THE federal government’s decision to drop the Universal Service Obligation guaranteeing nationwide access to a fixed copper line telephone services must be the springboard to better connectivity for every farm business.
It’s the guarantees that are put in place now under the soon to be unveiled Universal Service Guarantee that matter. What must not be allowed to happen is a new regime that fails to reflect the needs of modern agricultural businesses.
What has rural Australia rightly worried are the incessant claims than more than 99 per cent of Australians have access to at least one commercial mobile network, and more than 96pc can access three.
That’s great if you happen to be part of the majority that live in a city but 99pc coverage is hardly the reality in rural Australia.
Despite the commendable growth in mobile phone coverage as a result of programs including the Mobile Black Spot Program, large swathes of rural Australia are being denied any form of mobile phone coverage, let alone the connectivity required to operate a farm business.
The failure to deliver connectivity puts Australian farm businesses at a disadvantage on the global stage and adds to ongoing issues dogging agriculture, including attracting farm workers.
The reality is the world operates on a connected basis. Every business – including every farm business – requires access to technology now taken for granted.
The new policy follows separate investigations by the Productivity Commission and National Audit Office, which recommended government encourage market competition and use targeted funding to eliminate coverage gaps.
Where the practicality falls short is that those organisations are only talking about baseline voice services. Many rural residents access NBN through fixed wireless connections or Sky Muster satellites, which could potentially provide voice services through Voice over Internet Protocol. But there are plenty of serious questions about the reliability of VoIP, which can be severely compromised by poor weather, power outages and latency issues.
As Agriculture Minister David Littleproud says: Technology advancements have seen the importance of mobility in the telecommunications mix. The use of mobile phones for both voice and data has become one of the most essential tools of the 21st century for rural and regional Australians.