As the coronavirus infection rate spirals, Australians might be able to find some relief in the announcement today that there will be increased access to SkyMuster and SkyMuster Plus data, as well as unmetered usage for education applications and apps such as Skype and FaceTime for the first time.
NBN Co has unveiled the new measures to support increasing capacity and data demand for its satellite services in regional and remote Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It comes after mounting concerns around connectivity from the suddenly increased number of parents now teaching their children at home, with many facing "patchy" internet connections and the likelihood of exceeding data limits.
From March 31, for a limited time of three months, retail service providers will have access to an extra data allowance of 45 gigabytes per plan, free of charge, which is expected to be passed on to customers on standard Skymuster plans.
This should effectively double the average monthly download limits on retail plans offered by Sky Muster retailers to 90GB, the government said in a statement.
From April 1, on an ongoing basis, Skymuster Plus users will also see increases to unmetered data, which will apply to all traffic except for video streaming and traffic through a virtual private network (VPN), both of which will continue to be metered.
For Isolated Children's Parent's Association NSW president Claire Butler, at Balranald, the boost to data couldn't come sooner.
Like many in NSW, the mother-of two is now working from home and has four laptops "downloading and uploading all day".
"This is uncharted waters as some schools remain open, some independent schools have chosen to close, and some students are home through family choice and uncertainty of what the future holds," Mrs Butler said.
"For students, learning from home is made easier by having access to online learning.
"So unmetered use for education apps is fantastic and very much welcomed."
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the extra data that NBN Co was making available over the Sky Muster satellites would offer relief to regional and remote communities as their internet needs change over the coming weeks.
"As we all adapt to new ways of living and working to help play our part in slowing the spread of COVID-19, we anticipate higher than usual internet usage across the NBN, including in regional and remote areas," Mr Fletcher said.
Under the new Sky Muster Plus offering, Mr Fletcher said about 70 per cent of all data use was expected to be unmetered compared to about 30pc under the current plans, with the product also supporting unmetered usage for education applications and apps such as Skype and FaceTime for the first time.
Regional Communications Minister Mark Coulton said the NBN played a critically important role in keeping rural and regional Australians connected as "we face uncertain times".
"The new measures announced today will undoubtedly help families access the internet for work, essential government services, education and even entertainment over the coming months," Mr Coulton said.
Last week, NBN Co also announced retail service providers would have access to up to 40pc more connectivity virtual circuit (CVC) at no additional charge for at least three months. This applies to all NBN access technologies, including fixed wireless and Sky Muster satellite services.
NBN Co rural and regional chief development officer Gavin Williams said in preparation for this greater demand for data and based on feedback from internet retailers and customers, it had decided to take this action to provide additional support for that expected increase in day-time usage expected to increase due to increased activity on the network.
"Over the coming days and weeks, we are expecting a higher number of people in regional and remote communities across Australia to work from home and more children to be remotely schooled," Mr Williams said.
"Our enhanced plans will help Australians be more in touch with loved ones, work remotely, use internet banking, and access important health and education services."
Mr Williams said NBN would closely monitor data usage together with internet retailers, and would seek to implement any additional measures required where available, including monitoring of the peak times, to support customers during this uncertain period.
"We want to reassure regional and remote communities across Australia that you are a priority."
What it means
- Sky Muster Plus has until now offered unmetered usage for selected internet essentials, including web browsing, emails and internet banking.
- From April 1, unmetered activities will be significantly expanded to cover all online content and applications, with only two exclusions - video streaming and VPN traffic - which will continue to be metered.
- A new 25GB entry plan offering 25GB of peak data and 25GB of off-peak data for video streaming and VPN traffic, which will improve accessibility for lighter users (available from April 1).
- Satellite broadband retailers will have temporary access to an additional 45GB of download data for each standard Sky Muster plan from March 31. The additional 45GB will effectively double the average monthly download limits on retail plans offered by Sky Muster to 90GB.
- The additional data will initially be available for one month. NBN Co will review demand and determine the appropriate level of allocation for an additional two months.
- Unmetered activities currently include web browsing, email and operating system updates, but now Skype and Facetime will also be unmetered.