSP-operated backhaul network and international
General approach to provisioning
speeds on the NBN
nbn's Chief Customer Officer, Mr John Simon, noted publicly in May 2017
that for broadband networks such as the NBN, RSPs generally provision their
services to provide for customers to receive 90 per cent of their maximum
attainable speed, 90 per cent of the time, with a worst case scenario of
potentially 60 per cent of the speed level as the minimum floor during peak
Mr Simon noted this means that on the NBN's 25Mbps download / 5Mbps upload
speed tier, the absolute minimum the service should operate at would be rates
of 15Mbps download and 3Mbps upload.
Some of the individual stories described above indicate that this
standard is not being adhered to in a significant number of instances.
Technical limitations and speed
One issue raised specifically in relation to the FTTN areas of the NBN
rollout was whether the technical limitations of the copper component meant
that customers could be signed up to NBN plans at the 50Mbps or 100Mbps speed
tiers when the maximum attainable download speed could not in fact reach those
nbn stated in May 2017 that the average attainable line speed for
premises on the FTTN network is 67.7 Mbps, though the basis of this measure was
not explained to the committee, and it is clear that the 'attainable' line speed
is not based on a measure of actual network speed on a tested
nbn provided further information in June 2017 about the distribution profile of
speeds available over the FTTN network, as shown in Table 3.1.
Table 3.1 Current attainable Rate Downstream (Mbps, Layer
of FTTN premises
nbn noted that FTTN current speed results are based on the measured
attainable line rate for each FTTN service, and do not reflect actual speeds
experienced by end users, which are also dependent on other factors including
available CVC and network bandwidth of RSPs. However, it is not clear to the
committee how 'measured attainable' speed is determined. It is noted that nbn
The results are also subject to co-existence profile
settings, which reduces performance to prevent interference with legacy
services during the 18 month migration window. Following switch-off of
legacy copper services after this period, the Layer 2 attainable bitrate
(speeds) will increase. The numbers also reflect the impact of other factors
such as any in-home wiring issues, which can affect attainable speeds.
Where the network is not capable of providing the minimum
wholesale download speeds after coexistence has ended, nbn will take action to
rectify any issues so that minimum standards are met.
It was reported in June 2017 that the ACCC has active investigations
underway into claims that some NBN customers were paying for speeds of 100Mbps
but only able to connect at less than 50Mbps, and was considering court action
against some providers in relation to this issue.
Visibility of speed issues and
provision of information to customers
Both nbn and RSPs have visibility of the speed range attainable at each
premise connected to the NBN network. Mr Simon explained at an Estimates
hearing in May 2017 that RSPs can obtain the necessary information from nbn to
help consumers choose a speed plan in line with any technical limitations:
[W]hen a user rings up an RSP they can do a service [qualification]
and they can get an estimate of the line speed there and then. At that point
they get an estimated range. They can have a dialogue with the RSP about what
that estimated range is, and they can make a decision on which plan they want
to take. Once the order has been completed and the installation has taken
place, they can also reconfirm the actual performance of that line and they can
then do either of two things with the right dialogue: stay on that plan or
At the public hearing in Canberra, Mr John Stanton, Chief Executive
Officer, Communications Alliance, advised that members of that organisation
have access to this information from nbn.
When questioned whether nbn should be required to give customers information
on the maximum attainable line speed to their premises, rather than relying on
the RSPs to deliver this information, officials from the Department maintained
that it should be the role of the RSP to provide this information to the
Mr Simon explained that RSPs also have tools available to determine
where speed faults are arising and communicate this with the customer:
What should happen is your retail service provider should
tell you that speed. If there is a fault in our network they have the tools to
be able to diagnose and they also work with our network operating centre to see
if there is a fault. If there is a fault on our side, it is our responsibility
to roll a truck or do whatever has to happen to fix it if it is in the access
part of the network, that is our network, from the home to that point of
interface. If the fault lies from the POI [Point of Interconnect] into the
transmission network of the RSP or into international capacity or voice
switches the RSP fixes that, but your RSP is your point of interface.
Lack of consumer knowledge about
Several witnesses acknowledged that a significant problem in relation to
NBN services not adequately meeting users' needs is that many consumers are
unaware of the speed tier of their service, and more generally unaware of the
factors that may affect their broadband performance. In evidence to the
committee, Mr Bill Morrow cited recent survey data showing that 75 per cent of
NBN customers were unaware of the speed tier for their service.
