MEMBERS of the coalition of 17 lobby groups seeking better internet for regional, rural and remote Australia, have fronted media in Canberra today with National Farmers' Federation President Fiona Simson saying current standards are “not sustainable”.
“We want to shine a light on the situation that’s out there now,” Ms Simson said.
“We don’t really want a blame game - we don’t really want to get into the why we are where we are now - but certainly, where we are now is not sustainable.
“It’s actually below third world, in a lot of our regional areas, to not be able to access reliable affordable data, and or voice.
“In Australia we have enormous potential particularly in our agricultural industries and other regional industries for people to live in the bush, to live in regional areas and operate as if they’re in the cities – but we need to make sure we have digital connectivity to be able to do that.”
The Coalition has been lobbying its calls for improved standards for regional connectivity and communications in Canberra this week, meeting with about 50 different MPs, Senators and ministers or their representatives.
The group says the inadequacy and unreliability of mobile phone and internet connectivity in regional, rural and remote Australia is threatening to create a new economic divide between the digital-haves and have-nots.
Kristy Sparrow from central QLD set up a volunteer internet advocacy group three-years ago to push for better internet for rural, remote and regional Australia and also spoke at the media conference.
“Every week we get 200 cases of people that come to us in frustration about the digital connectivity,” she said.
“We’ve got farmers that can’t access enough data to use for their cloud accounting programs,” she said.
“We’re really having this data drought that’s extending throughout regional Australia and preventing it from growing and preventing people from living in these areas.
“It’s causing an influx of people to move to metro areas to access the data that they need.
“There are hundreds of stories out there and we’d really like to see some of these key points met so we can overcome the data drought.”
Country Women's Association of Australia National President Dorothy Coombes said telecommunications were linked to resolutions and solutions like innovation and growth and delivery of government services.
“But we can’t do it if we don’t have a mobile phone and the internet,” she said.
“We have people on the ground who still have to go out to their dairy sheds to go and get an internet connection or a phone connection.
“We have people on the ground who if they have an accident in the field they don’t have coverage to get services to them.
“We have people who have to drive 100 kilometres to McDonald’s to download and upload their data, just so they can communicate.”
But Ms Coombes said someone in the remotest part of Australia needed be able to access digital communication services “as if they were sitting in a metropolitan area”.
She said that access also needed to be affordable and reliable.
“We want it to be quality – not two second delays or five second delays or coming and going at different times and not stuck because there’s rain or droplets in the air so the transmission can’t get through,” she said.
“We’re here to make a difference and we’re here to tell everybody to please keep this top of mind of their agenda.”
Ms Coombes said the group met with members and ministers from all sides of politics this week and everyone understood the need for improved rural telecommunications.
“We want to make sure we get bipartisan support,” she said.
“Stop the barbs, stop the politician speak about it and just get onto it; get onto the network.
“Everyone supports it but they might have a slightly different approach in terms of how they do that and everyone wants to fight about their policy position but we just want better quality services.”
Ms Simson said the coalition had attempted to canvass all sides of politics to gain bipartisan support for improved voice and data services in the bush which needed to be reliable and affordable.
Asked what support or feedback had been given on the coalition’s five core demands by the Regional Communications and Development Minister Fiona Nash, Ms Sparrow said the minister “definitely agreed with”.
Top of the group’s communications wish list is having a universal service obligation that’s technology neutral and provides access to both voice and data.
Other items on the list are;
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.
Senator Nash issued a statement saying the Coalition was continuing to deliver on mobile phone coverage in rural, regional and remote Australia, with 765 new and improved mobile phone towers that will deliver new or improved coverage to 32,000 homes and businesses across 86,000 square kilometres.
“The alternative is Labor, which did not help build a single tower in government have and refused to match the Coalition’s Mobile Black Spots Program (MBSP),” she said.
Senator Nash said it was unrealistic to think Australia’s land mass of nearly 8 million square kilometres of mountains, valleys and deserts would be entirely covered by traditional mobile phone coverage anytime soon.
She said the government can’t force companies to put towers in certain places - but can offer incentives, which is what the Coalition’s MBSP does.
In terms of safety impacts due to regional communication standards, she said satellite phones were unaffected by mountains and hills on the ground and available for about $700 - similar in price to a smart phone - while plans started from $15 a month.
“The Coalition will always look after rural, regional and remote Australia. Labor will ignorantly talk down rural, regional and remote Australians from their laneway café’s in their tailored suits and colourful socks without offering real policy to improve their lives,” she said.