The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) is urging the Government to invest more to improve telco services across Australia’s regional and rural areas, based on feedback from the customer complaints it has received.
In a submission to the Federal Government’s Regional Telecommunications Review 2021, the agency has provided a number of suggestions to help improve telco services and infrastructure.
The TIO said the Government should provide grants and other investment incentives to promote a wider range of services, standardise mobile coverage information that is provided by telcos, publish up to date information about what telco services are available in certain regions, offer Government-subsidised mobile devices that can access both standard mobile networks and satellite networks, and build communal connectivity hubs for remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The submission was based on concerns from telco consumers living outside Australia’s metropolitan centres, and provides insight into complaint trends. The TIO said it receives around 30,000 phone and internet complaints from customers in regional areas each year.
“Consumers living in regional communities continue to have reduced access to telecommunications services,” Ombudsman Judi Jones said.
“Regional communities face unique challenges in having a fault repaired or being able to access an alternative service. They also face greater risk in natural disasters, such as bushfires and floods, where reliable telco services play a critical role in coordinating disaster response and recovery.
“Providing better access to information about available services could allow consumers to make more informed decisions, encourage competition, and bridge the telco divide between metropolitan and regional, rural and remote Australia.”
The TIO said its role as the complaints handling agency makes it uniquely placed to share its data and insights on the telco problems experienced by regional rural and remote consumers.
The complaints revealed some of the concerns from regional customers include service reliability, poor service coverage, lack of choice, and weak or damaged network infrastructure.
The agency also found those in the regional areas can take longer to have a fault repaired and there are fewer alternatives available when the service is out.
Service outages also often impact business in the regions, like those relying on telco services for taking orders and bookings, for promotion, to order stock, to take or process payments, and for other day-to-day business activities.