Small businesses are being stuck with poor internet deals: Ombudsman

Business owner using a tablet and internet outside

Small businesses are being sold bad internet deals and copping long wait times when trying to resolve telecommunications issues, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has found.

More than 19,000 small businesses complained about their phone and internet services last year, and as the COVID-19 pandemic prompts even more reliance on telecommunications services in business, the TIO has published an investigation into prominent issues in the market.

The investigation found information issues and long wait times to install new services are costing small businesses unnecessary time and money.

Ombudsman Judi Jones says the most complained about problems include businesses getting stuck using unsuitable products; long wait times to connect services; a lack of cooperation between businesses and providers when faults occur; and businesses suffering financial losses because they don’t have any back-up systems.

“During government restrictions to curb the pandemic, many small businesses became solely reliant on phone and internet services to continue operating,” Jones said in a statement.

“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.”

Released on Wednesday, the 27-page TIO report delves into several TIO complaints, detailing how businesses have been the victim of poor sales practices, or have lost their phone and internet connectivity when switching over to the National Broadband Network.

The proportion of TIO complaints made by small businesses rose to 14.7% last year, indicating SME issues are becoming more prominent as businesses increasingly rely on internet connectivity.

Securing high-speed and reliable internet has been an ongoing concern. As SmartCompany has previously reported, some businesses have had their phone services rendered inoperable after their service provider switched their premise over to the NBN.

One business highlighted by the TIO had to wait three months to get their phone and internet issues fixed after switching over to the NBN.

Another firm had to wait two months for their service provider to move their internet plan to a a new address. Left without a backup, the business claimed to have lost a significant amount of business because it was unable to process EFTPOS payments.

While the TIO report made no policy recommendations, it has advised businesses and service providers to do a better job of co-operating when issues occur in an individual firm’s service.

“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,” Jones said.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) said the TIO report highlights how many businesses are not utilising “fit for purpose” internet plans.

“Unfortunately, in the past few years we’ve seen the share of TIO complaints from small businesses continually
increase,” ACCAN chief executive Teresa Corbin said in a statement.

“It’s really important that telcos are communicating consistently and clearly with their small business customers
when issues occur. Small business owners have to juggle countless tasks during the day, and don’t have the time to
endlessly chase updates on faults,” Corbin said.

Top 10 internet and phone complaints for small businesses (2019)

  • No or delayed action by provider — 6,684 complaints (34%);
  • Service and equipment fees — 5,835 complaints (30%);
  • No phone or internet service — 3,506 complaints (18%);
  • Delay establishing a service — 2,816 complaints (14%);
  • Intermittent service or drop outs — 1,795 complaints (9%);
  • Resolution agreed but not met — 1,713 complaints (9%);
  • Misleading conduct when making a contract — 1,033 complaints (5%);
  • Termination fee — 980 complaints (5%);
  • Disconnection in error — 885 complaints (5%); and
  • Number problem due to connection, disconnection or transfer — 841 complaints (4%).

NOW READ: Telecommunications “hell”: The businesses left in the lurch by Australia’s NBN fiasco

NOW READ: The 5G frontier: As NBN falters, should Aussie SMEs make the switch?

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