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NBN stumps up for AU$150 million COVID-19 relief fund

Money to be directed to low-income households with children at school and struggling small and medium-sized businesses.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The company responsible for deploying the National Broadband Network (NBN) across Australia announced on Friday it had created a AU$150 million relief fund for low-income households with children at school and struggling small and medium-sized businesses.

The package will comprise of three parts valued at AU$50 million each: One part is aimed at getting school-aged children from low-income households online for the school term; the next part consists of discounts for access on new connections from struggling small and medium-sized businesses until September; and the final part is AU$50 million set aside for residential financial hardship.

For those unconnected low-income households with schoolchildren, NBN will waive its monthly AU$37 charge for 25/5Mbps services until September, with the company adding the move was made to allow families to get online as the second term of the school year begins.

NBN said the fund is available for retailers via opting in and is "a matter for retailers to determine when and what offers they develop for their customers".

"We want to do what we can to ensure all school children have access to the internet during this period," NBN CEO Stephen Rue said.

"This package also aims to give small and medium businesses the resilience they need to stay connected and emerge in a position to grow again in the future and provide relief measures to help households and small and medium businesses who are facing financial hardship."

Retailers that create a plan will have it accessed by an NBN panel to "ensure that low-income families will have access to the most cost effective NBN packages", a statement from Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said.

NBN will also be boosting service levels and priority of faults for essential and emergency services, including telehealth providers, Fletcher added.

The fund was developed in a quick consultation with 50 internet service providers and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN).

"NBN Co is to be applauded for laying the groundwork to keep struggling families and households connected during this difficult time," ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin said.

"We hope to see the nation's retail service providers build on these foundations to deliver financial relief to those in need."

Earlier this month, NBN said it would provide a free speed boost to any medical clinics on 25/5Mbps or 12/1Mbps plans.

"Telehealth services require a fast, reliable broadband connection, particularly when you have several doctors operating from the same clinic, each undertaking consultations online at the same time," Fletcher said at the time.

"Whole of population telehealth will allow people to access essential health services in their home and will support self-isolation and quarantine policies, while helping doctors to continue to deliver services to their patients. The public health objective is clear -- and we have the telecommunications network capability to support that objective."

On that same day, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said daytime network speeds on the NBN are as good, or as bad, as they ever were.

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