NBN announces $150m package for low-income households and struggling businesses

NBN Co has announced a $150 million relief package designed to get low-income households connected so their children can study online and support struggling customers and businesses.

With the country turning to online education, remote work and tele-health during the COVID-19 crisis, community organisations have been calling for help for vulnerable Australians without internet connections.

NBN Co chief executive Stephen Rue said the measures were “unprecedented”.Credit:Edwina Pickles

A $50 million centrepiece of the package will waive a $37 wholesale charge on basic 25Mbps internet plans to allow telcos on the national broadband network to lower their prices between April and September.

"This is intended to help make education accessible to all Australian students who are home schooling in response to social distancing measures," Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said.

Further relief for internet providers aims to help them maintain connections for households that are struggling financially. Similar relief will be available for small and medium businesses that have suffered during the pandemic.

There will also be a dedicated support package for essential workers and emergency services aimed at providing them with boosted connections and priority resolution of faults.

The measures announced by NBN Co will be opt-in for internet providers, who will decide what offers they make to customers. Some have already introduced a range of support initiatives for customers.

Mr Fletcher said: "We expect and encourage all internet providers to pass the benefits of NBN Co's relief measures on to end users of the service."

NBN Co chief executive Stephen Rue said the government-owned business had a key role to play in supporting struggling households and businesses.

"The unprecedented measures we are announcing today reflect our commitment to the telecommunications industry in helping to deliver a whole-of-industry solution to these consumer and business segments which have been hit hard by the pandemic," he said.

Teresa Corbin, chief executive of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, welcomed the announcement.

"NBN Co is to be applauded for laying the groundwork to keep struggling families and households connected during this difficult time. We hope to see the nation's retail service providers build on these foundations to deliver financial relief to those in need," she said.

The government has also announced a set of principles jointly with the telecommunications industry aimed at providing an industry-wide "baseline" on supporting vulnerable customers.

The principles include a willingness to waive certain fees and charges for customers in hardship, a commitment to not unilaterally disconnect struggling customers, and deferral of debt collection.

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