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The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) and the South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS) have collaborated to publish a report on telecommunications affordability.

The report, titled Connectivity Costs: Telecommunications Affordability for Low-Income Australia was formed through over 500 surveys with Centrelink recipients and low-income Health Care Card Holders and multiple focus groups. The report has been crucial in identifying key concerns on the need for low-income consumers being able to maintain accessibility to telecommunication services.

Una Lawrence, ACCAN’s Director of Policy stated “In 2016 all consumers need to be connected to broadband and telecommunications services. Without these services, consumers are cut-off from accessing education, job opportunities and Government services, as well as entertainment and the social benefits of being able to keep in touch with friends and family. This research shows that connectivity is a priority for low-income consumers, but affordability barriers are hindering their ability to pay for these services.”

The report has identified that 66% of respondents reported telecommunications was in the top five of most important factors within their household budget. However, 62% of participants also reported difficulties in being able to pay for these services, leading them to either cut back or stop using one or more of the services over the past year.

Focus group data has illuminated the need for mobile data accessible to low-income consumers, with research demonstrating that low-cost plans are not feasible due to poor data limits. Participants discussed that excess data charges can boost their charges and have a detrimental impact on their household budget.

The report identified a key gap within the support system provided to low-income telecommunication services. The Centrelink Telephone Allowance (CTA) was noted that it is lacking within its role to assist low-income consumers. The report advises that the CTA is in dire need of reform to meet current telecommunication demands. Recommendations include that the CTA should be able to better assist with mobile phone and internet service provisions, with a more substantial call and data allowance. Significantly, the report highlighted that the service should be accessible to all Centrelink recipients.

Further recommendations included that the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code should set a strict guideline for service providers to give payment method options on all phone plans so that consumers have increased payment flexibility. This is in response to research demonstrating existing problems with consumers having difficulties in direct debiting or abnormal billing periods such as the 28 day ‘month’ period.

The report reveals a key disparity where low-income consumers are facing struggles in the affordability of phone and internet services, which are crucial to their every-day life. Without such services, consumers face obstacles in searching for employment, maintaining study or accessing Government services. It is hoped that Governments and other telecommunication businesses will address these issues and improve services to better meet the needs of low-income consumers.

Information for this article was taken from an ACCAN media release, available here

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