The fires, floods and the pandemic have revealed the need to recognize telecommunications as an essential service in legislation and to improve funding for regional investment and digital inclusion programs, according to a telecommunications advocacy body.
Andrew Williams, deputy managing director of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, said the need for better telecommunications services has become extremely evident since the last regional telecommunications review which took place in 2018.
Accan’s submission to the 2021 review found that only Queensland specifies telecommunications as an essential state-level service and argues that improving the reliability and affordability of telecommunications is vital for better serve and protect regional Australians.
Proof of Australian Media and Communications Authority Bushfire Report 2019-2020 found that nearly 1,400 telecommunications facilities were directly or indirectly affected during the 2019-2020 black summer bushfires, during which the average outage was three and a half days and the longest 23 days.
“Since the last review took place in 2018, regional Australia has resisted fires, floods and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Williams said.
“If we had national recognition of telecommunications as an essential service, it would mean that telecommunications operators could better maintain telephone towers and, for example, gain priority access to fuel for power generators during outages to keep Australians connected in case of emergency. “
Stuart McConnell, chief executive of bushfire recovery on the East Gippsland council, said during the bushfires many remote communities had been without their normal telecommunication service for several weeks.
McConnell said that since the fires “between the state, the Commonwealth and providers like Telstra and NBN, there have been significant investments but there is still some way to go.”
He agreed that the solution “assumes that telecommunications are considered an essential service and that infrastructure and services reflect this”.
Accan’s presentation said that while investments in programs like the Mobile Black Dot Program and the Regional Connectivity Program were successful in better connecting regional Australians, she remained concerned about the accessibility and quality of phone services. and the Internet.
Providers have up to 14 business days to connect consumers in rural areas, and up to 19 business days in remote areas under the draft rules for statutory infrastructure providers, such as NBN Co.
Accan said, “These delays do not reflect the essential nature of service and risk leaving rural and remote consumers without service for an undue amount of time.”
The Consumer Action Network also highlighted that consumers in Australia’s regions, rural and remote areas spend more on communications than their urban counterparts.
The cutting edge body said it would further like to see the mobile black dot program extended to fund open access mobile towers so consumers can access coverage regardless of the phone service provider.
The Consumer Action Network also proposed the creation of a targeted concessional NBN broadband service to support low-income households, backed by a spread payment from the federal government to keep the retail price at $ 30 per month.
Accan said he supports the development of the Indigenous Digital Inclusion Plan, which would allow communities to increase internet access. Public consultation for the plan was launched on September 22.
Ken Wyatt, Minister for Indigenous Australians, said: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, especially those from remote communities, are missing out on opportunities to start new businesses and expand due to access to technology.
Williams said, “As work progresses in this area, the delay in getting there has been frustrating for consumers and Indigenous advocates. It’s time for policymakers to act to bridge the digital inclusion divide for Indigenous Australians. “
Luke Hartsuyker, chairman of the regional independent telecommunications review board, said he had received a broad response to the regional paper on telecommunications review issues and that Accan’s submission was “” considered on its merits with many others “.
The committee will report to the government at the end of the year.