The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has proposed a broadband low income measures scheme, including discount wholesale prices, to enable Australians earning $26,000 a year or less to access to the National Broadband Network (NBN).
Speaking before a parliamentary joint committee on the NBN in Sydney, ACCAN chief executive, Teresa Corbin, said that under the scheme, ACCAN would like to see NBN Co providing discount wholesale prices for retail service providers such as Infoexchange, which could than provide cheap internet services for low income consumers.
"That would mean people with a healthcare card should be able to access these services if they chose to," she said. "This is becoming important because we have entered an age where internet access is important in daily life." Another proposal is setting up more public internet kiosks across Australia in addition to current services provided by libraries and high schools.
"At present, a lot of these public access programs are state based but there needs to be a national approach taken to this by the government and NBN Co," she said.
"Another proposal would be to turn every public telephone box into a Wi-Fi access spot which they currently do in Hong Kong as a free service."
The genesis of ACCAN's broadband low income measures proposal was research into the digital divide conducted by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) earlier this year. It found that 2.6 million Australians did not have access to the internet via mobile or a fixed line service and that this was unlikely to change even after the NBN was rolled out due to broadband costs.
"When that study was broken down, 62 per cent of the 2.6 million had incomes of less than $25,000 while 53 per cent were aged 55 years or more and a majority of the respondents lived in non-capital city areas," Corbin said.
The ACMA study also found that one third of the respondents still used the internet via a library or a school while 42 per cent indicated that they used internet services outside the home because cost was a factor and home connections were too expensive. "We are very concerned there will still be a digital divide going forward because in some areas the only service might be an expensive satellite or wireless service," she said.
"Whilst we think that overall the NBN will be significant leveller we are concerned that people who can't access the internet now, won't be able to even when the NBN rolls out."
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