A Government pulse check of regional telecommunications has made 10 recommendations to improve the service experience of regional, rural and remote users.
National Farmers’ Federation President Fiona Simson welcomed the 2018 Regional Telecommunications Review, carried out every three years, and said the recommendations, if implemented, would deliver profound improvements to telecommunications and connectivity in the bush.
“The Review has picked up many of the issues, the NFF membership and indeed members of the Regional, Rural & Remote Communications Coalition (RRRCC), of which NFF is a member, identified in submissions to the review,” Ms Simson said.
Ms Simson said a focus on ‘digital inclusion’ and recommendations for increased data limits, more equitable data meterage and enhanced digital literacy were highly valued.
“Too often, regional NBN users have their data chewed up by completing Government compliance tasks. Unmetered data for use of Government websites and a review of existing Sky Muster data limits are therefore welcomed.”
Ms Simson said having the skills to troubleshoot connectivity issues and to understand the capability of the technology on offer was also important.
“We welcome the Review’s identification of the need to improve digital literacy and the recommendations for the establishment of a technology ‘hub’ and the appointment of technical advisers across regional Australia to provide one-on-one help to consumers.
“The recommendation for the Government to support the farm sector to better realise the capability of the Internet of Things and industry-specific digital applications is also crucial.
“The NFF is already working with the NBN to connect farmer achieving great things with digital technology with other farmers.”
Ms Simson said she was pleased the Review endorsed NFF’s request that the Universal Service Obligations for landlines remain until a fit-for-purpose alternative voice option is available for those consumers served by the Sky Muster satellite service.
“For many farmers a landline is still the only, and/or most reliable telecommunications option. By supporting the current USO arrangements, the Government has demonstrated its understanding of the importance of the landline, not only for social and business reasons but also for health, safety and emergency purposes.
“Our members also welcome an awareness of the need to out in place measures improve landline repair times and processes.”
Ms Simson said the hard work was now ahead of the Government.
“We look forward to the Government, through Ministers Fifield and McKenzie, implementing these practical but potentially highly impactful recommendations.
“Access to a mobile phone network and a reliable and affordable internet connection is something many Australians take for granted but not those living outside the city bounds.
“We thank the Government for continuing to invest in and carrying out the Regional Telecommunications Review.”
Summary of Recommendations:
Access to Infrastructure
Recommendation 1: To give effect to NBN Co’s stated commitments to upgrading its network, we recommend that:
- The company establish clear criteria to provide transparency about planned future technology upgrades and indicative timings of these upgrades in regional, rural and remote We suggest that future technology upgrades initially focus on high value agricultural areas, business precincts, public interest premises, and the regional tourism sector.
- The Government require NBN Co to adjust the area switch element of its Technology Choice Program so that it can be a financial co-contributor with other interested
- NBN Co should assign responsibility for improving and upgrading the fixed-wireless and satellite networks to an experienced member of the company’s senior executive management In addition, at least one member of the Board of Directors should have relevant skills and experience in regional, rural and remote issues.
Recommendation 2: The Government commits to a large scale, multi-year Stronger Regional Connectivity Package to improve broadband and mobile services in areas of high economic, social and public safety significance, particularly in areas served
predominantly by the Sky Muster satellite service. Investment to be guided by a strategic place-based approach.
Recommendation 3: The committee recommends no changes to the current Universal Service Obligation arrangements until there are fit-for-purpose alternative voice options for those consumers served by the Sky Muster satellite service.
Recommendation 4: The committee recommends that industry be asked to bring forward new and innovative solutions for providing voice services in rural and remote Australia, particularly for areas served by the High Capacity Radio Concentrator (HCRC) network.
Recommendation 5: The committee recommends that the Government undertake an audit that focuses on:
- Repair times for landline services for those living in regional, rural and remote areas that are not fixed within the specified Customer Service Guarantee
- Measures the impact of Customer Service Guarantee exemptions such as mass disruption events on repair times in regional, rural and remote
Penalties should be considered for excessive repair timeframes.
Recommendation 6: The committee recommends:
- Independent measuring of the performance of fixed-wireless and satellite NBN services in regional areas to better understand where problems may lie in the supply chain that negatively impact on end-users.
- Truth in advertising and reporting about the quality of services consumers will receive during peak
Recommendation 7: The existing data limits for Sky Muster services be reviewed with the aim of increasing data limits across the board. As a minimum, the spot beams that are underutilised should have data limits increased.
Recommendation 8: A targeted Indigenous Digital Inclusion program with a focus on access, affordability and digital ability be developed in partnership with Indigenous communities.
Recommendation 9: Governments and industry should reduce barriers to people engaging with essential services online, including unmetering data for access to government sites.
Recommendation 10: The Government commit to improving digital literacy in regional, rural and remote Australia by:
- Developing an online technology ‘hub’ to provide independent and factual information to help support people to build up the skills to solve telecommunications
- Deploying technical advisers on a short-term basis across regional, rural and remote Australia to provide on-the-ground support to help people get connected and stay connected, using technologies that are suitable to their individual
- Encouraging the agriculture sector to provide industry-specific advice about the Internet of Things and other digital applications that will drive productivity gains in the sector.
Source: NFF. Read the full report here