Aussie Telcos Called On For Affordable, Reliable Internet Amid Crisis

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Australia's peak advocacy group has called on Australian telcos to offer affordable and reliable internet during the coronavirus outbreak as more workers begin to work from home for the foreseeable future.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has called on internet service providers (ISP) to help Australians during these uncertain times. Its CEO, Teresa Corbin, argued the internet was now a part of everyday life and it should be affordable and reliable, especially given the times.

"The fact is that an internet connection is now a basic utility," Corbin said in a press release.

"If people can't afford to be online, or aren't guaranteed a reliable connection, there can be serious consequences."

While most telcos have said they were prepared for the increase, consumers would need to think about how their upload speeds — a factor usually less considered — would fare when working with and sending off larger files or attachments.

"Ordinarily, consumers are concerned about the download speeds that their home broadband service can achieve," Corbin said.

"However, with more people working from home, there's going to be an increased demand for upload speeds as well."

ACCAN also noted its research showed low-income households were paying three times as much of their income on internet when compared with households earning higher incomes.

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Since the spread of coronavirus has hit closer to home, more and more Aussie businesses are asking employees to work from home to reduce contact. It means that previously off-peak periods are rising and the NBN Co has already noted it.

On Monday 16, the NBN Co confirmed there had been a five per cent increase on the Saturday compared to the previous week. It said it was looking at how internet loads peaked in Italy during the quarantine period to understand how it might happen in Australia.

"NBN Co also routinely plans for days of exceptionally high traffic and is working with our European colleagues to understand the potential impacts of isolation events on broadband capacity," an NBN media release said.

Gizmodo Australia has asked the NBN Co for the figures during weekdays and how it compares and if the NBN is willing to temporarily suspend the CVC (connectivity virtual circuit) charge to allow more data to flow from the network to consumers without the cost being passed on. While it did not respond in time for publication, Paul Fletcher, Minister for Communications, announced the NBN Co was allowing up to 40 per cent more CVC at no additional charge for retailers for the next three months starting from Monday, March 23.

"The network has been accommodating increased traffic of five to six per cent in recent days. NBN Co is confident in its ability to continue to manage and optimise its network with the expectation that it will see further traffic increases, in line with changes seen in other countries such as Italy," Minister Fletcher said in a press release announcing the NBN Co's CVC changes.

Other telcos have also announced their plans to manage the increased data was but few specifics have been announced. Optus told Gizmodo Australia it had plans to keep connectivity consistent for customers but it did not provide us with any information regarding whether it had already faced any surge increases.

"We understand how important it is to stay connected during these unprecedented times and will be managing our network capacity to maintain connectivity for customers and communities," an Optus spokesperson said in an email.

Similarly, Telstra said it would manage the load, but did not specify what it planned to do, adding there could be slower services than usual at certain times.

"We have strong and resilient networks that are designed to manage surges in demand," Telstra's Michael Ebeid said in a press statement. "We have been planning for a range of scenarios and we are confident our networks can be optimised to manage a significant increase in network traffic as a result of people being at home, although depending on what eventuates there may be times when the service is slower than usual."

Aussie Broadband announced on March 17 it was offering all its ADSL and NBN customers unlimited data during usual off-peak periods between 6am and 6pm as well as temporarily stopping all service suspensions due to late payments.

"Our network is already provisioned to meet the highest levels of traffic we see every week (usually on Sunday and Monday nights, when lots of people are home), and our team are keeping an eagle eye on things," the retailer's managing director, Phil Britt, said to Gizmodo Australia.

"We will upgrade as necessary if we see peaks beyond our normal high range, but we believe we are reasonably well set-up to cope."

TPG and iinet did not respond to Gizmodo Australia in time for publication.

For now, Corbin recommended it was best to check in with your internet provider to confirm what speeds you should be getting and how that compares to the line-speed tests.

"It's important that you check what plan you are on so you're aware of what speeds you should be getting — both upload and download," Corbin said.

"If you're not getting what you've paid for, contact your telco to request a free line-speed test. It's their responsibility to ensure that your service is capable of achieving the speeds they've promised."

This article has been updated to include the NBN Co's changes to CVC allowances.

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