THE NEWS that mobile phone coverage, a marginal bet at the best of times in many areas is under pressure due to increased data demand from tablet and smartphone users highlights the importance of an overarching policy on phone coverage.
In terms of fixed internet, the NBN, whether you agree with it or not, is a comprehensive blueprint, but in terms of mobile coverage, which will be how many rural customers will access the net the most, there still seems to be an ad hoc approach from government.
Telstra has indicated it will increase capacity in areas where there is increased demand, but we cannot rely on a commercial body to provide the necessary service.
We believe the government needs to view providing mobile service a similar nation-building exercise as our forefathers did creating our road and rail network all those years ago.
There’s no doubt that access to reliable mobile phone coverage will be as critical to running a viable business as having reliable transport links, especially with the increased focus on snap decision making in terms of farm management.
Already, rural business owners lag significantly behind their city counterparts in terms of access to services, and you can’t expect private enterprise to put up mobile towers out of the goodness of their heart.
We hesitate to call for government assistance for fears of being smacked down as simply asking for hand-outs, but instead, we’d ask government to consider bolstering the rural phone network as an investment.
A cost-to-benefit analysis would quickly reveal that the boost to rural business and productivity from a reliable mobile phone network would be well worth any investment made.
And why not encourage investment in rural areas? At present, with slow internet and patchy mobile service, businesses are put off investing in rural, as opposed to regional, areas when they would otherwise fit the bill perfectly.
With our cities bursting at the seams, surely creating business and employment opportunities out of the major centres makes sense.
It makes sense on an instinctive level too – why should residents of rural Australia have to suffer sub-par services simply because of the tyranny of distance.
We have a situation where rural infrastructure right across the board is running ragged and in danger of falling markedly behind what is available in the cities. Some proactive governance right now can ensure farm businesses are on a level playing field in terms of communications at least.