AS the Federal government continues to play catch-up with its investment in the nbn network, farmers and those living in regional areas are moving in droves to other commercial internet providers.
The Commonwealth's recent Federal Budget announcement of a $480 million cash injection to upgrade the entire nbn fixed wireless network is expected to provide up to one million premises in regional and remote Australia and in the urban fringe with access to higher speeds on nbn fixed wireless services or greater data limits on Sky Muster services.
The upgrade will do this by using the latest 4G and 5G wireless technology to extend the coverage range of fixed wireless towers and allow higher speed services to everyone served by the tower.
However GrainGrowers Limited chief executive Dave McKeon (pictured below) said the cumulative effect of years of poor levels of service and quality of product meant many farmers were finally fed up with the nbn and, as a result, had or were already in the process of making the switch to more efficient internet providers, such as Elon Musk's increasingly popular satellite internet service, Starlink.
"Through the election process we are looking to get a bit of focus on regional telecommunications, and while recent investments in the Budget are really good, for a lot of farmers it may be too little, too late," Mr McKeon said.
Anecdotally, Mr McKeon said farmers across the country had been conducting months of speed tests on the nbn and not getting anywhere near a speed that was useful for their lifestyle or their businesses.
"There are also big data caps - so they were running out of data regularly, but by switching to other commercial providers we are hearing that they are getting a faster service and no data caps, so they can get on with running their business using the latest technology," he said.
Arthur River sheep and cropping farmer Sam Burgess is one such farmer who recently switched to Starlink after being a customer of the nbn Sky Muster service for about five years.
"Sky Muster was super slow, you couldn't stream, you couldn't make video calls, you couldn't do anything," Mr Burgess said.
"I ended up having to use my phone to hotspot most of the time and it was costing me a fortune, not to mention the pain of having to do that each time I wanted to be connected."
Now in his third week since converting to Starlink, Mr Burgess said the difference in the speed and quality of the service was "unbelievable".
REGIONAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS REVIEW 2021
"It's the equivalent of going from 3G to 5G - the speed is sensational and it has definitely been worth the investment," Mr Burgess said.
"I was paying for Sky Muster and having to increase my phone plan and Starlink is pretty much working out to be about the same cost as I'm able to drop my phone plan back to where it used to be."
While the Federal government said the investment in the nbn provided a "comprehensive response" to Recommendation 6 of the Regional Telecommunications Review 2021, Mr McKeon said a multi-tiered approach was needed to meet the telecommunication needs of those living in Australia's regional areas, with the nation's mobile networks also requiring continual updating and investment.
"There are ongoing challenges around getting sufficient mobile coverage across our key grain growing regions," Mr McKeon said.
"While we're seeing telecommunications companies upgrading the quality of their towers, from 3G to 4G to 5G, we are hearing continued concerns from growers over what that will mean for the coverage footprint."
In order to address this issue, Mr McKeon said it was vital the government moved to a more place-based solution rather than a population-based solution.
The Regional Telecommunications Review 2021 also highlighted the significance of reliable telecommunications in regional areas in case of emergencies such as bushfires, floods and cyclones.
In order to help address these challenges, the review recommended that data roaming be allowed across multiple telecommunication carriers during emergencies.
"It's a really poor position we find ourselves in as rural Australians - when we're in the middle of an emergency and there may be mobile coverage but it's from a different carrier and therefore key phone calls can't be made," Mr McKeon said.
"So that is certainly something that needs to be enacted as a priority."
With the Federal election to be held on Saturday, May 21, Mr McKeon said it was critical that whichever side of government was successful, that they committed to fully implement and fund all of the recommendations in last year's Regional Telecommunications Review.
"I'm pretty sure that every farmer would take a look at those recommendations and agree they all need to be done," Mr McKeon said.
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