The NBN – as intended in its formation – has become the dominant and largely monopolistic infrastructure that most Australians rely on for Internet communication. Internet communication has become as essential as the other main utilities of water and electricity, and possibly more so. The NBN and Internet has also effectively taken over the telephone system, so when these other utilities fail, it is to NBN-dependent communications methods that affected people turn to, whether by web-based Internet portals, social media updates via Twitter and Facebook and similar services, or ringing the organisation via telephone call (over an NBN access service) that most people need to turn to report the problem, find the status of the problem, and initiate a repair.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put the essential nature of ubiquitous always-on Internet connectivity in very sharp focus, for all demographics but particularly the less well-off in society. With so many people home-schooling children, working from home using video-conferencing, businesses turning to online catalogues and e-commerce sites to provide ordering systems for home delivery of goods and services, home-delivery and “click’n’collect” systems for essential goods such as food and groceries, without high-speed broadband the ability of Australians to cope with the emergency would have been greatly constrained.

With the online-first nature of provision of information about the pandemic and local status updates by government, continuously updating online lists of exposure sites and travel restrictions, online booking systems for vaccinations, and application systems for relief payments all being online, and the essential need for all of society to quickly search access for the latest information about virus-related issues which are made available first online, it is self-evident that without the high-speed broadband Internet system underpinned by the NBN, the ability of governments to manage the crisis and provide information and services to citizens would also have been greatly constrained.

For these reasons a broadband service must be ubiquitously available, of sufficient capacity and quality to access government-provided services and assistance channels at a minimum, and affordable - a low enough retail price point (possibly at zero price to the end user) that disadvantaged and very low income families and individuals can subscribe without feeling like it is a luxury. Around 20 per cent of the population is still not connected, and a sizeable proportion of that 20 per cent simply cannot afford the current service offerings – yet still require a broadband Internet link for their children’s education and accessing essential services from home while being required or encouraged to stay indoors and not travel to a service storefront.

Appropriate regulation of the wholesale input costs to retail service providers is required to ensure services are universally available at a much lower price-point than the current NBN-supported entrylevel price that appears to have settled around $60/month in the retail market.