The Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition will raise concerns about what they see as the inequity created by inadequate mobile phone network coverage and unreliable and limited Internet connectivity in regional Australia.
Industry leaders in regional Australia, including the National Farmers’ Federation, have been campaigning for a long time for a better deal on communications for rural and regonal residents and businesses and want bipartisan support from politicans on improving communications in the regions.
One of the vexed issues in regional Australia is the elimination of mobile blackspots across the country where mobile phone coverage is poor, inconsistent or not available.
While Telstra just last week announced it had activated its 100th mobile base station — in the rural Victorian town of Culla — as part of the federal government's mobile blackspot programme, more areas with poor or no mobile coverage are still to be tackled.
Meanwhile, Telstra says it expects more than 200 new mobile base stations to be online in total in rural and regional locations before the end of the year.
The coalition, which today will bend the ear of almost 50 parliamentarians from all parties, brings together organisations with an interest in regional Australia representing agriculture, education, women and telecommunications users from regional and rural areas of the country.
The coalition has listed critical priorities it wants resolved and over the two-day visit will push parliamentarians to consider five initiatives it wants implemented to improve bush communications:
- A universal service obligation that is technology neutral and provides access to both voice and data.
- Customer service guarantees and reliability measures to underpin the provision of voice and data services, to deliver more accountability from providers and NBN.
- Long term public funding for open access mobile network expansion in rural and regional Australia.
- Fair and equitable access to Sky Muster satellite for those with a genuine need for the service, and access which reflects the residential, educational and business needs of rural and regional Australia.
- Funding to build digital literacy and provide problem solving support for regional, rural and remote businesses and consumers.
National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson says the mission of the delegation of rural and regional interests is to highlight to parliamentarians the “widening-gap between the digital-haves and the digital have nots”.
“Unfortunately the digital have-nots are increasingly regional people,” Simson says.
“Currently, rurally-based Australians struggle to run their businesses, educate their children and complete day-to-day online tasks as a result of unreliable telecommunications services.”
According to Simson, there is enormous opportunity for regional Australia if communication services are improved to a standard commensurate with that enjoyed by urban dwellers.
“There are opportunities across the spectrum including for business, in particular agriculture, the delivery of health and education services and social interactions.”
Australian Communications Consumer Action Network chief executive Teresa Corbin said the convergence of the coalition on Parliament House would send a powerful message.
“It is a matter of national importance and urgency to ensure that all Australians, regardless of where they live, have access to adequate, reliable and affordable Internet, voice and mobile phone services.
“We are here to ensure the plight of regional, rural and remotely-based Australians when it comes to telecommunications and connectivity is understood, valued and commitments are made to improving it.”