FARM and rural lobbyists will descend on Canberra this week to ramp-up campaigning efforts, to improve regional communication standards.
It comes at the start of the final sitting fortnight in federal parliament ahead of the budget being handed down in early May.
Representatives from 17 organisations assembled from throughout Australia will be telling federal politicians one simple message, that 2017 must be the year reliable and affordable telecommunications is delivered to rural, regional and remote Australia.
Over two days, the regional, rural and remote communications coalition will meet with almost 50 parliamentarians to explain the inequity created by inadequate mobile phone network coverage and unreliable and limited internet connectivity in regional Australia.
In a media statement, the coalition of lobbying groups said they were asking federal parliamentarians to consider five initiatives to improve bush communications.
Top of their 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.
The Coalition brings together organisations like the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF), state farm lobby groups and Cotton Australia with an interest in regional Australia and represents agriculture, education, women and telecommunications users.
NFF President Fiona Simson said the group’s mission was 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,” she said.
“Currently, rural-based Australians struggle to run their businesses, educate their children and complete day-to-day online tasks as a result of unreliable telecommunications services.”
Ms Simson said there was enormous opportunity for regional Australia if communication services were 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 CEO 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 all Australians, regardless of where they live, have access to adequate, reliable and affordable internet, voice and mobile phone services,” she said.
“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.”
GrainGrowers’ General Manager of Policy and Innovation David McKeon was also in the delegation.
He said grain farmers now had at their disposal a wealth of technology to make more informed farm decisions and to drive profitability and digital technology represented the “new frontier” of productivity gains for grain farming businesses.
“Already, farm machinery systems can transmit real-time crop information and machinery performance data over the Internet to central off-farm or cloud sites,” he said.
“However, grain farmers’ use of this technology is curtailed by a lack of access to a reliable phone network and data service.
“Ultimately, substandard telecommunications services in the bush constrains our ability to remain global market leaders.
“Inequality of access to some of the most basic government services that are going digital represents a real disenfranchisement of some members of the Australian community.”
Mr McKeon said GrainGrowers had helped fund a report by the Australian Farm Institute last year which predicted that an uptake of digital agriculture systems by grain farmers could deliver 10-15 per cent productivity gains for farm businesses.
“The availability of this technology to regional communities is essential to maintain equity between the bush and urban areas,” he said.
“Importantly, we need to improve access to broadband and mobile services to ensure businesses and rural communities can continue to stay at the top of their game.”