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ACS: 'We must provide net and mobile to bush'

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) has called on the government to broaden the Universal Service Obligation (USO) provisions to include mobile and broadband.

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) has called on the government to broaden the Universal Service Obligation (USO) provisions to include mobile and broadband.

The USO was devised in 1999 to ensure that all people in Australia have reasonable access to standard telephone services and payphones.

In June, Minister for Communications Helen Coonan announced a review of the USO and requested submissions on how to improve the delivery of telecommunication services to Australia. ACS lodged its submission today, calling for the government to broaden USO provisions to include mobile and broadband.

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"The USO was written at a time when a standard fixed line service was all anyone needed, but times have changed," ACS telecommunications board director, Professor Reg Coutts said in a statement. "Australians need voice communications, e-mail and online access to services in order to play their part in society."

There is a "digital divide" between metropolitan areas and the bush and whichever party wins the upcoming election, Australia needs a USO that includes broadband and mobile technologies, he said.

"If people haven't experienced access to the Internet, they don't realise what's there and they fall further and further behind," Coutts told ZDNet Australia.

Even some businesses on the outskirts of Sydney lack access to broadband. "It's outrageous," Coutts said.

The ACS is calling for better collaboration between industry and government to deliver broadband coverage for all Australians.

The government should introduce a "use it or lose it" policy for wireless broadband spectrum, said Coutts. Currently providers can bid for large portions of frequency and leave it idle. Bandwidth is being hoarded by larger providers, preventing smaller wireless ISPs from establishing networks, he said.

Broadening the USO will open up new possibilities to provide services to remote communities, Coutts explained. Mobile technologies are more appropriate than fixed lines for regions like the Northern Territory where indigenous communities are prevented from participating in the economy because of a lack of access to mobile phone networks, he also said.