The latest lockdown has seen the return of relief measures from telcos, with Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees wiping data caps, and Spark expanding a free and low-cost programme for struggling households.
Overnight Spark said it would remove all data caps on fixed and wireless broadband plans from tomorrow (August 25) until the end of the Level 4 lockdown.
The Level 4 lockdown was extended yesterday until 11.59pm on Friday nationwide, and until 11.59pm next Tuesday for Auckland - but experts say the highest level of restrictions will likely remain in our largest city for weeks.
The offer applies to home and small business customers in both urban and rural areas. It excludes mobile phone plans.
A fair-use provision applies. Spark also notes the removal of overage charges will not prevent "Unplan" broadband customers from being charged for the higher tiers if they use more data (Unplan has three tiers of charging for under 60GB of data in a month, under 120GB or over 120GB).
Spark is also boosting its Skinny Jump programme for eligible low-income Kiwi homes.
Customer director Grant McBeath says Skinny Jump, which is delivered via 4G fixed-wireless broadband offers 15GB of data per month free.
"After that, it is just $5 for 30GB of data. Customers can top up their accounts up to five times each month. In addition, from tomorrow, during lockdown, Jump customers also get a 6GB data boost on weekdays between 9am and 3.30pm," McBeath says.
In Spark's 2021 Annual Report, released with its full-year result last week, the telco said Skinny Jump connections grew 58 per cent to 15,121 over the past 12 months, but still fell short of its self-imposed goal.
"Our aspiration for FY21 was to reach 20,000 homes. However this target was not achieved," the telco said in its report.
"We proactively manage the number of wireless broadband customers we have by
location, to ensure all customers have a good user experience on our network.
"During the year we discovered that some areas of need are at capacity.
"To remedy this, we are prioritising the rollout of our 5G network in these areas, and upgrading 4G at the same time, to boost capacity for Skinny Jump in FY22."
Close industry watchers will find the network capacity roadblock interesting, in the context of Spark's wireless-broadband miss on the commercial side of its operation, where it hit less than half its FY21 target.
The report added that "even a very low investment level" of $5 was too much for some households.
And it added that money and mobile network capacity weren't the only issues.
"Barriers to digital equity can include challenges such as a lack of digital skills, trust
in technology, and the motivation to get connected. To better understand our Skinny
Jump customers and further barriers to their participation, Spark Foundation and DIAA (the Digital Inclusion Alliance Aotearoa) are currently conducting customer interviews to understand the key drivers of inactivity" it said.
A second Spark initiative, supported by one its network partners, Ciena, has put $500,000 on the table to help connect students in plier, Ciena, to provide Jump free to eligible students in decile 1 and 2 high schools. The 'Ciena Jump for Students Fund' gives eligible students a free Skinny Jump wireless modem and broadband connection – including
150GB of free data per month, until the end of the school year."
More broadly, Spark says any customer that has trouble paying their bill on time during lockdown could be eligible for a short or long-term extension.
A spokesman for Vodafone said, "We've sent a message to both consumer and business rural broadband customers letting them know that from August 21 until the end of Alert Level 3, we are offering unlimited data from midnight to 5pm the next day.
Vodafone will be announcing other measures to lift data caps on fibre, HFC cable and copper connections later today, he said.
2degrees CEO Mark Aue said, "We don't want any of our customers who are managing work and study commitments to worry about the extra demand on their household broadband. So, like we did last time around, we are removing any over-use charges on fixed-cap plans and wireless broadband accounts for all rural and urban customers."
Almost all of 2degrees business customers were already on unlimited data fixed-broadband plans, Aue said.
Delta outbreak: Spark, Vodafone, 2degrees wipe data caps, Spark expands free broadband
Most already there
The Commerce Commissions most recent telecommunications monitoring report, released in March this year, said 85 per cent of consumers were on unlimited data fixed-broadband plans.
On the mobile side, the regulator said fewer than 10 per cent were on unlimited data plans, but it also noted a surge in popularity of "endless" plans, where data never runs out in any given month, but the speed of a connection is throttled back after a set data limit is reached.
The latest lockdown has seen Kiwis' broadband use hit an all-time high.