Your call is important to us

Reliable communications are an essential service, not a luxury, in many parts of the country

THE ABBA refrain, "Ring ring, why don't you give me a call?" takes on an ironic edge for many people living outside the bigger centres.

For them, it's a case of: "Ring, ring, why CAN'T I give you a call?"

For anyone living outside the major rural population centres, inadequate phone and satellite coverage is more than just a "First World problem."

Even the federal government has acknowledged the magnitude of the problem after being swamped by bush residents with limited or no telephone or satellite connectivity. More than 4000 submissions were received from throughout Australia during the mobile phone black spot program inquiry.

The government has promised to extend mobile coverage and competition, committing $100 million over the next four years to improvements and upgrades.

But there are already concerns throughout the bush that it will not be enough.

The roll-out of the National Broadband Network (NBN) saw providers wind back provision of new services, concentrating instead on upgrading existing coverage.

That has meant a lag in new services in many sparsely populated parts of Victoria for example, from the mountainous areas around Wangaratta to the cereal-and-pulse-producing plains of the Mallee. A snapshot of the Wangaratta area is sufficient to show some of the challenges faced by rural residents.

Local landline telephone exchanges are outdated and unable to handle Internet traffic, while satellite is unreliable, slow and intermittent. This puts a burden on agribusiness, which is relying more and more on new technology.

There are also concerns about safety and mental health issues.

Isolated farmers and graziers are increasingly dependent on the Internet for a community connection through social media, which has been shown to be beneficial in promoting good mental health.

The other question at the forefront of producers' minds is how the federal government will respond to release of the cost-benefit analysis of the NBN this week.

The report said providing wireless services to the bush exceeded the benefits by almost $7000 a household.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has acknowledged access to telecommunications and broadband is a "very, very fundamental need" for all.

There is no doubt adequate and reliable communications are as much of a right as are water security and meeting energy needs. They are an essential service, not just a luxury, in many parts of the country.

How the government addresses the cost of this fundamental need will be closely scrutinised.

StockLand
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READER COMMENTS

Ivan
17/09/2014 10:32:41 PM

Now you phone will listen to their merry music on your behalf! The application waits for the operator's voice on the line and signals when this happens.
A matter of opinionA selection of editorials from around the Fairfax Agricultural Media group covering the issues of the week.

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