Committee to investigate rural telecommunication issues

Committee to investigate regional telecommunication issues

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NEW INQUIRY: Regional Communications Minister Mark Coulton with committee chair Luke Hartsuyker.

NEW INQUIRY: Regional Communications Minister Mark Coulton with committee chair Luke Hartsuyker.

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An esteemed group of rural residents with broad-ranging knowledge will carry out a review into the nation's regional telecommunication's services.

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AN esteemed group of rural residents with broad-ranging knowledge will carry out a review into the nation's regional telecommunication's services.

The committee will investigate the effectiveness of government's regional telecoms policies and programs, including issues around the impact of COVID, service reliability, opportunities arising from new technologies and changes that could be made to further expand digital connectivity in the bush.

Recommendations from previous inquiries have dramatically improved the quality of telecommunications in the bush, such as the Mobile Black Spot Program which has seen $836m invested in more than 1200 new base stations across regional Australia.

The Regional Telecommunications Review will be chaired by former Nationals MP Luke Hartsuyker, who was instrumental in formulating the Mobile Black Spot Program.

Mr Hartsukyer said to maximise the competitive advantage of regional Australia, it had to have high-quality telecommunications infrastructure.

"Fast, reliable and affordable connectivity is not just about business, it's also about community," he said.

"Telehealth services, emergency and disaster response, social engagement - they're all dependent on the internet and the mobile phone."

Former Rural Woman of the Year Sue Middleton, ACCC general executive manager Michael Cosgrove, Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia co-founder Kristy Sparrow and Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering president Hugh Bradlow make up the rest of the committee.

Regional Communications Minister Mark Coulton said the five members were selected for their extensive experience in telecommunications, agriculture, regional business, competition and consumer regulation, and community affairs.

"I am pleased to have such a high calibre panel looking at these important issues," Mr Coulton said.

"The members have a broad-ranging knowledge of the telecommunications sector and of regional Australia, they appreciate the needs of regional communities."

This will be the fifth Regional Telecommunications Review, which are held every three years, and Mr Coulton said it came at a very relevant time.

"What we've seen over the last 18 months with COVID is an unprecedented interest in people moving and working in regional Australia, quite often connected to jobs in the capital cities," he said.

"That interest in people wanting to live and work in the regions is dependent on good reliable levels of communication."

The 2018 review identified the need for more reliable access to data in the regions, which lead to the government's Regional Connectivity Program.

As part of the consultation process, the committee will engage closely with regional communities to understand what is happening with telecommunications and the issues they are facing on the ground, and will be calling for submissions from stakeholders.

The committee will report its findings and recommendations to the government by the end of 2021.

Further information is available on the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee website.

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