NBN Co is to offer $150 million in “relief and assistance” to consumers and businesses affected by the coronavirus.
National Broadband Network (NBN) retail service providers (RSPs) will be able to apply for funding to help establish connections for low-income households, essential services and small- to medium-sized enterprises facing financial hardship due to the pandemic.
Available from April until 30 September, the funding’s utilisation and delivery will be left in the hands of the RSPs, which are charged with determining when and what offers they develop for their customers within the bounds of the relief package.
The $150 million will be split in three ways, with $50 million allocated for SMBs and $50 million for households struggling to pay connection bills either as a result of job cuts or income losses.
Meanwhile, $50 million will be directed to assisting RSPs to support low-income households with school-aged children who do not currently have an active NBN connection at home.
According to NBN Co, RSPs with a wholesale broadband agreement are eligible to qualify to deliver these offers, but need to opt-in and provide a plan on how they would address customer issues through their existing financial hardship assessment processes and criteria.
NBN Co said it was working with the Department of Education and schools in each state and territory to roll this out.
In a statement to ARN, an NBN spokesperson said: "We will be providing a list of the participating internet providers to all the education departments across all the states and territories and different school systems to help to enable this initiative to reach those most in need."
As well as discounts on connections, the package will also aim to boost higher speeds for telehealth providers, enhanced service levels, and prioritised connections and better fault resolution at the NBN Business Operations Centre.
NBN Co will also waive its $37 monthly wholesale charge for internet providers for certain services on the 25/5 Mbps speed tier between April and September.
“As a national wholesale provider of broadband services, [NBN Co] has an important role to play in supporting internet providers connecting families with remote schooling needs for their children and keeping Australian households, small and medium businesses, as well as essential and emergency services connected,” NBN Co CEO Stephen Rue said.
“The unprecedented measures we are announcing today reflect our commitment to the telecommunications industry in helping to deliver a whole of industry solution to these consumer and business segments which have been hit hard by the pandemic.”
The offer comes at a time when the NBN is under increased pressure as the COVID-19 pandemic sees thousands of Australians work from home.
The broadband provider has already said it would “incrementally increase” its data capacity allocation to retail service providers (RSPs) in anticipation of a shift in peak traffic hours.
Last month, NBN Co agreed to waive charges for additional capacity of up to 40 per cent more Connectivity Virtual Circuit (CVC) capacity to help meet demand over time at no additional cost.
Its decision to offer the new relief package was welcomed by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN).
“The internet is an essential service for work, study, and accessing government and telehealth services,” said ACCAN CEO, Teresa Corbin.
“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.”