Govt examines how NBN could help mobile coverage

The Australian Government will look into how the NBN's fixed-wireless network could be used to improve mobile coverage.
Written by Michael Lee, Contributor on

The Australian Government has responded (PDF) to the 2011-12 Regional Telecommunications Review report, stating that it will commit to reviewing whether the National Broadband Network's (NBN) fixed-wireless network could improve mobile coverage in rural areas of the country. It has also said that it will have to consider whether it is necessary to audit telecommunications carriers' network maps.

The telco review recommended that the government look into increasing mobile coverage in rural areas; however, the government said that it will first conduct a review of how NBN Co's fixed-wireless network will affect mobile coverage before it makes any commitment to funding a program to extend mobile network coverage. It believes that NBN Co's towers could "provide mobile carriers with an opportunity to negotiate access to these towers and improve their mobile phone coverage in certain locations across regional areas".

At the moment, it is working with the industry to deal with the issue of high numbers of rural customer complaints about the areas that mobile networks actually cover versus the coverage claims of carriers. The government believes that many of these complaints are due to a lack of consumer understanding about coverage limitations, so it is conducting a review of what point-of-sale materials are provided to customers, as well as looking into the various complaints processes. The review also recommended audits of the carriers' coverage, but the government would not commit to this, saying only that it would consider the matter.

If it does decide to conduct an audit, it could draw on expertise gathered from the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE), which has "previously operated a compliance framework for the Australian Broadband Guarantee program, which included conducting technical audits to determine whether 3G wireless coverage was capable of providing metro-comparable broadband services in regional and remote areas".

The government has not agreed to, but has taken under consideration a recommendation by the review that the DBCDE offer a number of services that are currently only available on the NBN on other networks.

However, the government has agreed to the principle of uniform national wholesale pricing, which ensures that people living in rural, remote and regional Australia will pay the same wholesale price for broadband as those living in cities. The NBN operates on the principle that people in cities will cross subsidise rural customers, so that there is a uniform national price.

Schools, health facilities and indigenous communities in these remote areas have also been included among those that are allowed to apply for and access the Interim Satellite Service, which has been in operation since 1 July.

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