Independent Review of Rural and Regional Telecommunications

Under Part 9B of the Telecommunications Act, the independent review must occur every three years.

The committee delivered its report to the Minister for Regional Services, Senator the Hon Bridget McKenzie, on 30 September 2018 and that the Minister tabled it in Parliament on the 4th December. The Government is currently considering the report and will respond to the recommendations in early 2019.

RDA NT provided a submission which reiterated previous advice provided to RTIRC in 2015 – essentially the need for a dedicated Remote Telecommunications Strategy, shortcomings of the existing arrangements and the need to utilise alternative back haul solutions.

Review of the Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation

The Package includes provisions for a Statutory Infrastructure Provider and Regional Broadband Scheme.  Measures to ensure internet access for regional and remote Australia are welcomed.  However, there is a danger that this Package will entrench the NBN as the monopoly internet provider in regional and remote areas in much the same way as the Telecommunications USO entrenched Telstra.  Locking remote users into an inferior technological solution yet again.

The new TUSO will apply to both voice and data but is likely that payphones will no longer be covered. For remote communities this means that they will have to rely on a Community Phone Scheme or on alternative technology. Mobile is not necessarily the most appropriate substitute. RDA NT is concerned that the task-force is focused on the costs to Government, as opposed to costs to the end users.

Phone box in the outback

ABS Census Topic Review

As part of RDA NT’s submission to the ABS Census Topic Review, we argued strongly for the inclusion of a measure to gauge the nation’s digital literacy. Being digitally literate is increasingly fundamental to effective participation in economic and social life, consequently the digital literacy of the population is a matter of national importance. This would also capture data on a consistent basis from cohorts that are not currently captured in the Australia Digital Inclusion Index, such as remote Indigenous users.

Unfortunately the ABS has chosen not to take up this recommendation. Given that this topic in the Census was the only Australia-wide data source that consistently captured data around digital use by remote Indigenous users, it is disappointing that this cohort’s voice on this topic will no longer be heard in the Census. RDA NT will continue to lobby for the inclusion of data on digital use by remote Indigenous users through alternative mechanisms, including through Closing the Gap.

Photo of Census Form

Review of the Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation (USO)

The Productivity Commission review of the Telecommunications USO is of particular relevance to Territorians. The Telecommunications USO provides for consumer access to minimum telephone services, this is especially important where the provision of services is not commercially viable.

The Government announced a new Universal Service Guarantee on the 5th December 2018. The USG will apply to both voice and data, and will retain the current USO arrangements which use Telstra copper and wireless networks in rural and remote Australia for the provision of voice services in NBN fixed wireless and satellite areas. Service reliability will continue to be managed through the USO contract. Importantly for many Territorians, while payphone locations will be rationalised, Telstra payphones that service Indigenous communities and those outside mobile coverage would generally be quarantined from this process.

The Government is continuing to consult on new arrangements to improve the reliability of telecommunications services through the Consumer Safeguards Review. More information regarding the USG can be found here.

The Telecommunications USO review has been informed by submissions from a wide range of stakeholders. Find a copy of RDA NTs latest submission here.

Australian Government Telecommunications Reform Package

In late 2016 the Department of Communications and the Arts released a package of proposed telecommunications reforms, including changes to relevant legislation and introduction of a Regional Broadband Scheme. The reform package proposes strategies to protect consumer rights in the context of changes to the telecommunications market following the roll-out of the NBN. See DCA website for more details

See RDA NT’s Telecommunications Reform Package submission.

Senate Inquiry into the NBN

The report was released on 16 January 2018, providing 23 recommendations. Issues raised by RDA NT were highlighted, including a lack of transparency with the NBN rollout and inadequacies of the Skymuster satellite service.

Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network (NBN)

The Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network was established to enquire into the rollout of the NBN. Their report on the rollout of the NBN in regional and rural Australia was released in late November 2018 and can be found here

The recommendations are that the NBN works with the Northern Territory Government and Telstra to investigate how existing optic fibre can be used to expand the fixed line and fixed wireless footprint in the Northern Territory and other relevant areas, and recommendations for improving the Skymuster satellite service.

For more information on remote telecommunications:

Australian Communications Consumer Action Network

Check the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network website for information about consumer rights, including fact sheets and tips, research, and industry news.

Australian Communications and Media Authority

Check the Australian Communications and Media Authority website for information for industry, including tips, contacts for complaints, research publications and blogs.

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

Check the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman website for an independent dispute resolution service for small business and residential consumers.

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