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Welcome to the latest current affairs that impact communications consumers. 

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Smartphone, tablet, laptop and headphonesLast week, ACCAN's Disability Policy Advisor, Wayne Hawkins, presented at the NDIS New World Conference 2015 in Brisbane. The theme for the Conference was: Disability in the 21st century.

The event featured speakers from a range of organisations including Apple, National Disability Services, Ernst and Young and the National Disability Insurance Agency.

Wayne sat on the panel of the Universal Accessibility session, facilitated by Sean Fitzgerald, Director C3 Solutions. Other panellists included James Thurston from G3ictr, Daniel Hubbell from Microsoft and Dr Scott Hollier from Media Access Australia.

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Teenage girls using smartphonesMore and more parents are purchasing phones for their teenage children. Research from the ACMA in 2013 showed that 67 per cent of 12 to 13 year olds had a mobile phone. Mobile phones make keeping in touch with teenagers easy, but having a mobile phone also means greater responsibility for teens.

In this article we look at what parents should know before purchasing a mobile phone for their child.

Teens and parents need to be aware of the costs of a smartphone. These can be expensive especially if they exceed their monthly limits. A pre-paid plan may be a good option for a teenager because there's no risk of bill shock.

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Recently ACCAN has heard reports of consumers having to replace their NBN backup batteries earlier than expected, sometimes while under warranty.

Prior to October 2014, it was mandatory to have a backup battery in an NBN box for services in fibre to the premises areas. It is now an optional feature.

Not all consumers need to have a backup battery. You only need to have one if other services are reliant on your connection, or if you have no alternative access to emergency services (e.g. via mobile services) when there is a power outage. These services include medical alarms and fixed-line telephones.

The recent reports suggest that many consumers are finding that their backup battery has needed replacing sooner than expected. ACCAN is concerned that poor quality batteries may cost consumers extra money if they keep needing to be replaced. The process of replacing a battery may be difficult for some consumers. We are concerned that some may require the assistance of a technician when replacing the battery which would also add to the costs.

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The Bureau of Communications Research (BCR), a unit established last year in the Department of Communications and the Arts, was asked by the Government to consider the funding of the National Broadband Network (NBN) to regional Australia. The initial policy arrangement saw nbn funding the services, covering any losses internally from other areas of the network. The Government policy now is to distribute the cost further than the nbn network.

The BCR has produced a consultation paper presenting their preliminary findings. Below is a summary of these findings.

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Teenagers using smartphonesAustralians are spending more time on their mobile phones and we're using more mobile data than ever before.

According to the ACMA Communications Report 2013-14, in the quarter ending June 2014, Australians downloaded 38,734 terabytes of data on mobile devices – a 97.3 per cent increase when compared to the same quarter a year earlier!

With the introduction of 4G, our data needs are forecasted to grow even more. Because of this, it's important to take into account how your provider counts your data and how much they charge for excess data.

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The 2015 edition of the P3 CommsDay Mobile Benchmark Australia shows improved results from the three carriers tested – Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. Now in its second year, the benchmark compares the three network operators against each other and also against their scores last year.

ACCAN congratulates P3 and CommsDay on this important initiative because it provides consumers with independent benchmarking so they can make informed decisions. Improved consumer decision making is one of ACCAN's Policy Priorities for 2015-16.

The benchmark measures smartphone voice and data performance and is based on weeks of extensive testing around the country. The tests measure voice call quality, success rates, download and upload speeds, website access and video streaming performance.

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Kids using smartphoneThe internet offers exciting opportunities and experiences for kids and teens. But for some parents it can seem like a dark forest fraught with danger.
While there are great aspects of technology, it should be remembered that the internet could potentially expose children to harmful content, cyberbullying or contact with strangers.

To coincide with Stay Smart Online Week, we're sharing our top tips for online safety for kids and teens.

How to approach cybersafety

It's more than likely that your kids are using computers or tablets regularly at home and at school. In fact a 2013 study from the ACMA found that 95 per cent of eight to 11 year olds had accessed the internet 'in the last four weeks.'

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Woman holding childAfter experiencing a traumatic marriage breakdown, Michelle* fled with her children to a safe location expecting to be free of the violence they had experienced. Over the ensuing months she found herself encountering her ex-husband in all sorts of locations unexpectedly, and started to face the abuse all over again. He then moved to sending abusive text messages, so Michelle changed her number, only to start receiving them again soon after.

Unable to understand why this was happening, Michelle sought the help of an IT savvy friend, only to discover her children had tracking software on their phones and that her computer also had spyware which her ex-husband had been using to keep track of her. This is known as 'technology-facilitated stalking and abuse.'

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Family using mobile devicesMobile providers are now offering sharing plans for people to share data among devices and people. Each of the telcos has different approaches and options for sharing across plans. In this article we outline the plans from Telstra, Optus and Vodafone and some things to watch out for.

Before you sign up to any sharing plans we advise you to consider the usage patterns of each individual user. When looking at plans it pays to shop around and find the plan that suits each individual user.

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Picture showing map of Australia and voting box exclaiming 'What communications consumers need to know for the Federal Election 2016'

Find resouces on political party policies, election issues and more.