Telecommunications are an essential part of modern life, and the increasing demand for usage impacts everyone, especially those on the lowest of incomes.
The South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS) has today released its latest Cost of Living Update focusing on telecommunications costs. The report argues that telecommunications expenditure is:
- Essential for people living in a modern society;
- A significant part of the household budget; and,
- Regressive, in that it puts a proportionately greater burden on low income households.
Unlike other utilities, the price of telecommunications has been dropping in recent years, but expectations about how we live our lives and do our business are changing.
With these changes has come a massive increase in consumption as technology and commerce, government and social interaction increasingly go online.
SACOSS Executive Director Ross Womersley said,
“Since 2000, the number of telephone services has doubled, while 83% of homes now have internet services (up from 47% at the turn of the century) and usage and data downloads have gone through the roof"
“SACOSS is deeply concerned that people will be left behind and excluded from basic services if they can’t get access to affordable telecommunications – yet when we examined the pricing structures of various phone and data plans, we found a number of them place a “premium on poverty”.
The options that are apparently cheapest (e.g. a low cost pre-paid mobile & data plan) are most likely to be taken up by those people with little available money to invest up front, and are often structured so you effectively pay the most for your call rates and data downloads.
Those who want access to minimum usage face proportionately higher charges than those with more money to spend on telecommunications. These premiums include better value plans for bigger volume-users and in-built supply charges.
Government departments and commercial businesses are increasingly structuring their interactions with customers to preference people doing their business online.
Mr Womersley continued,
“For anyone who has access to a good technology and cheap data plans, this may be fine, but think about someone who has been unemployed or is a single parent trying to make their way back into the workforce.
“They won’t have the income that means they can afford to get the best deals and as a result they proportionally end up spending a whole lot more than most others.
“Looking at the pricing structure, we see similar structures to other essential services like water and electricity.”
While governments support access to these essential services with energy and water concessions, the support for telecommunications is out-dated and inadequate.
The existing Centrelink “Telephone Allowance” is only available for home landlines and appears to be based on a notion of emergency usage rather than based on the new reality – telecommunications are essential to how we exist and manage in the world today.
SACOSS is calling on the federal government to undertake a fundamental re-think of the “Telephone Allowance” and to consider implementing a new and enhanced telecommunications concession that accounts for this new increasingly mobile and data based reality.