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Farm sector hopes key reviews will improve inadequate telecommunications services

6 September 2016

Actions by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to investigate the telecommunications sector have been welcomed by the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) as it continues to advocate for adequate and fair coverage and connectivity in the bush.

The measures, announced yesterday, include:
• An issues paper to gather feedback from industry and consumers as part of its market study into the communications sector; and,
• A new ACCC inquiry to consider declaration of a wholesale domestic roaming service.

NFF President, Brent Finlay, said it was no secret many rural and regional Australians endured sub-standard connectivity and hoped these measures would yield practical actions to help remedy this imbalance.

“We know that people, families and businesses in rural and regional areas do not enjoy the same level of service of competition in the telecommunications markets that metropolitan customers do and that this is for a range of reasons including access to networks and infrastructure,” Mr Finlay said.

“This is increasingly unacceptable given the bearing it has on productivity, community prosperity and personal safety, particularly given the growing reliance on technology in commerce, agricultural innovation and health care.”

Mr Finlay said the inquiry into wholesale domestic roaming would be helpful to rural customers given it would investigate if access to roaming across carriers would enable greater competition for mobile services in areas where providers do not have their own network.

“This has long been a point of discussion as it is unclear if roaming would be of real assistance or would discourage new investment in telecommunications infrastructure, and we welcome this option being further assessed,” Mr Finlay said.

“Additionally, the market study into the communications sector will be an important process for rural and regional telecommunications users given it will help identify current and emerging competition issues in the sector.

“This is particularly timely in light of the NBN rollout, and recent findings about performance of the Mobile Blackspot Programme.

“We know that regional customers are being stuck with higher phone and internet bills than those in metropolitan areas, and competition is part of the remedy.”

Mr Finlay said better mobile coverage, greater competition and fair pricing were the greatest issues faced by regional telecommunications customers.

“These issues need to be addressed long-term to close the digital divide between rural and urban Australia.”

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