Regional review highlights NBN, mobile

Regional review highlights NBN, mobile

Summary: Poor mobile coverage across the nation is the biggest telecommunications concern for regional Australians, an independent review has found.

TOPICS: Mobility, Telcos

Poor mobile coverage across the nation is the biggest telecommunications concern for regional Australians, an independent review has found.

The government released the 2011-12 Regional Telecommunications Independent Committee Review yesterday.

It said that the adequacy of mobile voice and broadband services was raised in all 20 regional locations, and in around two thirds of the 222 submissions.

"The committee accepts that there are commercial limits to expanding mobile-network coverage, but it is equally clear there is strong, unmet demand in regional Australia for an expansion of the mobile-coverage footprint," the report said.

Among the report's 34 recommendations is a jointly funded program by the commonwealth and states or territory governments to expand mobile coverage in regional Australia.

Fixed-line phone service remains a key focus, as it is the only reliable service for many people in regional Australia, review chair Rosemary Sinclair said.

Sinclair said that regional consumers need assurance that their interests will be protected as the telecommunications sector undergoes significant change.

The roll-out of the National Broadband Network (NBN) in regional Australia and the commitment to uniform national wholesale pricing are considered as being significant steps in providing reliable and affordable high-speed broadband services to the regions, Sinclair said.

Despite this, Shadow Minister for Regional Communications Luke Hartsuyker used the results of the report to say that the government shouldn't be spending so much money on the NBN, as the regional Australians canvassed in the report are plainly more worried about mobile reception than about broadband speeds.

"What this review confirms is the Gillard government has got its priorities wrong on regional telecommunications, and the minister is completely out of touch with regional Australia," Hartsuyker said. "The review committee makes it very clear that mobile coverage is the number-one concern in regional Australia."

The focus on mobile questions the investment in the NBN, he said.

"For a fraction of the cost of the NBN, the government could deliver high-speed broadband to all Australians, plus upgraded mobile services," he said.

As part of its roll-out, the NBN is delivering broadband services to small regional areas by fixed-wireless long-term evolution (LTE) technology. This will require NBN Co to build a number of new mobile towers; however, the company has already run into trouble, with the Golden Plains Shire Council in Ballarat rejecting one tower. The council has committed to working with NBN Co to find a more suitable location for the tower, though.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, meanwhile, has seized on the report, pointing out that the review found that there is a "genuine desire across regional Australia" for the broadband services that the NBN will provide; that the government's commitment to uniform wholesale prices on the NBN is "essential"; and that better broadband would drive regional economic development.

"This independent review has confirmed that people living in regional, rural and remote Australia are backing the Gillard government's investment in the NBN, and our decision to prioritise the roll-out in regional areas," he said.

Topics: Mobility, Telcos

Suzanne Tindal

About Suzanne Tindal

Suzanne Tindal cut her teeth at as the site's telecommunications reporter, a role that saw her break some of the biggest stories associated with the National Broadband Network process. She then turned her attention to all matters in government and corporate ICT circles. Now she's taking on the whole gamut as news editor for the site.

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  • Use the force Luke... FFS
  • I live in a small country town & have done since 2002. When I got to this town it had no mobile phone & no broadband.

    The only reason why we have mobile & internet today is the Greens & Labour made the Howard Government pass legislation that forced Telstra to install services in some country area's (where enough people complained) before Telstra could be sold of.

    Don't think for one second the Howard government would have given this service had they not been trying to sell Telstra. The Howard government sold an asset to make their books looks good.

    Is this good management? No, its a short term gain at the expense of us tax payers who no doubt will end up paying more tax because the government now has less income.
  • Shadow Minister for Regional Communications Luke Hartsuyker has got it wrong. Regional consumers want improved mobile services AND the NBN. Broadband services delivered through the mobile phone network are too expensive, have limited data allowances and the services is highly variable according to geography, level of congestion and weather conditions.

    Given that the roll-out of mobile phone services are driven by purely commercial considerations, perhaps a Federal Government subsidy to encourage the delivery of mobile phone services to rural areas might be a solution.
  • Who is Luke Hartsuyker? He must be the Apprentice FUDster.

    As PaulPC has already said regional consumers want, deserve and are entitled to have reliable Broadband and Mobile services the equal of city dwellers.
    Unfortunately, despite the bleatings of the free marketeers, regional areas will never achieve this without Govt funded infrastructure.
    I have long held the view that we should have a ubiquitous mobile network as well as broadband and let the competition begin at the retail level.
    Currently all of the network owners are sinking capital into their own network builds and upgrades which results in duplication of infrastructure, over capacity in some areas and no capacity in others. All of this investment must provide a return to shareholders so it is the consumers of the product that ultimately foot the bill.
    If the population of Australia was jammed into an area the size of Victoria or NSW then it would be a different proposition, but given the size of the country it is never going to be economic for private enterprise to provide a consistent high quality service to all Australians, hence the need to Govt owned networks.