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A new affordable home broadband product for financially stressed Australians on low incomes should be a key priority for political parties ahead of the 2019 Federal election, according to consumer organisation ACCAN.

Australia’s peak body representing telecommunications consumers, ACCAN, is urging the nation’s political parties to consider a proposal for a wholesale broadband concession that would provide financially stressed Australians with cheaper home broadband.

ACCAN considers that a 50 mbps unlimited broadband service offered at a wholesale price of $20 per month by NBN Co to households receiving government financial support to be the most effective way to achieve affordable broadband for all. This would mean eligible households would pay approximately $30 per month for unlimited broadband – almost halving the current average cost.

Initial estimates indicate that providing this concession to the 1 million plus households on the lowest incomes can be budget neutral.

“Broadband is no longer a luxury; it is an essential service that should be accessible and affordable for all Australians,” said ACCAN CEO, Teresa Corbin. “We use broadband daily for everything from connecting to government services and job seeking, to helping children complete their homework.”

The latest available statistics from the Bureau of Communications and Arts Research (BCAR) show that Australia’s poorest households are paying nearly three times more of their income to stay online than their more fortunate counterparts. While mostly positive, recent changes to NBN’s pricing and the removal of many lower cost plans in the market have also disproportionately affected low-income Australians as they are forced onto higher priced or mobile plans to stay connected online.

“Low-income families are increasingly under financial stress, particularly when it comes to cost of communications,” said Ms Corbin. “Over 15% of Australia’s lowest-income earners haven’t been able to pay their utility bills on time – it’s clearly time for change.”

The implementation of a $20 wholesale concession broadband price will allow telcos to offer cheaper broadband plans to disadvantaged Australians receiving government financial support, such as pensioners, people with disabilities, and struggling parents.
In developing this proposal, ACCAN consulted with a wide range of consumer-focused organisations that expressed their support for ACCAN’s affordable broadband plan, including Anglicare Australia; Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS); the Benevolent Society; Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association (ASCCA); and digital inclusion advocates InfoXChange, WorkVentures, and the Australian Digital Inclusion Alliance.

Kasy Chambers, Executive Director of Anglicare Australia highlighted the importance of affordable broadband for low-income families.

“Broadband has become a necessity to meet today’s work and schooling requirements, so everyone should have the same opportunity to be online. But many low-income families are missing out or doing it extra tough to stay connected. That’s why Anglicare Australia supports ACCAN’s work to make broadband affordable for everyone.”

Dr. Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) said:

“We know that households on the lowest incomes spend almost 10% of their income on communications, far more than the 3.5% spent by the average household. For many people on low incomes, being on broadband is simply unaffordable. Making broadband affordable and accessible for people on the lowest incomes is now essential, indeed a lifeline. People must be connected online in order to access government and other services, participate in education, engage in employment, and to avoid deep social isolation.”

“It’s become more expensive for people to stay connected to basic government services, whether that be to arrange their payments with Centrelink or apply for support through Myagedcare. Everyone should have access to telecommunications, regardless of income, and especially as we rely on services more as we get older,” Kirsty Nowlan, Executive Director Strategic Engagement, Research and Advocacy at The Benevolent Society explained.

“The Benevolent Society has been calling for the National Broadband Network to deliver affordable broadband and voice services through our advocacy on the Fix Pension Poverty campaign, and we see these ACCAN proposals as a simple solution that is affordable to government.”

Jennine Blundell, CEO of WorkVentures said:

“For 40 years WorkVentures has seen access to technology make a significant difference to people’s lives. Increasingly digital inclusion is vital to social inclusion and WorkVentures understands that all Australians need affordable broadband to be actively involved in their community. WorkVentures supports ACCAN’s call for urgent action on this issue.”

“The internet opens up countless possibilities for older Australians; however, it must be affordable if we are even to consider using it,” said Nan Bosler, President of Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association (ASCCA).

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