The committee heard evidence that a significant reason customers are
unaware of their speed plans and the service they should be expecting from
their NBN is poor communication from RSPs in explaining the speed customers can
realistically expect and how the various plans related to the data speeds
Mr Casey Farrell, Director of Tasmanian technology firm Takeflight,
articulated this issue well at the committee's Hobart public hearing:
There's also a real problem in the technology industry
generally of talking about things in very technical terms. If you call up a
standard person and you want to connect them to the NBN and you say to them,
'We can put you on 12 megabits a second,' that means nothing to them. You may
as well say, 'We can connect you to a gherkin,' and they would probably think
that that was a technological term. I think that there are a lot of problems at
the moment where people are connecting to a 12-megabit connection on the NBN
and then saying it's no different to how it was before, and therefore thinking,
'What's the capacity here?'
Mr Morrow expressed the view that RSPs need to do more in their pre-sale
conversations with potential customers to ensure that customers are aware of
the different speed options and products available, and to ensure that
consumers are aware that the speed plans represent maximum available speeds,
not guaranteed speeds.
He noted that some RSPs have already changed their communications approach to
inform customers about indicative speed ranges rather than just promoting the
headline maximum speed:
[Some of the retailers] are starting to change that
conversation out there and saying [to customers]: 'It will range. You'll peak
at 25 megabits per second, but you may drop down to 15 megabits per second or
maybe to 10 megabits per second. Is that good enough for you at this price
point? If not, maybe I have an upgraded product where I can give you more
certainty—call it the bottom end of my speed delivery—that that will be
increased because you're going to pay $5 more a month, $10 more a month or
whatever it is I have on offer.'
Dr Craig Watkins argued that for customers experiencing lower than
expected speeds on their NBN service, a tool to help identify which part of the
network was primarily responsible would help assist consumers establish where
the problem lies and how best to resolve it:
[Many], if not most, NBN users are somewhat illiterate when
it comes to more detailed understanding of technology factors. Hence it would
be ideal for an online tool to be able to interpret speed test results by the
customer and advise if the likely cause is RSP provisioning factors. A
sophisticated tool might even be able to look at where the user is attempting
to stream their data from and provide insight into the likely contribution from
network bottlenecks deeper into the internet.
From the customer perspective, it is likely that the most
crucial information is what the shared access bottleneck part of the NBN is
contributing (if at all) to their disappointing service, and what contribution
comes from RSP provisioning. A tool that provides basic information relevant to
the part of the network that the customer is connected to should be able to
satisfy the needs of a large proportion of end-user concerns (perhaps 90% or
For the remaining few percent of customer concerns, it should
be possible to configure monitoring across network elements covering the NBN
and RSP networks that will provide detailed information.
The ACCC's Broadband Performance Monitoring and Reporting Program, which
is seeking to enable customers to compare speeds via independent reporting of
broadband speeds, is discussed in detail in Chapter 5 of the report.
Complaints processes and resolution
In addition to highlighting the most common problems experienced by
customers in establishing and using their NBN service, the question of how
customers can go about lodging complaints and gaining resolution to these
issues was also explored in evidence to the committee.
Process of raising complaints and
resolving issues for customers
In the first instance, customers are supposed to try and resolve issues
with their RSP, rather than contacting nbn directly in relation to issues with
their service. The committee has heard that this delineation can be problematic
in practice, particularly when it is unclear which part (or parts) of the
network are responsible for the issue the customer is experiencing. If the
situation is not resolved satisfactorily for the customer, they may lodge a
complaint with the TIO, which then goes through a number of escalating
processes if the dispute is not resolved.
Determining the responsible party
and 'blame shifting' between nbn and RSPs
The committee heard that customers often face difficulties in
determining who to contact about an NBN service issue, Ms Judi Jones, the
current Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, noted that some consumers are
unsure which party is at fault when problems occur:
There is some confusion with some consumers about who to
complain about. One example I have seen is where the problem in the connection
turned out to be the fibre to the premises, which needed to be repaired. NBN Co
referred the consumer back to their RSP, but the RSP cannot fix the fibre.
Mr Robert Smallwood, Digital Economy Strategy Manager for the Mid West
Development Commission, told the committee that nbn is often blamed by the
customer, regardless of the root cause of an issue:
The end users tend to blame the NBN for the problems, no
matter who or what is actually responsible. Very importantly, the customers
still have no means of clearly identifying which organisation is accountable
when outcomes at a user's premises fall below expectations.
Mr Andrew Cann, Chief Technology Officer at the Western Australian Government's
Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, commented:
[T]here appears to exist a disconnect between customers, the
NBN Co and retail service providers as to who is ultimately accountable and
responsible for service delivery and service management quality outcomes. The
NBN continually points customers to the retail service providers, and the
retail service providers blame the NBN. The customer sits in the middle, with
no resolution to any of the issues that they experience.
Mr Cann stated further:
Where customers have issues, they speak to NBN Co and then
get referred to the retail service providers. In fact [NBN Co have said] that
customers should speak to their retail service providers. That allows the
retail service providers to then just blame the NBN.
