NFF cool on

30 May, 2002 07:00 PM
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sweeteners

By CHELSEA CORMELL

TELSTRA bush sweeteners failed to sway the National Farmers Federation during its annual conference.

Despite the launch of three new products by Telstra Country Wide, which extended phone coverage across Australia's entire land mass, NFF was not budged on the further sale of Telstra.

NFF reaffirmed that rural and regional services needed to match those in urban Australia before it would support the sale.

The new products included handheld mobile satellite phones, long range cordless phones and faster internet connection through a new broad band service.

TCW group managing director Doug Campbell said the "sweetner aspect" was merely that Telstra had responded to the needs of its rural customers.

He said existing digital and CDMA mobile phone networks serviced 98pc of homes and businesses but only covered 17pc of Australia's land mass.

The new satellite phones would cover the entire country including the Australian Economic Zone, which extended 200 nautical miles out to sea and all external Australian territories, except the Antarctica.

Costs would be more closely aligned with terrestrial mobile services than ever before, with 30 second blocks beginning at 43 cents, and monthly access fees of $88, making it a more attractive option, Mr Campbell said.

He said farmers would also benefit from new long range cordless phones , which extended up to 10kms from a home base station and could be used like an intercom, while more powerful broad band internet connections would make sending large business documents much easier.

NFF president Ian Donges said the latest products were just the first step in resolving major service provision shortages in rural and regional Australia, which was crucial before any further sale of Telstra took place.

He said talks between the NFF executive and Telstra staff prior to the opening of the conference had played an important role in advancing the process.

"An important part of their (Telstra) business is in rural Australia," he said.

"We have been actively involved in lobbying for a long time and they recognise the ongoing issues that need to be addressed."

NFF hoped rural communities would be provided equal services to their city counterparts and the government would install appropriate mechanisms to ensure ongoing equitable provision and service quality.

Mr Campbell admitted there was "a lot of problems to be solved" but said there was no reason rural services would have to suffer if the government continued to subsidised non-viable rural services, which had already allowed Telstra to widen CDMA mobile services.

"What the government has been doing is offering money through competitive tendering," he said.

"If they continue to do that there is no reason we can't continue to improve services."

Telstra was currently bidding for tenders to extend mobile services to towns with less than 500 people and improve highway services, he said.

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