Telecommunications coverage in in rural, regional and remote areas of Australia is pathetic. It really is. But there are people fighting to change that fact.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF), the Country Women’s Association of NSW, the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association and AgForce Queensland are among the members of a new coalition fighting to end the rural “data drought”.
ACCAN CEO, Teresa Corbin said the Coalition was formed to highlight the collective concerns of families, businesses and communities in rural and regional Australia about the lack of access to reliable and quality telecommunications services.
“2017 must be the year of delivering real improvements to digital connectivity in the bush,” Corbin said.
There are five outcomes that the coalition describes as ambitious, achievable, and reflective of “the pressing need for change”.
First up is a universal service obligation that is technology neutral and provides access to both voice and data. Second, customer service guarantees and reliability measures “to underpin the provision of voice and data services” and deliver more accountability from providers and the NBN.
Third, long term public funding for open access mobile network expansion in rural and regional Australia. Fourth, “fair and equitable” access to Sky Muster satellite services for those with a genuine need for the service, and access which reflects the residential, educational and business needs of rural and regional Australia.
The last outcome is pushing for fully resourced capacity building programs that build digital ability, and provide learning and effective problem solving support for regional, rural and remote businesses and consumers.
NFF CEO, Tony Mahar, said the organisation’s members include some of the most innovative businesses and individuals in Australia.
“Yet we remain locked out of future economic growth and prosperity through the digital divide which is undermining Australia’s productivity,” Mahar says, “without leadership and change, Australia risks growing and entrenching the digital divide between urban and rural telecommunications users. We risk undermining the opportunities presented by digital innovation to the farming community and rural Australia as a whole.”
Country Women’s Association of NSW President, Annette Turner said beyond growing productivity, ending the data drought is also immensely valuable for rural, regional and remote communities.
“Getting better digital connectivity in the bush can have such a positive impact on people’s lives and also assist in overcoming the tyrannies of distance,” Turner said, “With good connectivity, educational outcomes are improved, health services can be streamlined and business can flourish.”
Wendy Hick, Federal President of the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association of Australia, said access, reliability and affordability of service are the most pressing communication issues for our families residing in rural and remote Australia.
“We look forward to contributing to discussions to ensure families living and working in rural and remote Australia have equity of access to a continuing and appropriate education.”
AgForce Queensland Vice-president, Georgie Somerset, said putting an end to the data drought was one of the highest priorities for regional, rural and remote Australians. “Effective and affordable mobile phone and internet services provide an economic and social lifeline for people in the bus,” Somerset said, describing it as “an essential part of everyday life” vitally important for community safety, to support business development, enhance children’s education and maintain social connections.
“That’s why it’s so important for all levels of government and all sides of politics to collaborate with the telecommunications industry to extend and improve services in the bush as quickly as possible.”