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Telstra improves rural services - but is it enough?

Telstra improves rural services
Written by Abby Dinham, Contributor
Telstra claims it is sticking to its rural obligations as recommended by the Telecommunications Services (Estens) Inquiry in a report released today, saying it has invested more than $8 million dollars in updating 54 rural and regional exchange areas to date.

The 22-page report card outlines the company's progress in meeting the 19 recommendations tendered by the Estens report last November, including improvements such as faster response times for phone connection requests and repairs, more high-speed Internet solutions and enhanced services for people with disabilities.

Telstra countrywide managing director, Doug Campbell, says he is proud of the company's rural efforts, adding that the three-and-a-half-year-old operation is now making a lasting difference to rural service delivery.

"Our report on actions as a result of the Estens Inquiry further highlights the great advances that have been made," Campbell said.

However, veteran telecommunications analyst Paul Budde says that although in general terms the rural advancements are a positive move the upgrades have been long overdue.

-Thanks to Estens it happened. Telstra had to be pushed into action to do it," said Budde, adding that the next step is to provide a physical exchange.

-The current network itself is simply not capable of running broadband services, more is needed than an upgrade to the current exchange," Budde said.

Campbell admits that considerable challenges remain in servicing rural Australia, however he claims that the 54 exchange service areas (ESAs) identified by the Estens report as needing improvements will all be upgraded by the end of this month.

"Remediation works at these ESAs are reducing faults and, in many cases, allowing us to provide customers with better data speeds or access to more products," said Campbell.

Furthermore, Telstra says it plans to spend $31 million on a fast wireless data service for rural districts, which it claims will give 98 percent of the population access to its technology.

However, Budde maintains that a much larger investment is required to bring the regional network "up to scratch", and suggests a price tag of around $5 billion may be a little more appropriate.

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