Friday, 23 October 2015 07:43

Regional Australia needs urgent nbn attention: report Featured

By Lauraine McDonald

A review of the adequacy of telecommunications services in regional Australia has made a dozen recommendations to improve mobile coverage, maximise benefits from the NBN rollout and develop consumer safeguards.

The Regional Telecommunications Review was released yesterday by the Regional Telecommunications Independent Committee (RTIC), chaired by former Telstra executive Deena Schiff.

Submissions to the review confirmed that the quality and extent of mobile coverage was a major concern of people in regional Australia.

Regional Australians have a higher dependency on mobiles than their urban counterparts because of the broader geographic range within which many conduct their working and everyday lives.

And while Australians enjoy among the highest penetration of mobile broadband in the world, the low population density over the remaining geography means that new approaches are needed to assess the priorities of those in the 70 per cent of Australia’s land mass that has no mobile coverage, and to improve poor coverage elsewhere.

Maximising the rollout of the national broadband network for the benefit of regional Australia also features strongly in the report.

While it acknowledged that there is no ideal solution for all remote users (particularly many remote Indigenous  communities), or one that will be a perfect fit with all applications, it claimed the LTSS will be a big step up and can support other services. For example, as well as providing improved direct-to-home services, it could provide the backhaul for a WiFi hotspot.

And it recommended that this significant investment should be leveraged.

The third area of concern centres around consumer safeguards for the future to replace the Universal Services Obligation (USO) of the past.

The Committee recommends the development of a new safeguard in the form of a Consumer Communication Standard for voice and data which would provide technology neutral standards in terms of availability, accessibility, affordability, performance and reliability.

The implementation of the Standard would be based on consultation and market experience. The Standard could, for example, include such matters as social tariffs, other measures for low income groups, or the data plan exemption of selected government and education sites to improve affordability and support social inclusion.

See a summary of the recommendations following.

Recommendation 1. Remove restrictions on wholesale satellite operations if they preclude improvements to end user experience.

Recommendation 2. Restructure NBN Co’s Fair Use Policy and wholesale tariffs.

Recommendation 3. Extend the boundaries of nbn’s Fixed Wireless footprint (where practicable) as a substitute for satellite.

Recommendation 4. A co-investment scheme between Australian Government and state governments and carriers to upgrade regional state-based public safety wireless networks that could also deliver mobile coverage improvements.

Recommendation 5. Any major public infrastructure funding from Australian Government should include a telecommunications upgrade component.

Recommendation 6 –Infrastructure Australia should collect and make available public data and information about any infrastructure that might assist telecommunications investors.
Recommendation 7 –NBN Co should be permitted, and resourced, to provide carrier-to-carrier products that could include satellite backhaul, terrestrial backhaul for mobile carriers, and options to support new and niche infrastructure providers.

Recommendation 8 – Establish a new Consumer Communication Standard for voice and data which sets technology neutral standards in terms of availability, accessibility, affordability, performance and reliability.

Recommendation 9 – The Australian Government should establish a new funding mechanism, to replace the current levy and support loss-making regional infrastructure and services.

Recommendation 10 – The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network should continue to make representations on the affordability and accessibility of services, including the promotion of tools to help consumers make more informed decisions regarding their services.

Recommendation 11 – NBN Co and the Department of Communications should examine  ways of providing better information on the timing and the range of technologies being rolled out across Australia.

Recommendation 12 – Data on availability and affordability of broadband data and voice services (including mobile services) should be collected and reported annually.

The full report is available here.

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