ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Media release: Telecommunications becoming more essential but less affordable for low income ACT households

15 December 2017

A report released today by the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) reveals a decline in the affordability of telecommunications for people on low incomes in the ACT. This is widening the digital divide as access to the internet and a mobile phone has become increasingly essential to people’s social and economic participation.

ACTCOSS Director, Ms Susan Helyar said, “As with essential utilities such as electricity and water, not all telecommunications usage is essential, but access is. Access to affordable internet and mobile phone services is vital for access to essential government and commercial services such as Centrelink and online banking as well as being necessary for people’s social inclusion, economic engagement, educational attainment, and political participation.”

Ms Helyar noted that, “Telecommunications are an unusual cost of living component because while CPI figures show that unit prices have declined, expenditure data shows that affordability has decreased with greater rates of usage. This is a significant issue for people living on low incomes who spend a larger proportion of their wages and income support on telecommunications. People are being hit by a poverty premium where low-income consumers lack the purchasing power to access cost savings and end up paying more per gigabyte of data. This is especially the case for a sizeable minority of people who are totally reliant on a mobile phone which can severely limit their internet access.”

The report includes insights from financial counsellors at Care Inc. in Canberra who noted that many people use pre-paid mobile services as a way to control costs, while post-paid mobile services come with the risk of bill shock. Ms Helyar said, “Financial counsellors spoke of how the loss of phone or internet access can lead to a sense of isolation and also put people at serious risk. In one case, a woman who had experienced domestic violence had returned to her ex’s place for a short period so that her child could access the internet. The woman was unable to afford an internet connection while being on Newstart.

“Our ACTCOSS Cost of Living report series has consistently identified the inadequacy of income support payments for people of working age to cover the essential costs of living. This extends to telecommunications as a vital means of staying connected that is becoming less and less affordable for the people in our community who are most at risk of being digitally and socially excluded. As the ACT Government continues its commitment to making Canberra a smart and connected digital city, it will be crucial to ensure that the needs of the people most at risk of digital exclusion are properly understood and adequately addressed. This will be the test of whether Canberra is a truly smart city,” Ms Helyar said. 

Access the ACT Cost of Living Report: Telecommunications.

For more information or comment please contact
Susan Helyar, Director, on 0448 791 987 or 02 6202 7200.