Rebekha advocates for 'Better Comms for the Bush'

22 Nov 2021
Better Comms Pic

Regional Australia needs targeted and ongoing assistance to improve inequitable mobile phone and internet access, Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie told the Parliament today.

In motion introduced to the House of Representatives, the Centre Alliance MP tabled the latest action plan of the Regional, Rural, and Remote Communications Coalition (RRRCC) and outlined her own priorities as part of the 2021 Regional Telecommunications Review.

“The RRRCC ‘s goals are not grandiose or radical. Regional Australia just wants equitable access to reliable, quality telecommunications,” Rebekha said.

“Telecommunications are an essential service in a modern world. It should be managed and regulated as such, not left to market forces.

“Urban-based public and private sector organisations cannot continue to roll out services to rural Australia based on urban experiences.”

The RRRCC is a group of 21 volunteer-run organisations and advocacy bodies, including the National Farmers Federation and the CWA, who have joined together to amplify their voice to improve telecommunications for regional Australia.

The RRRCC’s ‘Better Comms for the Bush’ 2021 priorities document calls for:

  • Guaranteed access to voice and data services, always, including during natural disasters;
  • Updated telecommunication service guarantees and adequate service performance standards;
  • The continuation of programs to expand mobile coverage;
  • Building digital capacity through the provision of independent, trustworthy technical support;
  • Affordable communications services for regional, rural and remote Australia;
  • Financial assistance for low-income households to access telecommunications.

Rebekha’s own telecommunications priorities included a call for financial assistance for low-income households to access telecommunications, either through an NBN wholesale broadband package, an annual telecommunication payment, or a requirement on all Statutory Infrastructure Providers to offer minimum internet packages to assist low-income households.

“I am also of the view that regional Australia should be prioritised for NBN technology upgrades and the focus should be on need rather than profitability,” Rebekha said.

“Mayo and South Australia have too many premises allocated NBN satellite.

“South Australia is not only the state with the highest percentage of satellite connections (around 5% compared with the national average of 3%) but it is the state with the highest number of Sky Muster connections within a 25km radius of a capital city GPO.

“The number of potential NBN satellite services in that radius stands at 2,773 premises (more than 600 activated) and nearly 88% of those premises cannot order an upgrade via NBN’s Technology Choice program.

“Available figures from last year show Hobart coming a distant second to Adelaide with 264 Sky Muster connections within a 25km radius of their GPO. Sydney had 28 connections.”

Rebekha also called for ongoing expansion of the mobile phone network in regional and remote Australia and regulation to ensure performance standards.

“The mobile network is not covered by the Universal Service Guarantee. A fact that continues to surprise my community who consider mobile connectivity an essential service, particularly in high-risk bushfire areas.

“The Black Summer Bushfires in 2019/2020 on Kangaroo Island and in the Adelaide Hills highlighted my community’s reliance on the mobile network to receive timely information to protect life and property.

“Fire destroys telecommunications infrastructure, and it cannot be 100% relied upon. However, the experience in my communities was that mobile coverage, while it was operational, was relied upon extensively within the timeframe of the going bushfire.

“The Black Summer Bushfires across the nation have highlighted the need for better mobile coverage in bushfire-prone areas, greater resilience within the network and updated telecommunication service guarantees and adequate service performance standards.”

Earlier this month Rebekha convened the first meeting of the Mayo Telecommunication Advisory Group with invitations sent to local and State Government representatives, Regional Development Australia, and emergency services.

“Mobile carriers didn’t put in a single submission for the last round of the Mobile Black Spot Program and yet we have hundreds of mobile black spots in our community,” Rebekha said.

“There are issues with the design of the program which I understand the 2021 Regional Telecommunication Review will examine but I wanted to set up the advisory group so our community can work collectively on future Mobile Black Spot Program rounds and other programs that may arise to secure funding to improve telecommunications in Mayo.”

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