Tuesday, 07 February 2017 17:53

More to be done to rid regions of mobile blackspots, says ACCAN Featured


The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) says not enough has been done to get rid of mobile phone blackspots in rural and regional areas of the country and it wants the government to allocate more funding to help alleviate the problems.

The ACCAN, the peak industry body looking after the interests of telecoms consumers, has urged the federal government, in its pre-budget submissions for the 2017-2018 budget, to allocate funding across all telecommunications initiatives that will benefit consumers.

As well as a call for more funding of the blackspot programme, the ACCAN has recommended ongoing funding to ensure that the Universal Service Obligation (USO) continues until “new safeguards and programmes are in place and funding for a broadband performance monitoring programme”.

“The Mobile Black Spot Programme is delivering new or improved coverage for many areas across the country,” said ACCAN chief executive Teresa Corbin.

“The first two rounds of the programme will fund more than 750 new or upgraded mobile base stations, but there are many more mobile black spots that need funding, which is why we’re calling for ongoing funding for the programme in our pre-budget submission.”

The ACCAN has told the government that expansion of mobile coverage is critical in regional and rural areas where there remain premises, vital community areas and high traffic areas that have no mobile coverage.

The Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition,  of which ACCAN is a member, is also calling for an ongoing funding commitment for mobile expansion in rural and regional Australia.

As reported by iTWire, last week the ACCAN raised concerns around the Productivity Commission’s draft report on the USO at a public hearing in Sydney.

The ACCAN’s pre-budget submission recommends continued allocation of Commonwealth funding of $100 million per annum towards the existing USO until new safeguards and programs are in place and a longer term commitment to a minimum of the same level of funding for community telecommunications programmes.

The ACCAN said last week that the direction that the Productivity Commission has indicated the Universal Service Obligation will take may put some consumers at risk of having reduced services.

"Unfortunately, the USO is stuck in the past and is not relevant for all the services that consumers need these days, including broadband – something which we are thankful the Productivity Commission has recognised,” Corbin said.

Corbin said the ACCAN agrees with the Productivity Commission’s assessment that the USO must be modernised and reformed to include both voice and data services. “However, access to these services needs to be underpinned by comprehensive guarantees, standards and performance levels,” Corbin said.

In its pre-budget submission, ACCAN also recommends funding be allocated to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to conduct and report on independent broadband performance monitoring on an ongoing basis, with Corbin pointing out that ACCAN has long been calling for an independent broadband monitoring program to help consumers more easily choose services that suit their needs.

“Broadband plans are commonly advertised on headline speed claims which may only be achievable in ideal test conditions and are not what consumers should expect in real world everyday use,” Corbin notes.

“Consumers do not have access to information about which providers and services will deliver consistent performance. As a result, they may not be choosing the best services to suit their needs, or they may struggle to identify and rectify poor performance issues whenthey occur.”

As the ACCAN also notes, the need for a performance monitoring programme is reflected in the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman's 2015- 16 annual report which showed a 48% increase in complaints about slow data speeds – and is also supported by an ACCAN survey from early 2016 which showed confusion among consumers around broadband speed claims and advertising.

Corbin says ACCAN’s 2016 research with the South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS) demonstrated a need for a review of the Centrelink Telephone Allowance (CTA).

The CTA is a quarterly allowance designed to help consumers on income support payments to stay connected to telecommunications services and in a survey of low-income consumers, 62% reported difficulty paying, having to cut back, or having to stop using one or more telecommunications services for financial reasons in the past 12 months.

“Our pre-budget submission calls for the allocation of additional funding for an updated Commonwealth Telecommunications Allowance with baseline levels that reflect the real cost of contemporary telecommunications services, and improved targeting to assist those who needit most,” Corbin said.

The ACCAN submission also calls for funding to be allocated to the ABC to provide a minimum of 14 hours of audio-described content on its main channel and a minimum of 14 hours of audio description a week on ABC iView.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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