ACCAN’s urgent call is part of the consumer advocacy group’s submission to NBN Co’s Special Access Undertaking Variation 2021 discussion paper.
ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin says communities in New South Wales are entering their sixth week of lockdown.
“For those in Greater Sydney, this means that homes have had to double as offices and classrooms for millions of Australians,” she says.
However, Corbin notes that not everyone has access to a reliable broadband connection at home. “Some households have had to try and support simultaneous work meetings and online education from a single slow hotspot from a mobile phone, while others have been unable to learn online at all,” she laments.
In 2020, ACCAN welcomed NBN Co’s introduction of measures to help connect unconnected households during the nation’s widescale lockdowns through its Education Assistance Package.
While NBN Co last week announced a COVID-19 relief credit payment of $5.2 million across internet retailers to help mitigate the cost of increased data demand induced by lockdowns, ACCAN notes there has been no direct effort to assist struggling households.
The ACCAN recommends NBN Co should prioritise its work on a low-income product flowing from its two latest pricing consultations.
Corbin says NBN Co has been consulting on a low-income product for vulnerable households since 2019.
“We were led to believe that this much needed product would finally come to market this year,” Corbin adds. “We are still waiting.”
ACCAN has urged NBN Co not to delay the roll out of the valuable low-income product until it is incorporated in South Australia.
“People need connectivity now. They can’t afford to wait for months and months until the regulatory process is over,” urges Corbin.
On the proposed changes to Connectivity Virtual Circuit (CVC) and Access Virtual Circuit (AVC) in NBN Co’s discussion paper, the peak body for communications consumers stressed that any pricing changes must ensure lower speed plans and must be an affordable option for consumers.
ACCAN considers that if CVC charges were to be removed, the rebalancing of prices must not disproportionately impact slower speed services.
ACCAN says this is important as the consumer impact of increasing the price of speed tiers 12-50 Mbps will be significant considering that these cover 81% of NBN Co’s residential services in operation.
“Getting the NBN pricing mechanism right is a tightrope exercise, but it is vital,” concludes Corbin. “Communications services are now an essential service, and we must do everything we can to make sure that they are affordable, available, accessible, and inclusive for all.”