Ms Jones expressed the view that the ultimate responsibility to sort out
problems lies with the RSPs, who have the direct contractual relationship with
the customer. Ms Jones argued that it is the RSP who needs to advocate up and
down the delivery chain to ensure customer issues are resolved.
Mr Alex Green, Chief Executive Officer, Mansfield Shire Council,
People are frustrated and do not necessarily get clear
answers from their providers, and so they go looking to contact NBN Co. I
understand that, as a consumer, your role is to go to your provider and the
provider then goes to NBN. I understand that, but I do not think the community
understand that process.
When asked about the problem of blame shifting between nbn and the RSPs
in resolving customer issues, Mr John Stanton, Chief Executive Officer of the
Communications Alliance, took the view that 'the volume of blame shifting is
This opinion was itself offered without evidence and is contradictory to the
evidence before the committee.
Mr Rob Van der End, CEO of Clear Networks, an RSP offering services
including NBN Sky Muster plans, told the committee that RSPs had no motivation
for trying to sheet blame unnecessarily to the nbn for customer problems, and
to do so would not ultimately be helpful for his business:
[A]s an RSP you want to deal with the customer because
obviously you want to keep the customer. [There is] no point trying to blame
shift and get no resolution because the customer just gets upset or goes to the
Work of the Telecommunications
Industry Ombudsman in resolving complaints
As noted in Chapter 1, the TIO is an independent dispute resolution
service for the telecommunications industry. The TIO is an avenue for
redress when consumers are unable to resolve their complaints with their
As part of its remit the TIO deals with complaints from customers
experiencing issues with their NBN services. In its submission to the
committee, the TIO noted that in the 2015-16 financial year, 13,406 new
complaints relating to NBN services were lodged with the TIO, approximately
doubling from the previous year.
The TIO stated that the increase in NBN-related complaints reflects the
acceleration of the rollout, and that the number of complaints is expected to
continue to increase as the rate of the rollout accelerates further.
The current Ombudsman, Ms Judi Jones, told the committee at a public
hearing in March 2017 that based on the TIO's projections, it expected that the
total number of NBN-related complaints for the 2016-17 financial year would be
roughly double the number of 13,406 in the 2015-16 financial year.
The TIO emphasised in its submission that the rate of the increase in
complaints appears to be slower that the rate of new premises being connected
to the NBN.
Ms Jones stated to the committee:
It is very easy to sensationalise what happened last year as
'complaints are doubling', when the number of premises connected had more than
doubled. So it was a good news story, I think, for NBN Co and the retail
Complaints handling process used by
The TIO outlined its process for handling complaints in its submission
The first stage of the TIO's complaint handling process is to
refer complaints to members [most commonly the customer's retail service
provider]. Members are given the opportunity to resolve complaints through
their internal dispute resolution process.
Of the complaints referred to members, around 10%
(approximately 11,000 in 2016) return to the TIO. These complaints are either
resolved through conciliation or investigation, or by the TIO making an
assessment on the merits of the case.
The TIO has the power to issue binding determinations, including
determinations about objections from land owners or occupiers to carriers
entering on to land to inspect, install, or maintain low impact facilities.
It has the authority to decide the resolution of a complaint, and can make
legally binding damages orders of up to $50,000 and make recommendations for
damages up to $100,000.
Awareness of the TIO scheme among
A point of discussion in relation to the TIO was the extent to which
consumers are actually aware of the existence of the TIO scheme and their
ability to lodge complaints.
Several witnesses argued that there is a lack of awareness among
consumers about the existence of the TIO scheme, and that more needs to be done
to ensure that the scheme is known to consumers and easily accessible. Mrs
Judith Charlton, CEO of Narrandera Shire Council, expressed the view that there
is 'a low level of understanding about what people's rights are with regard to
complaints', and argued that more information that is easily accessible to
consumers about how to raise complaints is required.
Ms Corbin of ACCAN expressed the following view about the visibility of
the TIO scheme:
[A] lot of people do not know about the TIO. Our level of
knowledge in relation to the TIO awareness is that it is reasonably high and it
has improved over the years. We think that it is high simply because of the
high levels of complaint in the telecommunications industry previously.
I think a lot of people do know about the ombudsman but,
unfortunately, it is usually people who have had problems that know about the
ombudsman. It is not people who are experiencing new problems. The thing about
awareness of the ombudsman's scheme is that you have to keep promoting it.
People do not take notice of it unless they have a problem and then they start
to look around to see where they can go.
Ms Jones expressed the view that consumers are generally aware of the
We certainly get a good result on Google, and we are pretty
well known... [Our] last general awareness survey showed we are pretty well known
in the community, and we do work on that. We work on outreach events and
promotion of our service so that people do know to contact us when they have
got a problem.
