COVID19: Keeping Australians Connected

Keeping Australians Connected – the telecommunications industry

Edition 2

Australia’s communication networks - responding to COVID-19

  • Demands on telecommunications networks in Australian and internationally continue to increase substantially due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, particularly as more people are now working from home and education is being moved online. The whole profile of daily demand on networks has changed, with much more traffic being carried throughout the daylight hours and in non-CBD areas than previously.
  • Telcos are working closely with Government and each other to ensure that Australia stays connected. There has been some disruption at times to some types of voice services – for example to some Government sites that use 1800, 13 or 1300 numbers and where demand has skyrocketed.  These issues have typically improved throughout the second half of March and into April.
  • So far there has been no widespread impacts on data services, such as broadband.
  • All providers are working hard to minimise any disruptions and maintain our vital communication networks, including the provisioning of extra capacity wherever the risk of congestion becomes apparent. This includes Triple Zero and other emergency service communications.
  • NBN Co has offered 40 per cent extra capacity to all retailers at no additional cost for at least three months, to help ensure retailers can continue deliver internet services to customers with minimal congestion.
  • While Telcos will keep stores open where possible and in accordance with social distancing policies; there will be some retail closures and/or reduced staffing levels. We strongly encourage customers to first try online self-service options and check providers’ websites for up-to-date information before heading to a store.
  • It is also recommended to explore the self-service and online options – including interactive chat and customer forums - to interact with your service provider and get advice, rather than calling the customer service number. Providers’ call centres are under higher than usual pressure at present and you may experience longer wait times.
  • Another issue has been the imposition of major COVID-19 lock-downs in some offshore countries, including places that provide IT and/or customer service and technical support for Australian service providers. In some cases, this has disrupted the migration of some Australian services – i.e. when a customer is moving their service from one provider to a different provider. These issues are being addressed by the industry as a matter of the highest priority.
  • Telcos have also worked with Government and the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission to create a protocol for the transition of the communications sector to a post-pandemic work environment to ensure a safe work environment for employees and customers of the our industry.  Further information, including on the Model WFH Laws, can be found here.

Support is available for customers:

  • At this time, connectivity to communication services is as critical as ever for all Australians. Keeping Australians connected, including those who experience hardship and may be unable to pay their bills due to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, is a key priority for telecommunications providers and the Government. Industry and Government have issued a set of principles on hardship provisions, to help ensure all Australians can remain connected and have access to the services they need.
  • NBN Co has recently established a $150 million financial relief and assistance fund to help providers support their customers. This includes $50 million to support low-income households with school-aged children, $50 million for residential financial hardship assistance, and $50 million to support small and medium businesses with discounted access to new connections. NBN Co has also created a dedicated support package for essential and emergency services, which focuses on higher speeds and enhanced service levels for these services, including for telehealth providers. RSPs are working to implement this assistance, and will provide information on packages available to their customers in the near future.
  • Customers in rural and regional Australia have also been supported by NBN Co’s measures to increase capacity for satellite services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Customers on standard nbn Sky Muster services have had their data download limits increased significantly, while for customers on Sky Muster Plus services can access an expanded range of applications that will not count towards monthly data quotas.
  • All providers have Financial Hardship assistance available, and many are offering additional help such as temporarily waiving late payment fees, free additional or unlimited data or other features in this crisis.
  • Information from some of Communications Alliance’s members can be found on their websites: 
  • The Australian Communication Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) also a list of telcos who are offering NBN Education Assistance Packages on their website.
  • Check your provider’s website to see what’s available and how to access it. And again, try to use self-help tools as much as possible.
    • Tips for customers:

      • If you are experiencing congestion or other issues and your call is not urgent, consider if you can wait and try again later.
      • Try using self-help via your provider’s app or website; messaging options may also help you to obtain the support you need.
      • If you have difficulty making a voice call via a mobile network and you have access to wi-fi calling, try that to see if it works better for you.
      • If you are working from home, make sure you follow your employer’s advice about the best ways to connect to your company’s network. Your employer will know the most effective paths and applications for you to use to connect and enjoy a hassle-free experience.
      • When you are scheduling audio/video group calls, choose a start time that is 10, 20, 40 or 50 minutes past the hour, to ease dial-in congestion.
      • Consider recommending audio-only options, to reduce the data volume of a group call/meeting.
      • Avoid downloading/uploading large files (including movies) during peak times, which now also include daytime hours. For example, it can make a big difference if you can plan ahead and download a movie or other large file between 9pm and 9am.
      • If you have a choice of image quality, choose standard definition over HD or 4k.
      • And last but not least – try to be patient. Telcos and their staff are doing their very best in these difficult times.
      • AIIA has some excellent resources for businesses managing employees working from home:
      • Parents are encouraged to check school or education department websites for tips on accessing online learning resources.
      • If you require information in relation to COVID-19, please call the National Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you require emergency assistance from police, fire or ambulance, please call 000.

      Questions about 5G?: The coronavirus pandemic has, unfortunately, provided fuel for conspiracy theories, urban myths and fake news, including the false claim that there is a connection between 5G mobile technologies and COVID-19.

      The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) has responded to the recent reporting and misinformation, saying:

      ‘There is no established evidence that low level radio wave exposure from 5G and other wireless telecommunications can affect the immune system or cause any other long term or short-term health effects.

      Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy has stated:

      ‘I’d like to reassure the community that 5G technology is safe. There is no evidence telecommunication technologies, such as 5G, cause adverse health impacts.’

      This view has been supported by global experts, including, Prof Brendan Wren, Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who said:

      “There is no scientifically credible evidence to link the introduction of 5G masts with the COVID-19 outbreak. This would be both a physical and biological impossibility.”

      The Australian mobile industry therefore refutes any link between 5G and COVID-19 as impossible from a biological perspective and notes that we have over a decade of good, ethical, science-based research that show no adverse health outcomes from any generation of mobile, including 5G.

      Mobile networks play an important role in providing vital communications services to the community, including access to Triple Zero.

      The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) has more information available on their website.

      Information for Industry

      • The ACMA has adjusted its work program and made decisions on regulatory relief for certain instruments, to allow providers to focus on assisting customers. This includes relief on revisions to the International Mobile Roaming Determination and the Mobile Premium Services Code until 31 December 2020. Further details are available on the ACMA’s website.
      • The ACMA has also agreed to regulatory forbearance on specific obligations of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code. The agreed Statement of Expectations and forbearance details are available here.
      • The ACCC is seeking to minimise regulatory burden as far as possible, and has outlined their revised priorities during the crisis on their website. They have also provided some specific information on telecommunications services.
      • The TIO has extended the timeframe for providers to respond to non-urgent complaints from 10 to 15 days.

      • Important: Please note that this document is current as of 23 April 2020 and will be updated regularly as circumstances change and new information becomes available.