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USO reform plan charts largely positive course for farmers

20 December 2017

The National Farmers Federation (NFF) has welcomed the Federal Government's announced plan for the reform of the Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation (USO).

The plan completes the Government’s response to the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into the issue.

“We are pleased this report has been released and we welcome the process that it sets out," NFF President Fiona Simson said.

“It has been some time coming, but we believe there are a number of positives for farmers.

"However, there are also issues that still need to be addressed."

Ms Simson said access to improved telecommunications services in regional, rural and remote Australia was imperative to facilitate economic growth across agriculture through innovation in production, improved market access and enhanced consumer connectivity.

“At present a lack of access to reliable, affordable and efficient telecommunications is hampering the adoption of innovative technologies that are so crucial to enabling agriculture to grow.

“Now this report is in the public domain we are calling on all parties and relevant stakeholders to commit to meaningful USO reform.

"The NFF certainly undertakes to engage meaningfully in the reform process.”

Ms Simson said the NFF was pleased with the Government’s commitment to all households having access to broadband services and Parliament's intention to enact the Telecommunications Reform Package currently being considered so that this can become a statutory right.

“However, we will need to consider the path forward for guaranteed voice services very carefully.

“The response indicates a heavy reliance on mobile services, something that we have been saying for a long time needs fixing in the bush.

“We have been strong advocates for the Mobile Blackspots Program and the Government must now commit to subsequent rounds as a matter of priority.

“We will need to examine carefully any plan for voice services to be transitioned to national broadband network (nbn) infrastructure.

"Much of this revolved around the fact that the Skymuster satellite service was currently too unreliable to be considered a meaningful alternative to copper landlines – as well as the fact it was never designed for voice services.”

Ms Simson said the NFF believed that the current copper continuity obligation should be maintained as a transitionary measure until such a point in time that the reliability of voice could be guaranteed.

“It is also clear that significant research into the reliability of alternatives to copper technology must be invested into, and invested into significantly.”

"When all is said and done, rural regional and remote telecommunication users will rightfully question the reliability of new technology," Ms Simson said.

“It is imperative that, should the Federal Government move away from copper technology for voice services, the reliability of new alternative technologies are first proven beyond doubt.

“Voice services are literally a lifeline for many rural Australians – this lifeline must not be handled speculatively.

Ms Simson said USO reform before 2032 when the current arrangements were due to expire, raised the question of how any residual funding could be used.

“The NFF will be seeking a commitment from the Federal Government that residual funding will be used for the benefit of regional, rural and remote Australians through a dedicated funding mechanism.”

Media Enquiries: Laureta Wallace
P 0408 448 250

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