Australia is grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic that has reached 7,492 confirmed cases in Australia as of 24 June 2020. The government implemented a partial lockdown in March that could last six months. Australian businesses are increasingly turning to work from home practices as a business continuity measure. Telecom operators have been proactive in supporting their customers amidst the increase for network services.
Telecom operators are offering aid to businesses and individuals
In light of the financial difficulties that the Covid-19 has placed on businesses and individuals, Telstra has suspended late payment fees for overdue bills incurred between 19 March to 30 June 2020.
On top of that, generous data allowances are being doled out from 19 March to 30 June 2020:
- Personal and small business post-paid mobile and mobile broadband plans can register to received 25GB of data at no extra charge on the My Telstra apps.
- Personal and small business customer on home broadband plans are automatically provided unlimited data
- Pensioners are given unlimited calls to local, national and Australia mobile numbers.
Over-the-top (OTT) services are being promoted
To support work from home arrangements, Optus is offering a free trial of Loop Live, a video conferencing software, to small businesses. For consumers, live sport OTT platform Optus Sport suspended subscription fees to May 2020, partly to compensate for the suspensions many professional sports leagues. Optus Sport is also offered in selected plans at no extra cost.
Optus has also boosted data allowances and waived late payment fees:
- All mobile subscribers were eligible for 20GB of free data that can be activated on the My Optus App and valid for 30 days from activation during March to April. Prepaid customers were offered 10GB additional data when recharging A$40 or more in the month of April.
- Fixed broadband plans will be made unlimited from April to June.
- Financial hardship assistance is offered for application on the My Optus App. Optus will review the situation and offer relief such as temporary holds on payment fees and waivers on late payment fees.
Free rating key government and health websites
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Vodafone Hutchinson Australia (VHA) is in line with Telstra and Optus, is waiving late payment fees for overdue accounts and reducing the cost of data from A$10/GB to A$5/GB for customers on plan that trigger the A$10/GB charge on overage. Prepaid customers were offered a one off 10GB bonus data on an opt-in basis and postpaid customers are given 5G additional data automatically in March and April. All Vodafone plan customers will be offered unlimited standard national calls from 27 March to the end of June.
In addition to that, VHA will be free rating key government and health websites to ensure unrestricted access to important information. Thirteen websites are listed, including My Gov, Australian Government Department of Health and Centrelink.
Working group consisting by major telecom operators and NBN Co has been convened
Following a roundtable discussion organised by the Morrison government with the major telecom operators, a special working group was organised for information sharing and discussion. NBN Co, the government owned national broadband network that owns the newly built copper-fibre infrastructure, had experienced an approximate 6% increase in network traffic prior to the roundtable and had expected that figure to go up to 40%. In April, it was reported that NBN traffic had surged by more than 70% from baseline during business hours.
NBN Co has been facing criticism since its inception over frequent outages and lacklustre speed. Facing an unprecedented strain of telecom infrastructure, the working group has resolved to optimise their networks to meet these challenges. Telecom operators need to step up by activating their own networks to compensate for the shortcomings of NBN Co.
NBN Co established an A$150 million financial relief and assistance fund in April to help internet providers support residential and small and medium business customers soon after the industry consultation.