In a win for the bush, telecommunications reforms will guarantee faster minimum internet speeds along with a funding mechanism for satellite and fixed wireless services in rural areas.
Federal Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher said he was pleased to see the telecommunications reforms passed through Parliament last week, following a lengthy community consultation process.
"The reforms mean that for the first time there is legislation that entitles all homes and businesses in Australia to a broadband connection with a minimum peak speed of 25 Megabits per second download and 5 Mbps upload," he said.
Currently a number of internet plans, provided by satellite, fixed wireless and fibre networks offer speeds well below the new minimum, in the case of Sky Muster satellite, a number of entry level plans deliver only 12 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds.
National Farmers' Federation telecommunications and social policy committee chair Peter Thompson said the move to mandate baseline wholesale network capability was a boon to the bush, and would hopefully ensure that regional Australians had access to broadband plans capable of running critical functions such as telehealth, videoconferencing and uploading farm business data.
"Many Australians living in regional, rural and remote areas rely on telecommunications for the provision of basic services such as health and education," he said.
"Access to quality, reliable and affordable broadband services is also critical to the success of regional businesses, including farms, and for the increasing number of professionals working remotely in regional areas.
"Requiring NBN Co, or any other declared carrier, to provide all premises with access to a superfast broadband connection helps to put regional Australians on an equal footing with those in the city.
"The NFF and the broader Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition strongly support these new requirements. We understand that the legislation puts an obligation on the infrastructure provider, not the retailer, and hope that it translates to broadband products that meet the needs and expectations of regional customers."
Minister Fletcher said the reform package also included a long-term funding mechanism for NBN Co to continue to provide satellite and fixed wireless in rural and remote areas, services which currently run at a significant loss.
Imposing a 'broadband tax', the new legislation will collect a fee from non-NBN fixed line broadband connections, which generally servicing profitable metropolitan markets, resulting in $7.10 per customer per month being collected towards the NBN Co's regional broadband scheme.
Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition member, Australian Communications Consumer Action Network CEO Teresa Corbin said all Australians have the right to reliable communications.
"The legislation provides a sustainable, long-term funding mechanism to support the delivery of critical NBN satellite and fixed wireless services to people living and working in the bush," she said.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has re-emphasised just how critical reliable, quality and affordable telecommunications services are for all Australians, and we must ensure that regional areas are not left behind.
"Telecommunications connect our communities to education services, health care, business development opportunities, and most importantly, each other."