Incoming NBN CEO Stephen Rue faces yet another disaster in addition to the company’s rollout schedule and troubled finances, with an independent survey of small and medium-sized businesses revealing massive levels of complaints about many businesses losing both phone and internet services in the transition to the new broadband service. In some cases, for months at a time.

The long-awaited Residential households and business survey from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which commenced a year ago, was today released in full after residential survey data was released in April. Today’s release contains survey data on the experience of 1153 small and medium businesses with the NBN over 2017 and early 2018, and reveals a stunning level of dissatisfaction among business owners.

According to the survey, 42% of small and medium businesses had complained to their retail service provider (RSP) or NBN about poor service after being connected, usually multiple times — the median number of complaints for business was four. This was significantly higher than the level of complaints from households (31% and a median of three).

During their switchover to the NBN, 40% of businesses were left without either their phone or internet service, or both, during connection, with potentially major impacts on their businesses; 31% of businesses with both internet and phone services from the NBN (some had phone-only services) lost both services, cutting their businesses off entirely. Worse, restoration times were painfully slow for cut-off businesses where every minute out of touch costs money: 11% were left without a phone for a month; 15% had no internet for that period. Another 23% had no phone for between one and four weeks.

That is, around a third of businesses who were cut off when they moved to the NBN were stuck that way for more than a week. According to ACMA, “for businesses that were left without an internet service during connection, just over half (57 per cent) described the impact on their business as ‘major’, and 21 per cent as ‘moderate’.”

Only 49% of businesses described themselves as satisfied with their switchover. And those that had opted for a residential plan rather than a business plan were likely to be happier. And 72% of businesses said they’d had NBN faults since then, usually drop-outs, but often data speeds as well. One in five businesses said their complaints (either to their RSP or NBN, bearing in mind fault might lie with the former) had taken longer than a week to resolve and 37% reported that their complaints hadn’t been fixed at the time of being surveyed.

ACMA is now imposing or recently imposed a suite of new rules on all telcos to address the issues that emerged in both the residential and business surveys. They involve:

  • better information for consumers and business about NBN services;
  • NBN connections must be capable of delivering the maximum speed specified in the service plan;
  • old services not to be switched off until new NBN services are working ;
  • have remedies available if new services aren’t working at the time of connection; and
  • and end to the endless loops of NBN and RSPs passing the buck back and forth between them about faults.

NBN and RSPs will insist this is historical data, and some of it is from late 2016 or early last year, but the business survey didn’t conclude until February this year. These are current problems in a network that has become a by-word for disappointment and poor service.

A spokesperson for NBN Co advised Crikey:

“We want all Australian businesses to have a positive experience when connecting and using to services over the nbn™ access network. Our dedicated business division at NBN Co is working closely with phone and internet providers to optimise our processes and systems to improve the connection and fault resolution processes, prioritise rescheduled appointments and case manage complex orders.

“We recognise that businesses have unique requirements. This is why we have developed business-grade wholesale product and service offerings with targeted communication programs and service-level agreements to help make the transition to the nbn™ access network as smooth as possible.  We are seeing great demand for fast broadband services from businesses across the country with more than 420,000 businesses already enjoying the benefits of the nbn™ access network with an average of 20,000 new businesses added to NBN Co’s footprint each month.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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