Ability for customers to gain
compensation for problems caused
Some customers who have lost income and incurred other expense as a
result of problems with their NBN service have attempted to seek financial
compensation, either directly through their RSP or through the TIO process.
The committee heard that some individuals with complaints lodged through
the TIO had been able to access some financial compensation.
For others, however, no financial compensation was available, either through
the TIO or through their RSP.
Mr Kenneth Knight told the committee that when faced with tens of
thousands of dollars in lost business due to outages of his NBN service at a
busy time of year, he was offered only $50 as compensation from his RSP.
The committee heard from several other small business owners who also had lost
similar amounts of money due to service issues with the NBN, who were unable to
receive appropriate recompense.
Mr Mark Beatson noted that while his RSP would consider providing some
compensation for loss of business, there was no compensation offered for lost
time, which in his case represented up to 90 hours spent by him and the staff
at his small business on the phone trying to resolve issues with their NBN
Mr Laurie O'Brien, who owns a financial planning business on the NSW
Central Coast, noted that the process for applying for compensation through his
RSP was so convoluted as to act as a significant deterrent:
I made application to Telstra for a loss of income, which I
estimated at about $50,000. The forms to be completed and queries raised
prompted me to conclude that I will never get compensation because of the
ridiculous data that I would have had to extract. Just to fill out the evidence
of a loss of income would take me several weeks away from my core business...
The forms are so convoluted. I think they are trickery. I
think they are designed to make you give up. You really have to take a lot of
time off to extract all the information and prove to them that you have lost
Mrs Belinda Mabbott expressed similar concerns following her business's
problems getting an NBN service established over a significant period of time:
I was advised by several people to put a compensation claim
in, but we have not at this stage because I looked at that paperwork and
thought, 'I just can't do it.' The stress of that 12 months and then that on
top was too much.
Mrs Mabbott advised the committee that lodging a formal compensation
claim would require additional time spent to get an accountant to tally a
report on lost time and earnings, and stated:
I do not know whether the actual time, effort and stress that
causes when we are trying to run a six-day a week business is worth it. I will
still think about doing it. I pull out the paper and look at it. I put it back
in the folder and think, 'I don't think I can do this.' It just rehashes everything
too. It was just really stressful[.]
The evidence presented to the committee shows that for some customers,
the experience of transitioning to services on the NBN has been extremely poor.
Many problems have been experienced at every stage of the migration process,
from installation issues through to speed and performance faults once services
are established. When serious problems have occurred, customers have rarely had
the information necessary to know how to go about resolving complaints, and
some customers have also been unable to gain appropriate compensation for lost
income and time.
The committee is of the view that the quality and service issues
identified in this report were foreseeable and should have been identified and
addressed systemically a lot earlier.
In relation to the marginal improvement in the ratio of complaints to
the number of services delivered, the committee believes the improvement should
have been much more substantial considering the opportunity to identify and
eliminate common issues.
The committee believes the contractual arrangements between nbn and the
RSPs have not been effective in establishing rights and obligations that would
The failure to ensure end-users are in a position to navigate the NBN
migration process when coupled with the quality and service issues has caused a
lack of confidence in the NBN, which in turn has likely affected the public
appetite for higher speed broadband packages.
One of the key shortcomings of the current approach is that consumers of
fixed line broadband services are not informed, and cannot avail themselves, of
the speed capacity of their NBN connection. A related shortcoming is that
unlike Chorus NZ, nbn does not test the function and quality/capacity of
the connection when a household or business is ready for service.
While these may represent a minority of customers overall, 1 in 10 is a
significant and unacceptable ratio, and it is frustrating and disappointing for
the committee to repeatedly hear of the poor treatment occurring in these
individual cases. Also of particular concern is the significant impact delays
in connections and missed appointments have had on small businesses attempting
to use NBN services. Given the importance of the NBN as a national
infrastructure project, and the great investment of taxpayer funds in this
project, all customers should rightly be able to expect a basic level of service
across all their interactions with the NBN.
Options for improving the consumer experience on the NBN are explored in
greater detail in Chapter 5, along with recommendations to address the most
common problems experienced in this area.
The committee recommends the Government ensure by appropriate regulation
that end users are informed of, or can easily access and are directed to, clear
information about the maximum attainable layer 2 speed of their NBN
infrastructure/service on a per premise basis.
The committee recommends that nbn develop and implement a framework that
ensures best-practice installation as part of an 'active handover' model, with
reference to the approach of Chorus NZ, so that each premise is assured of
network capability at the point it is ready-for-service, and repeat visits and
remedial costs are avoided.
The committee recommends that nbn review and provide advice to the
committee on how it:
takes into consideration the added complexity and time
requirements of installations to Service Class 0 and Service Class 10 premises,
or equivalent areas, when calculating its progress towards completion goals;
prioritises connections to areas that currently have no access to
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