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Welcome to the latest current affairs that impact communications consumers. 

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Young man using smartphoneMany plans, including pre-paid plans and some month to month plans, on the market now work on a '28 day month' meaning your credit expires after 28 days, rather than the traditional 30 or 31 days of a calendar month. This is not an entirely new practice, but it is a price hike that will affect consumers who prefer pre-paid plans or month to month contracts that do not lock you in. These consumers will get 13 bills during the year rather than 12.

Twenty-eight day plans are used by Optus, Telstra, Vodafone, Virgin Mobile and amaysim. Optus, Telstra and Vodafone also offer 30 day pre-paid plans.

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Farmer on phone standing next to bulldozerThe Department of Communications and the Arts (DoCA) has released the Guidelines for Round 2 of the Mobile Black Spot Programme (MBSP). This means that the competitive bidding process for the Federal subsidy of $60 million by the three mobile network providers has now started.

ACCAN has compared the Round 1 and Round 2 Guidelines to identify what has changed. The Guidelines list all the criteria that the Federal Government will take into account when assessing whether to subsidise a particular site. Each criterion has a different weighting. Some of the weightings have changed this time round, and importantly there is a new 'remoteness of location criterion.' We are hopeful that this may encourage mobile coverage expanding into more remote areas where it is so badly needed. The main changes to note in the Assessment Criteria are:

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Small business using EFTPOS machineTelstra's major mobile network failure this week reminds us just how important it is to have a backup plan for our telecommunications.

As we rely more heavily on telecommunications to do business, it is important to develop a Business Continuity Plan for future loss of services. You need a plan for all your services: mobile, landline, broadband and any systems that rely on telecommunications networks such as EFTPOS terminals and security monitoring. You could be faced with a complete telecommunications outage from a natural disaster or another partial outage like the Telstra one that we experienced on 9 February, 2016.

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Man using smartphone and laptopThe Government has announced delays to the start date of cost information and usage notifications for mobile resellers. The international mobile roaming warnings were due to begin in May 2016, but have been pushed back until 2018.

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ACCAN has today released the 2016 ACCAN Grants Guidelines ahead of the Scheme's opening on Monday 8th February, 2016. The Scheme will be accepting applications for five weeks: from 8th February until 15th March, 2016 (please note the earlier closing round this year, due to an earlier Easter).

The ACCAN Grants Scheme funds projects that work towards a telecommunications market that is fair and inclusive for all – a market which is available, accessible and affordable. Projects focus on developing research, representation, or educational tools that address issues for telecommunications consumers in Australia.

If you have a great idea for a project which relates to a systemic and ongoing issue faced by phone or internet consumers, get in touch with us to chat about project ideas. The best applications are those that have consulted with ACCAN and have a thorough understanding of the work we do and the current policy issues we engage with.

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Group of people placing hands together in a circleResidents of the Northern Illawarra area in New South Wales have been experiencing poor broadband services for some time. With a population of about 20,000, there are around 7,100 households in the area.

Despite being less than 55 kilometres from the centre of Sydney, a large number of the residents have access to broadband that is little better than dial up services. Some have no ADSL connection at all.

Frustrated by the lack of services, residents in the area have started a Facebook page – 2508+ Disconnected – to band together so they have a stronger voice to let telcos, ISPs and relevant stakeholders know about the lack of quality services available in the area. The 2508+ Disconnected group is an ACCAN organisational member.

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Dr Paul PattersonDr Paul Paterson is the Chief Economist of the Bureau of Communications Research (BCR), an independent economic and statistical research unit within the Department of Communications and the Arts. We interviewed Dr Paterson to get some insights into his work in the communications industry and the scope of the BCR.

Dr Paterson, you have worked as an economist in the communications sector for over 20 years, what would you say is the biggest development in that time?

Yes, a long time with huge changes. In this time I have worked as an economic consultant, a regulator and as a senior executive in both the public and private sectors, in Australia and overseas. During this time I've seen many impressive developments in the comms sector, including the:

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Computer screen with YouTube openA recent Disability Discrimination complaint lodged with the Australian Human Rights Commission against the former Communications Minister, now Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull was resolved last month with the Office of the Prime Minister committing to ensure all its future videos will now be accurately captioned prior to posting to the web.

The conciliated outcome with the Prime Minister's Office ensures that people who rely on captions will now have the same real-time access to information as the rest of the community.

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Two women using laptopWe have reached a point in modern society where we seem to go online for everything. To organise meals, book transport, pay bills, earn an income, vote, communicate and of course, obtain all sorts of goods and entertainment.

Yet, there are still some people who can't or won't go online. For some, a proxy internet user takes their place: someone who goes online on behalf of others. Usually an informal relationship, proxy users are an overlooked group of consumers. It is easy to assume that proxy users undertake practical internet activities, such as shopping or checking timetables, on behalf of others, but it could be that they undertake a much wider variety of activities altogether.

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