ACCAN calls on telcos to step up amid COVID-19

By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Monday, 23 March, 2020

ACCAN calls on telcos to step up amid COVID-19

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has called on the nation’s telecom operators to take steps to ensure no Australian is left offline during the COVID-19 crisis.

ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin said that telecommunications networks will have an increasingly important role in keeping consumers connected during the crisis.

“The fact is that an internet connection is now a basic utility,” she said. “If people can’t afford to be online, or aren’t guaranteed a reliable connection, there can be serious consequences.”

She added that the nbn will also have an important role to play in supporting increased remote work as social distancing efforts lead to more people working from home.

“Ordinarily, consumers are concerned about the download speeds that their home broadband service can achieve,” she said. “However, with more people working from home, there’s going to be an increased demand for upload speeds as well.”

NBN Co has already agreed to offer its retail service provider customers price relief covering an up to 40% increase in CVC if required to support the spike in demand. Major Australian operators have also announced measures such as increased download allowances or the waiving of late fees.

Corbin meanwhile welcomed the decision by the government to expand telehealth services during the pandemic, but warned that the vulnerable consumers the initiative stands to benefit are also struggling with the costs of keeping connected.

But Digital Rights Watch has urged the government not to expand their use of potentially dangerous untested technology during the outbreak.

“We’re already seeing reports from the US and elsewhere that governments are deploying untested and intrusive surveillance technology on their population. We are deeply concerned that government agencies in Australia will try to do the same here under cover of their efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus,” Digital Rights Watch Chair Lizzie O'Shea said.

“COVID-19 is a health issue. If we want to limit its spread, we need to listen to our public health experts, not use invasive technology as a phony quick fix that creates more problems than it solves.”

Another concern involves the government using information shared by the public on social media platforms or through medical apps to categorise them as potentially infected. In addition data from mobile towers and smartphone apps could be used to pinpoint residents’ location.

“Australian governments have a shameful recent history of passing laws that undermine our privacy. The safeguards for data sharing are weak and there are countless examples of data breaches where sensitive information about us falls in to the wrong hands,” O’Shea said.

“Digital Rights Watch is demanding that the government assures the public that they will not use dangerous untested technologies and that they will respect our privacy and personal information during this crisis.”

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