VOICES in the bush say it is time for data to get the minimum mandatory deal afforded to landlines and phone booths – for the sake of rural health, education, and regional development.
As the Productivity Commission prepares its draft report on the Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation inquiry, regional service groups want telcos to provide a minimum standard of service for data delivery.
The CWA, Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association, and Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia say connectivity is the crucial issue dividing city and bush, with poor internet speed, reliability, and capacity leaving much of regional Australia hamstrung.
CWA of NSW chief executive Danica Leys said the ensuing boost to farm business, education services, and healthcare would only be the start.
“We want equity of services,” Ms Leys said.
“That doesn’t always mean it has to be exactly the same services as our city counterparts, but it does mean that rural communities should expect and demand a level of service that allows them and their businesses to flourish.”
Telstra has a USO to ensure standard telephone services and payphones are reasonably accessible to all people in Australia on an equitable basis, wherever they work or live.
But some have argued it is time this deal should be extended to all providers who offer products for ADSL and the 4G network – especially when much of the infrastructure has been inherited or subsidised by government.
The Productivity Commission’s issues paper on the Telecommunications USO inquiry touched on the rapidly evolving market structure and emergence of new technology as reasons the current arrangements may not be effective.
The cost of delivering a data USO is also often held up as a potential stumbling block.
But not when compared to the overall cost of the NBN, according to Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association of NSW .
“Consumers in regional areas need some sort of guarantee that plans set up by service providers will actually deliver the data speeds advertised,” an ICPA spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia says cost is beside the point.
“In today's day and age these are core business needs, people in regional Australia can not be expected to engage, participate and conduct business when their core needs are not being met,” said spokeswoman Kristy Sparrow.
“The advantages of regional connectivity, far outweigh the costs.”