A report from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) revealed the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions on Australians' phone and internet use.
The report, titled “Impact of COVID-19 on phone and internet complaints”, detailed issues reported to the agency from March to June 2020, which include customers having difficulties contacting their providers, delays in repairing faults and connecting services, as well as financial difficulties among households and businesses.
The report said the issues had a bigger impact due to the need to remain connected amid the COVID-19 restrictions, but total complaints were not significantly above usual volumes.
Some findings included customers feeling more isolated, particularly elderly customers with a higher reliance on a single service; customers failing to contact their telco to remedy an incorrect charge that may have impacted on a financially struggling customer; and one restaurant unable to take phone orders for two weeks due to an issue with the landline service.
The TIO also acknowledged the responses of telcos, NBN Co, the government and regulators to step in to meet the increased demand and temporary financial relief, helping providers keep complaints under control while continuing to provide services.
TIO Ombudsman Judi Jones said on the report’s release that: “The pandemic has thrown the telecommunications industry and its consumers into a perfect storm. The delivery of reliable phone and internet services was challenged by the closure of overseas call centres and the move of telco operations staff to a work-from-home environment.”
“This collided with our need to remain connected through reliable phone and internet services at a time of heightened uncertainty.”
Jones added the pandemic has “stress-tested” the industry and government relief measures and stretched the capacity of telco providers, and that it was encouraging to see NBN Co extending its extra bandwidth offer until September.
“This systemic investigation reveals where more can be done by all parties in the supply chain to protect consumers, particularly those who are vulnerable. In some cases, where telcos had stopped taking complaints about billing issues, consumers said they were not able to report an incorrect charge on their bill resulting in overdrawn bank accounts and the inability to afford food, medicine or pay rent,” Jones said.
“My office will continue to monitor what consumers are telling us and work with providers to improve the customer experience.”