Those living in regional, rural and remote areas have a different reliance on broadband and telephone services than urban consumers. Many rural consumers rely on their internet connection to run their businesses and educate their children, as well as to perform day to day tasks, access entertainment and keep in touch with friends and family.
The rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) promises to deliver improved telecommunications for many regional and rural consumers. NBN’s Sky Muster satellites will provide internet services to around 400,000 premises in regional, rural and remote Australia.
Consumers accessing the internet via satellite have concerns over the reliability of these services and the limited data plans available. Regional and rural consumers also frequently express frustration at the lack of mobile phone coverage in these areas.
These concerns led to the formation of the Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition. The Coalition is a group of 20 like-minded organisations that have joined together to highlight collective concerns about telecommunications issues in regional, rural and remote Australia.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) represents consumers in the telecommunications industry and is a member of the Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition. (The National Rural Health Alliance is also a member of the Coalition.)
The Coalition has identified five key outcomes that it hopes to achieve:
Guaranteed access to voice and data services
Wherever Australians work and live, they should have guaranteed minimum access to data and voice services. This should ensure that the network will deliver for existing and future residential, agricultural, health and education applications.
Customer service guarantees to ensure that voice and data services meet minimum standards and reliability
Currently only voice services are guaranteed. Consumers often express frustration about the level of performance on voice services and that data is not included. Guarantees need to be updated to include connection and repair timeframes, reliability, adequate performance levels of data services and safeguards for vulnerable consumers.
Continued expansion of mobile coverage
The Coalition is asking for an ongoing commitment from Government to spend $60m each year on the Mobile Black Spot Program, or an equivalent program, which prioritises community identified areas and equipment that is open to use by all mobile network providers.
Fair and equitable access to Sky Muster satellite services for those with a genuine need for the service, and plans and data allowances which reflect the residential, educational and business needs of rural and regional Australia
Consumers using Sky Muster satellite services are most likely to have no other reliable broadband options. The needs of these consumers should be prioritised so they have access to adequate services.
Support for digital literacy and capacity building
The Coalition is asking for $5 million funding per year for a grants program for independent digital technical support and capacity building in rural and remote areas.
2017 is a big year for telecommunications across Australia. The Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition is looking forward to engaging in important consultations and reviews to ensure that our outcomes are achieved. In the Consumer Safeguards Review, we will be asking for safeguards to be extended to include connection and repair timeframes, reliability, adequate performance levels of data services and safeguards for vulnerable consumers. The Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code review is reviewing consumer protections in the areas of sales, service and contracts, billing, credit and debt management, changing suppliers and complaint handling. The Coalition will also be calling for a commitment of funding beyond Round 3 of the Mobile Black Spot Program.