“iiNet fares best in TIO complaints…”

Or do they?

The above headline and corresponding story appeared in ARN on 4 May 2011. The article was reporting on the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s (TIO) January to March 2011 statistics published here.

Now before I go any further, let me say I have grave concerns with the source data itself, let alone the way it’s being reported in the press. When talking about TIO complaint statistics, it is worthwhile to familiarise yourself with this recent research report from the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).

Findings of the UTS research include (from the executive summary):

  • Over 80% (of carriage service providers surveyed) assert that the TIO accepts complaints which are out of jurisdiction, frivolous or vexatious.

Recommendations include:

  • Amend TIO policy and procedure to cease the multiple counting of complaints in statistics and recommence reporting disposition of complaints.
  • Amend TIO policy and procedure to refer to Level 1 Complaints as Contacts rather than Complaints.

So fair to say the TIO isn’t exactly highly regarded by the ISP industry. Indeed, Exetel have commenced legal action against the TIO for acting outside its charter. Or, in Exetel CEO John Linton’s own words, “Exetel is now going to take a court action to have the TIO closed as being a ‘criminal’ organisation based on a level of incompetence, lack of knowledge and unconstitutional actions that even Australians, who are mostly as apathetic as the governments they tolerate, shouldn’t have imposed on them.”

Well OK then…

Now if you still want to accept that all “complaints”, as reported by the TIO, are real, legitimate complaints then the fairest way to present the numbers is as a proportion of overall customer base. That’s going to be a bit tricky, because not all ISPs publish accurate customer numbers in the public domain. So I’ve had to estimate relative market share using Roy Morgan survey data and a methodology used in a previous blog post. When I refer to market share I mean ALL business, government AND home subscribers with ANY kind of internet access including dialup, DSL, cable, fibre, satellite and wireless (fixed & mobile). The Roy Morgan surveys were conducted between January 2010 and December 2010

Then, to be consistent, I only looked at TIO complaints made against a provider’s internet services . That is, I excluded complaints made against landline and mobile phone services. I considered all internet services TIO complaints made between October 2010 and March 2011

Then I derived a normalised score by dividing the relative market share by the proportion of complaints. The benchmark is a score of 1000 and a higher score is better. A score over 1000 means that an ISP recorded relatively fewer complaints as a proportion of its customer base than its peers. Less than 1000 means that an ISP was over-represented in TIO complaints relative to its size.

The TIO complaints leaderboard comes out as follows (click to up-size):

Table 1: TIO internet services complaints leaderboard, 2010/2011

iiNet did indeed do very well. With roughly an 11% market share, but only 6% of complaints, it gets a score of 1843. That’s well above the expected benchmark of 1000. But it didn’t fare best. The ISP that recorded the lowest number of TIO complaints as a proportion of number of customers was Internode, with a massive normalised score of 3448.