Question Time Response - School Student Broadband Initiative

Mr Sam Lim, Member for Tangney: My question is to the Minister for Communications. How is the Albanese Labor government working for Australia to help families meet cost-of-living pressures and access broadband services?

Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland: I thank the member for his question. I know he appreciates that, in 2023, it's essential for school students in his community to have access to reliable broadband services in order to fully participate in learning and to connect with their teachers and peers. That's why I'm pleased to inform the House that the Albanese government is extending the School Student Broadband Initiative for another two years. The initiative is providing up to 30,000 eligible families who have school-age children free broadband over the NBN across fibre, fixed wireless and the NBN satellite footprint—the first of its kind to be rolled out nationally. The initiative is already helping to change the lives of more than 5,000 families who are now connected to free internet. More than 40 per cent of these families live in rural and regional Australia. Now, with funding certainty and the extension to the end of 2025, it's a game changer for children who are being left behind in their learning and has flow-on benefits for the whole family, with the ability to access essential services like telehealth from home for the first time.

Feedback from participants has shown what a difference it can make. One parent said, 'We haven't been able to afford home internet for some time now, due to the cost of living and being unable to work due to my children requiring regular medical appointments.' I've asked NBN Co to make the program as widely available as possible to support the take-up in rural and remote communities and for First Nations students and their families. We understand that some families have complex needs and unique circumstances that can make getting a connection organised more difficult. That's why we established the National Referral Centre to make it easier for families to access the initiative. Any family can contact the Referral Centre on 1800954610 to check their eligibility and help get their connection set up. I've also tasked the NBN Low-Income and Digital Inclusion Forum to examine discounted products that could assist participating families at the conclusion of the free-connection period.

This is not the only way that we're responding to cost-of-living pressures with the NBN. The recently approved Special Access Undertaking is also supporting the provision of a new basic voice and data service at around half the price of NBN Co's existing entry-level broadband offer.

The School Student Broadband Initiative is making a real difference to families today, and we continue to focus on helping unconnected Australians to get online. We are now reviewing the universal service framework to consider what safety-net services a modern USO should have in order to improve digital access and inclusion for all.