The ability to stay in touch and connected is something we have come to take for granted, but last week's Optus network outage highlighted just how vulnerable we are when it comes to our telecommunications and has posed some hard questions for providers, consumers and policy-makers.
It has come at a time, too, when the federal government has commenced consultation with the telecommunications industry and the community over the future of the Universal Service Obligation (USO), a longstanding requirement that ensures all Australians can access fixed phone services and payphones, regardless of where they live.
The USO is delivered by Telstra, which receives millions from the government annually to maintain this obligation.
Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland said the USO is "an important safeguard to ensure all Australians can access phone services, regardless of where they live", but that it needs to be "fit-for-purpose and encompasses new and emerging technologies like quality fibre connections and satellite services".
Currently, the USO relies largely on the nation's ageing copper wire system.
This is a welcome development and a big win for rural and regional Australia in the ongoing bid for reliable and efficient telecommunications services, regardless of where you live in this vast country.
I was a member of a 2018 regional telecommunications review committee that called for a rethink of the USO, so it is well and truly time to have the conversation and canvass the opinions and ideas of the industry and communities.
Mobile coverage and internet connections in rural and regional Australia must be part of this dialogue.
Indeed, as each year passes, more and more Australians are abandoning their landlines in favour of mobiles.
We still maintain a landline on our farm, but only in the event of an emergency if the mobile network goes down, and we haven't in fact used it for years.
In terms of internet connection, it's essential for all Australians to have a fast and reliable service, for business, education, security and even health needs.
It impacts every part of our lives and is no longer a luxury - it's a necessity and a right.
Mobile and internet service availability are also critical to the growth of our regions if we are to attract new residents and opportunities.
It's therefore imperative that any discussion around telecommunication service obligations puts everything on the table and rural and regional Australia is assured of a 'fit for purpose' deal suited to not only today, but into the future as well.
At the same time as this consultation on the USO is underway, the federal government will be undertaking a review into the Optus outage, announcing this intention the day after the incident, saying it was "critical that industry and governments take stock following large-scale outages".
The outcomes should be keenly watched by all Australians and if additional government intervention is required to ensure the reliability and integrity of our telecommunications services - and avoid another catastrophic outage - then that's the road we need to take. Because a fit-for-purpose USO is nothing without fit-for-purpose networks to secure that promise.
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