Business

Spark criticised for charging businesses in lockdown

An Auckland small business owner says he's paying full price for broadband in an empty factory and it is not fair.

Steve has been wrangling with Spark for days arguing it should share in the pain of thousands of its customers.

He runs a small manufacturing business with a handful of employees supporting the construction sector. RNZ agreed not to use his surname.

Looking to cut expenses, he figured Spark would be reasonable about his request to suspend or discount what he spends on his now entirely unused broadband each month.

"It's only $60 a month, but it's $60 a month that I expect they're incurring 50,000, 100,000 businesses like mine," Steve said.

Spark's response a couple weeks ago was to tell him he had to pay the bill in full or approach its credit team, he said, but the credit team said there was nothing it could do.

"I then sought to cancel my broadband service and they've advised me that they will bill me a $149 early termination fee."

In a statement to RNZ and in correspondence with the factory owner, Spark said it was still paying Chorus $45 per broadband plan, about half the cost of most plans.

"What I ask of them is that they talk to Chorus on behalf of their 100,000 business customers, to say all those are closed, can't access their service, so the fee Spark pays to Chorus can be reduced," Steve said.

"All of us can can share in some degree of the pain.

"It frustrates me that Spark is a business which is able to probably receive a great majority of its normal revenue. Telecommunication services continue to run. Operating a factory, I can't produce anything, I can't bill anything, I have zero revenue, and I'm just looking for some degree of fairness."

Spark said in its statement it was very happy to provide a financial support package to the customer so he would not be disconnected or charged late payment fees if he could not pay.

The main way it would make more money from broadband during the pandemic was to charge for the extra data people were using, but it had removed data caps on broadband plans so this was not happening, the company said.

"Like many businesses we need to continue charging where we are continuing to provide services, because this in turn supports our ability to provide essential services ... our supply chain and of course our own people."

This article was originally published on RNZ and re-published with permission.

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