A GROUP of like-minded advocacy groups has come together to end the data drought by championing better communications services for consumers and small businesses living in rural, remote or regional areas.
The Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition includes the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF), the Country Women’s Association of NSW, the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association (ICPA) and AgForce Queensland.
“The Coalition was formed to highlight the collective concerns of families, businesses and communities in rural and regional Australia about the lack of equitable access to reliable and quality telecommunications services in regional, rural and remote Australia,” ACCAN CEO, Teresa Corbin, said.
“2017 must be the year of delivering real improvements to digital connectivity in the bush.”
The Coalition has developed five fundamental outcomes as measures of equitable connectivity for regional and remote consumers:. They are ambitious and achievable, and they reflect the pressing need for change.
The five outcomes are:
- A universal service obligation 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;
- Long term public funding for open access mobile network expansion in rural and regional Australia;
- Fair and equitable access to Sky Muster satellite services for those with a genuine need for the service, and access which reflects the residential, educational and business needs 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.
NFF CEO, Tony Mahar, said the organisation was pleased to be a member of the Coalition.
“Our members include some of the most innovative businesses and individuals in Australia. Yet we remain locked out of future economic growth and prosperity through the digital divide which is undermining Australia’s productivity,” he said.
“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.”
Country Women’s Association of NSW President, Annette Turner, said beyond growing productivity, ending the data drought was also immensely valuable for rural, regional and remote communities.
“Getting better digital connectivity in the bush can have such a positive impact on people’s lives and also assist in overcoming the tyrannies of distance. With good connectivity, educational outcomes are improved, health services can be streamlined and business can flourish,” she said.
ICPA federal president, Wendy Hick, said access, reliability and affordability of service were the most pressing communication issues for rural families.
“ICPA welcomes the opportunity to work with those advocating for a fair go when it comes to accessing communication services,” she said.
“We look forward to contributing to discussions to ensure families living and working in rural and remote Australia have equity of access to a continuing and appropriate education.”
AgForce Queensland vice-president, Georgie Somerset, said putting an end to the data drought was one of the highest priorities.
“Effective and affordable mobile phone and internet services provide an economic and social lifeline for people in the bush,” she said.
“It’s an essential part of everyday life and is vitally important for community safety, to support business development, enhance children’s education and maintain social connections.
“That’s why it’s so important for all levels of government and all sides of politics to collaborate with the telecommunications industry to extend and improve services in the bush as quickly as possible.”
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