• In a poll, 91% said pensioners need more financial help from the Government
  • Cost a significant barrier to seniors who want to access the internet
  • NBN could bring benefits to seniors

Pensioners need more financial help from the Government to access the internet, according to an online poll.

Broadband comparison website Compare Broadband asked visitors "Should pensioners receive more financial help from the Government to access the internet?" and 91% of the 550 respondents voted yes.

An Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) study from 2009 found seniors over the age of 65 are active online participants, typically using the web for communication, checking news sites, paying bills and accessing health and travel information. One participant in Compare Broadband's survey commented on the fact that many companies now charge a fee for paper billing, giving pensioners who are trying to save money little choice but to pay for an internet plan.

However, ACMA also noted the main barrier to accessing the internet for older people is the cost. According to the study, 2.6 million Australians did not have access to the internet via mobile or a fixed line service and that this was unlikely to change even after the NBN was rolled out due to broadband costs.

Consumer advocate Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has expressed concerns that this divide will carry over into the NBN era, when an internet connection will be even more important to seniors, as tele-healthcare services become available.

Compare Broadband spokesperson Sarah Routledge said: "While Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the Government have assured us prices for plans on the NBN will be similar to what we currently pay for an ADSL2+ plan, this still leaves out many Australians who cannot afford an internet connection now.

"Clearly people believe that internet access is important enough to warrant a subsidy, just like public transport and healthcare services."

A previous poll from Compare Broadband highlights how important a broadband connection is to Australians in the digital age. When asked "Do you think broadband is as necessary as utilities like gas, electricity and water?" 78% voted yes.

The Government currently gives eligible pensioners a 'pension supplement' through Centrelink, which includes a payment towards the cost of utilities such as broadband. Not all seniors are eligible for this payment. There are also some discounts available from Telstra and Optus.

Despite this assistance, an internet connection is still unaffordable for many Australians. ACCAN has suggested Health Card holders should be offered a basic, affordable plan on the NBN once it is rolled out across Australia. The Joint Committee on the National Broadband Network has also recommended seniors on low incomes should receive federal financial help to access an internet connection on the NBN.