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Medical alert systems impacted by NBN

With around half of Australian households expected to be connected to the NBN network by June, users of medical alert systems reliant on the current copper network are being urged to sign up to the NBN Medical Alarm Register and to check with their service provider whether their equipment is compatible before they connect to the NBN network, or run the risk of their system not working in a power cut after they’ve made the switch. 

Users of medical alert systems reliant on the current copper network need to check whether their equipment is compatible before they connect to the NBN network (Source: Shutterstock)
Users of medical alert systems reliant on the current copper network need to check whether their equipment is compatible before they connect to the NBN network (Source: Shutterstock)

This can mean additional costs to users of medical alert systems to either upgrade their system to make it compatible with the new network, or purchase an entirely new system.

In recognition of this, NBN Co launched the Medical Alarm Subsidy Scheme (MASS) in July last year. This is a subsidy paid directly to the alarm company to assist its customers with making the switch, and ensure its customers do not have to pay additional costs.  

However this subsidy for alarm companies only covers systems compliant with a standard associated with monitored medical systems. It does not cover users of non-monitored medical systems. Non-monitored alarm systems tend to be less expensive and tend to be favoured by lower income users who cannot afford the ongoing monitoring costs.

Providers of unmonitored systems, advocacy groups and other organisations feel the decision to subsidise only monitored systems is discriminatory against those who cannot afford ongoing monitoring costs, and are now expected to pay additional costs to upgrade their system.

One Lions group has written to Minister Fifield highlighting it purchased 45 non-monitored units through its program and either installed or loaned to disadvantaged elderly and disabled people, as these people were not in a financial position to purchase the equipment themselves. The group called upon the issue to be fixed so that all owners of alert systems were treated equally.    

Mike Steele, Chief Executive Officer, CareAlert, a provider of non-monitored systems says the power failure issue has been 100% created by the NBN rollout and has nothing whatsoever to do with CareAlert nor any other non-monitored medical alarm company. He points out NBN Co based their decision on who would be able to access the MASS on a 17 year old Australian Standard (AS 4607-1999) that has absolutely no relevance to non-monitored systems at all.

“In fact when this standard was released in 1999, technology was limited and non-monitored systems were not yet invented,” he says. “It is an absolute shame that an irrelevant outdated 17 year old standard takes precedent over the safety and wellbeing of at least 50,000 elderly vulnerable members of our society.”

Ian Yates chief Executive Officer of Council on the Ageing (COTA) says COTA has been raising the issue with ACCAN (Australian Communications Consumer Action Network). “I’ll be raising it direct with Minister Fifield as we believe this is a real issue,” he says. “It’s hard to understand why nbn has done this.”

Una Lawrence, Director of Policy ACCAN says she will definitely be raising these issues with NBN and the Minister.

Non-monitored medical alarm users run the risk of their system not working in a power cut after they’ve made the switch to NBN (Source: Shutterstock)

Jill Bottrall, Corporate Affairs Manager – South Australia & Northern Territory says NBN treats medical alarm users with utmost  priority, and nbn has been working collaboratively with medical alarm providers since 2010 to inform how technologies within the nbn™ network may impact existing products and that existing devices are unlikely to work during a power outage.

Ms Bottrall says NBN has been fulfilling its obligations according to the Migration Assurance Policy [issued February 2016} and initiatives have been developed with federal and state government departments and the Personal Emergency Response System Association (PERSA).

“According to the Migration Assurance Policy requirements, medical alarm service providers are responsible for supporting their products’ lifecycle as technology changes,” she says.

However Mr Steele says he was only contacted in February last year and feels NBN Co was aware it could be an issue when it allocated $100 million dollars to formulate the MASS last year.

In November 2016 the Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield and NBN Co CEO Mr Bill Morrow were questioned in a Senate Budget Enquiry as to why the Medical Alarm Subsidy Scheme was withheld from users of non-monitored medical alarms.

In this hearing, Senator Fifield said he is aware of the issue. “I am intending as well to have ongoing discussions. I have corresponded with those who have raised these issues. I will still be talking to them. So NBN has not been absolutely definitive about the subsidy,” he says at the hearing.

While NBN Co is encouraging all users of medical alarms or family members, to register their alarm on the NBN website and assure assistance will be given to help people, even if a person is on the register, the Migration Assurance Policy Framework published in February 2016 states people could still be disconnected from the current technology.

It states: 'Placing a premises on the register does not prevent it from being disconnected. Telstra is required to disconnect all premises after the Disconnection Date (including those with medical alarms) in accordance with its legal obligations under the Migration Plan and irrespective of whether those services are at premises that are flagged as having a medical alarm or are on the NBN Medical Alarm Register.'

Ms Bottrall says users of medical alarms that have not migrated to the NBN but are on the Medical Alarm Register will be phoned prior to the disconnection date and if necessary, doorknocked, to assist their needs prior to their Telstra system being disconnected.

Other services affected by the NBN network include security systems and lift emergency phones. Visit http://www.nbnco.com.au/ for more details, or contact NBN Co by calling 1800 227 300 or emailing info@nbnco.com.au .

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