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Slow steps on telecomms: farmers call for greater speed

24 August 2012

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has called for greater action on telecommunications following the Federal Government’s response to the Regional Telecommunications Review.

“In May, the Regional Telecommunications Review reported, highlighting the need for vastly improved telecommunications services in regional Australia,” NFF President Jock Laurie said.

“Yesterday, the Government responded, and while their response is a step in the right direction for improving telecommunications, it still leaves some critical areas unaddressed.

“While we recognise and welcome the Government’s continued commitment to ensuring uniform national wholesale prices for broadband access, and improving the information for consumers on access to these services – for people in regional areas, broadband is just one element in a range of telecommunications services that must be improved.

“Ensuring adequate mobile phone coverage is one such critical issue. Mobile black spots are frustrating for farmers and indeed all in regional communities: both in terms of utilising the phone, and accessing the data network.

“Farming is an incredible technologically-savvy industry, yet there’s no point in farmers having all of these incredible applications for farm management - like weed control apps, chemical label readers and GPS devices – if we simply cannot get reliable access to the telecommunications network.

“We particularly welcome the Government’s commitment yesterday to work with the agricultural sector to develop digital strategies to improve the uptake of telecommunications innovation, which should result in increased productivity benefits. However, these gains will not be fully realised until we see improved services in rural Australia.

“We are also pleased to see that the Government’s response provides some commonsense in using the infrastructure provided by the NBN fixed-wireless rollout to improve mobile coverage by co-location of services. This is a positive move, and we hope to see additional commonsense solutions like these from the Government.

“However, while these moves are steps in the right direction, they do not entirely fix the telecommunications problem. We are disappointed, for instance, that the Government did not commit to continuing the Satellite Phone Subsidy Scheme yesterday – as unless the necessary mobile infrastructure is improved, more people in regional areas will rely on satellite phones.

“At the end of the day, it is essential that farming families, rural businesses and country communities have equal accessibility, reliability, quality and affordability in the telecommunications services they access as those in urban areas do – and the NFF will continue to lobby to ensure that this is achieved,” Mr Laurie said.

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