Having access to fast, reliable and affordable mobile phone and internet services is no longer an optional extra, it’s an essential part of everyday life.
Good communication services provide an economic and social lifeline for people in the bush – important for community safety, to run a business, for children’s education and to connect with family and friends.
AgForce has long been highlighting the need for better communications services for people living and working in rural, regional, and remote areas and we have now joined a new coalition of community organisations to champion the cause to government and industry.
The Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition has outlined a number of key issues that need to be addressed to ensure more equitable access to telecommunications services.
This includes expanding the Universal Service Obligation to cover data, not just phone services, and ensuring long term public funding for open access mobile network expansion in rural and regional Australia.
The Communications Coalition is also pushing for customer service guarantees and reliability measures that deliver more accountability from telecommunications providers and NBN. In addition, it’s important there is fair and equitable access to Sky Muster satellite for those with a genuine need for the service.
We’d also like to see capacity building programs that build digital ability and provide effective problem solving support for regional, rural and remote businesses and consumers. Our members want to be connected – however, they must understand how to capitalise on the opportunities.
The outcomes the Communications Coalition are seeking are ambitious, but they are achievable and reflect the pressing need for change.
A report out earlier this year laid bare the data drought confronting rural, regional and remote Australians with 88 per cent of the 6000 people surveyed saying current data did not meet their needs and 73 per cent saying they did not have reliable mobile phone coverage.
Without leadership and without change, Australia risks growing and entrenching the digital divide between urban and rural telecommunications users. We all need to work together – government, industry and the community – to ensure that 2017 is the year we fix telecommunications in the bush.
More information about the Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition’s campaign will be available at www.farmers.org.au