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Do I qualify for NBN Co’s $150 million coronavirus broadband relief package?

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The package is targeted towards school aged families and small to medium essential businesses. Here's how it will work.

As part of its ongoing work around coronavirus issues, NBN Co has today announced a new $150 million financial relief and assistance fund that's intended to assist low-income Australians, as well as selected small and medium businesses to maintain access to Internet services at a time when many are facing low or no-income situations.

$150 million? How does that work?

NBN Co isn't exactly handing out free money to anyone, because it's not that kind of assistance package. For a start, the actual $150 million will come in the form of 3 different $50 million packages with a distinct focus on low-income households with school-aged children, households experiencing financial hardship and finally to support small and medium sized businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

What NBN Co is proposing is that it will waive the $37/month access fee associated with NBN25 (NBN Standard speed) plans for its wholesale ISP partners. That's the base level fee that an ISP has to pay NBN Co to provide you with a service, but it's not the entirety of those costs, which also include actual bandwidth fees, and of course any profit the ISP wants to make.

NBN Co is a wholesale supplier of Internet services, not a direct retailer in its own right. You never "buy" anything from NBN Co, but instead one of its many ISP partners – businesses such as Telstra, Optus, TPG, Aussie Broadband and so on. NBN Co is quite clear that its intent is that its retail partners are the ones that will come up with actual plans based around its effective subsidy.

In its announcement of the plans, NBN Co notes that "it's a matter for retailers to determine when and what offers they develop for their customers".

It seems most likely that they'll be offered as very low cost plans for qualifying participants, rather than actual free connections.

What's on offer for families with school aged children?

NBN Co is very specifically aiming this package at low income households who aren't already connected to the NBN. In a statement, Stephen Rue, NBN Co CEO said:

"The financial relief and assistance measures we have announced today are about providing financial assistance to help Internet providers support low-income households with school children at home who are not currently connected to the NBN."

"We want to do what we can to ensure all school children have access to the Internet during this period."

In other words, it's intended to ensure that school aged children who would be provided with lessons and educational content over the Internet would still be able to do so.

NBN Co expressed that the $50 million targeted specifically for families with school aged children translates to roughly $1 million for each Internet provider to arrange services for the this purpose.

Aussie Broadband has stepped out to say that they'll be offering free NBN25 Internet plans for low-income households with school aged children who currently have no connection.

Superloop has also launched an Online Learning Plan, giving away 5000 free NBN25 services for low income households until the end of September. You'll need to meet the following requirements if you want to sign up:

  • Have a member of the household receiving the JobSeeker Payment or Family Tax Benefit Part A or B
  • Have a school aged child living at your address, and
  • Be at an address which is covered by the NBN but is not currently connected to it

Dodo is also offering eligible customers a $30 monthly discount on their NBN25 101GB plan. With the discount applied, the plan will cost you $30/month for the first 6 months. Whilst this plan usually comes with 101GB of data, Dodo has also thrown in an upgrade for unlimited data on the same plan. That means, you'll be paying $30 a month for unlimited data with Standard NBN speeds - not a bad deal. These plans will be unlimited until 30 June, before reverting back to being 101GB.

With the same eligibility rules as Superloop and Dodo, Vodafone will also be offering its Essential NBN plan for free until 30 September. The plan comes with unlimited data, and the only catch is that you'll need to be connected for at least a month, or you could face financial penalties. You'll also need to bring your own modem, or you can buy a modem from Vodafone.

Flip is also waiving plan fees for its NBN25 plan, with the cost of the plan being $0/month until 30 September as long as you purchase a modem from them. The price of the plan reverts back to $54.90 a month after this period. If you have your own modem and don't want to buy a new one, the plan won't be free, but will be reduced to $10/month.

What's on offer for low income families?

A further $50 million is earmarked for "relief measures for residential financial hardship" for households, as well as small and medium businesses who experience difficulty in paying existing monthly NBN bills, with a focus on keeping those customers connected.

However, there's not a lot of detail available as yet as to how this would work; it seems likely that if you're on a top-tier NBN100 connection, or a business-grade connection and you apply for support on the basis of financial hardship you might find the going hard, whereas those on lower-cost NBN25 or NBN12 plans might qualify more readily.

We've reached out to NBN Co for clarification on how this scheme might work, but again it will most likely come down to how an individual ISP processes individual claims. It's certainly not a blanket scheme that will see bills deferred for every NBN user, so you would need to be able to readily prove actual financial hardship in order to qualify for bill relief.

For regional Australians, IPSTAR Broadband is giving away free Sky Muster Plus plans, where 70% of your Internet usage will be unmetered. That means you get unlimited access to activities like web browsing, reading and sending emails, and using social media. The only metered usage, which you'll get 10GB allowance for and will still be free of charge, will be video streaming and any activities using a VPN.

To be eligible for IPSTAR's offer, you'll need to be receiving Family Tax Benefit A or B, and either:

  • Not be connected, or
  • Not have been connected for at least the last six weeks.

What's on offer for small businesses and emergency services?

As part of the package, NBN Co will also prioritise access, service levels and support for identified businesses in the emergency services, telehealth and essential services category.

Again, this is a move that will rest on how ISPs actually implement these kinds of offers, with NBN Co noting that it will

Provide speed upgrades to qualifying health professionals from basic and standard connection speeds at no additional charge to assist with the provision of telehealth services during the coronavirus lockdown.

For small to medium-sized businesses who are in need of financial support, NBN Co will be looking to waive half or all of a business' NBN charges up until the end of September. It's expected that around 300,000 businesses will be unable to pay their NBN bills. NBN Co has said that this $50 million portion of the package for businesses will be an uncapped amount - meaning they won't be drawing a line as to how many businesses they will be supporting.

How do I apply for an NBN support package?

While the package has been announced, you can't actually apply for it right now – NBN Co says that its $150 million support package won't kick in until 30 April 2020, which gives its ISP partners time to integrate whatever measures NBN provides for qualifying applicants into their own systems.

It then becomes a question of how ISPs will actually make those kinds of offers to each customer. We've reached out to the major ISPs for comment on how they intend to implement the package, and we'll update once we get responses from them on how consumers, small businesses and essential workers can apply.

It is worth noting that some ISPs are already offering support packages for customers who are struggling with bills, so it's a smart move to proactively contact your provider to see if there's already a scheme in place that may be able to assist you other than NBN Co's plans.

How long do the support packages run for?

NBN Co says it's going to make its $150 million support package available to its ISP partners from 30 April 2020 through to 30 September 2020.

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