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While there are dozens of feel-good stories out there of business booming in regional areas thanks to the roll out of the NBN, for countless other communities across regional and rural Australia the situation is dire.

As a result, over a dozen advocacy groups have come together to launch a coalition focused on ending the ‘data drought’ and championing better communications services for consumers and small businesses in rural, remote, or regional areas around Australia.

Teresa Corbin, CEO of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), explained that the new Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition (RRRCC) was formed to highlight the concerns of families, and businesses in rural and regional Australia about the “lack of equitable access to reliable and quality telecommunications services” in their communities.

“2017 must be the year of delivering real improvements to digital connectivity in the bush,” she said.

With the Country Women’s Association of NSW, the National Farmers’ Federation, and AgForce Queensland among its members, the new group has outlined five fundamental outcomes it wants to achieve.

These are the provision of a universal service obligation (USO) that is technology-neutral and provides access to both voice and data; customer service guarantees and reliability measures to underpin the provision of voice and data services and deliver more accountability from providers and nbn; and long term public funding for open access mobile network expansion in rural and regional Australia.

Also among the outcomes the group is looking for is fair and equitable access to Sky Muster satellite services for those with a genuine need for the service, with access reflecting the residential, educational, and business of rural and regional Australia, and fully resourced capacity building programs that build digital ability and provide learning and effective problem solving support for regional, rural, and remote businesses and consumers.

Tony Mahar, CEO of the NFF, said that his organisation’s members include some of the most innovative businesses and individuals in Australia, however they remain locked out of future economic growth and prosperity because of the digital divide.

“Without leadership and change, Australia risks growing and entrenching the digital divide between urban and rural telecommunications users. We risk undermining the opportunities presented by digital innovation to the farming community and rural Australia as a whole,” he said.

A number of the outcomes listed by the group have been the subject of debate and reviewed for potential reform over the last few months.

The current USO, for example, may be reformed following the recommendations of a Regional Telecommunications Independent Review earlier this year. As it stands the USO mandates Telstra as the fixed-line phone service provider of last resort, with no obligation to provide internet services; following the review Treasurer Scott Morrison stated that as the NBN is rolled out, it will instead become the provider of last resort.

The NBN’s Sky Muster satellite program has also been in the news recently, with its second satellite launched in October just a few weeks after an outage hit its first satellite. With the satellite capacity finite, the Sky Muster program operates through a fair use policy with an on peak and off peak model; combined download limits are set at 150GB per month.

The RRRCC will be campaigning on these issues over the next few months to effect change.

Image: Teresa Corbin. Source: news.com.au

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