NBN Co announces $150m COVID-19 relief fund

By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Tuesday, 21 April, 2020

NBN Co announces $150m COVID-19 relief fund

NBN Co has announced a $150 million financial relief and assistance fund aimed at helping ISPs keep their residential and SME customers online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The relief fund will be targeted at key vulnerable demographics.

Around $50 million of the fund will be allocated for helping retail service providers (RSPs) connect low-income households to the nbn to support their homeschooling needs.

The company is working with the Department of Education and schools in each state and territory on the provision of this initiative.

As part of this initiative, NBN Co will waive its $37 monthly wholesale charge for many 25/5 Mbps speed-tier services to enable RSPs to offer more affordable services to low-income families with schoolchildren.

A further $50 million will be used to support SMEs by providing access to business-grade products to help them maintain or re-establish their businesses.

Finally, $50 million will be put towards implementing relief measures for end customers experiencing financial hardship, as well as a dedicated support package for essential and emergency services, such as measures aimed at providing RSPs with higher speeds to offer telehealth provider customers.

The support package for emergency and essential service providers will allow RSPs to offer speed upgrades at no additional charge, and also includes enhanced service levels and prioritised connections and fault resolutions.

The company will also provide financial support to internet providers for new connections of specified business-grade services, aimed at helping businesses to re-establish themselves when the pandemic finally passes.

The package will be made available to RSPs from this month until the end of September.

“Helping households get connected and supporting Australian homes and businesses stay connected is a priority for NBN. We are confident these funding relief and assistance measures will make a difference and help internet providers support their customers,” NBN Co CEO Stephen Rue said.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) and the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman both welcomed the initiative.

“The internet is an essential service for work, study, and accessing government and telehealth services,” ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin said.

“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.”

Telecommunications Ombudsman Judi Jones added that it is “pleasing to see the government, regulators, phone and internet providers, and NBN Co continuing to work together during this pandemic to support all members of the community, particularly low-income families needing to continue education for their children and businesses who are struggling to pay their bills”.

But the Telecommunications Society of Australia (TelSoc) said the initiative, while welcome, doesn’t address the “digital divide” caused by large numbers of Australians still being stuck on copper last-mile connections.

TelSoc Vice President and former Internet Australia CEO Laurie Patton called on the government to fund NBN Co so it can employ and retrain some of the many recently retrenched workers and have them upgrade these copper connections.

“The impact of the coronavirus will most likely continue for quite a long while and therefore so will the need for better broadband in people’s homes. When we emerge from this current crisis, the ever-increasing demand for broadband will no doubt continue,” he said.

“We could even see enhanced interest in decentralisation as more employers realise they don’t need to have all their workers located in expensive CBD offices. Regional areas have already seen an increase in interest from people looking to leave our congested capital cities over the past few years.”

TelSoc has urged the government to include upgrading the nbn in its stimulus funding, and has called for the establishment of a National COVID-19 Coordination Commission to provide recommendations for retraining entrenched workers and deploy them to upgrade problematic nbn connections.

“It makes sense to include a technology upgrade for the nbn in our post- pandemic planning. In fact the sooner NBN Co starts the planning, the sooner people can expect to see an improvement in their home internet connections,” Patton said.

“Replacing the FTTN section of the nbn will need to occur sooner or later — so why not do it now and create employment opportunities for some of the many people who are progressively becoming unemployed?”

Statistics recently released by NBN Co shows the pressure last-mile connections are facing due to the unexpected growth in upload traffic.

Upstream network usage during business hours has more than doubled from pre-COVID 19 levels, with weekly upload throughput hitting a peak of 1.06 Tbps on 10 April.

Also of note, download throughput during business hours reached a high of 11.6 Tbps on 8 April, exceeding the pre-COVID 19 baseline evening peak for the first time.

“Uploads over the nbn have significantly increased as more Australians use real-time communication applications such as videoconferencing to learn and to connect with friends and family, and as the use of online business applications that require strong upload performance, continue to grow,” NBN Co Chief Customer Officer for Residential Brad Whitcomb said.

“While the network continues to perform well, this unprecedented demand on our upstream has impacted a small number of end-user customers when using videoconferencing during the busiest periods of the day. We are therefore increasing the upload capacity in order to address this as well as looking at further enhancements to address future demand.”

Image courtesy NBN Co

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