After banding together late last year, the 17 organisations making up the Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition (RRRCC) have descended on Canberra this week to meet with politicians about the need to improve communications in rural, regional, and remote Australia.
The group, which brings together organisations representing agriculture, education, women, and telecommunications users across regional Australia, is asking politicians to consider the five initiatives it has put forward to improve bush communications.
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.
Fiona Simson, president of the National Farmers’ Federation, said that rurally-based Australians are struggling to run their businesses, educate their children, and complete day-to-day tasks online due to unreliable telecommunications services.
“Our mission is to highlight to parliamentarians the widening-gap between the digital-haves and the digital have-nots – unfortunately the digital have-nots are increasingly regional people,” she explained.
Closing the gap, Simson said, will not only enable regional Australians to go about their lives, but also provide “enormous opportunity” for further development of business, in particular agriculture, and the delivery of health, education services, and social interactions.
The RRRCC states that its members include some of the most innovative businesses and individuals in Australia, however they remain locked out of future economic growth and prosperity through the digital divide, undermining Australia’s productivity.
While technology being developed in the agriculture space has much to offer Australian farmers, for example, the reality is that many can’t make the most of it due to the simple fact that they can’t actually access these platforms when they need them due to poor connectivity.
Teresa Corbin, CEO of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, part of the RRRCC, said it is “a matter of national importance and urgency” to ensure that all Australians have access to adequate, reliable, and affordable internet, voice, and mobile phone services.
“We are here to ensure the plight of regional, rural and remotely-based Australians, when it comes to telecommunications and connectivity is understood, valued and commitments are made to improving it,” she said.