Independent Review of Rural and Regional Telecommunications
Under Part 9B of the Telecommunications Act, an independent review must occur every three years. The latest review occurred in 2018 with the Government’s response released in March 2019. A copy of the Committee’s review report and Government response may be found here.
RDA NT’s submission to the 2018 review reiterated previous advice provided to RTIRC in 2015 and specifically highlighted the need for a dedicated Remote Telecommunications Strategy, identified shortcomings of the existing arrangements and advocated for the greater utilisation of alternative back haul solutions.
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 Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications website for more details
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.
Draft legislation to implement these measures were reintroduced to Parliament in 2019. The Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2019 and the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2019 are currently the subject of a Senate Inquiry. Further information may be found here.
Review of the Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation (TUSO)
The Telecommunications USO is of particular relevance to Territorians. It provides for consumer access to minimum telephone services, this is especially important where the provision of services is not commercially viable.
During 2016-17 the Productivity Commission reviewed the TUSO and made a number of recommendations. A copy of RDA NT’s submission may be found here.
In response to the Commission’s report, the Government announced a new Universal Service Guarantee (USG) on the 5th December 2018, that applies to both voice and data. The USG uses the National Broadband Network (NBN) to deliver broadband services and continues to use Telstra’s existing copper and wireless networks in rural and remote Australia for the provision of voice services in nbn fixed wireless and satellite areas. A link to the USG Factsheet may be found here.
Importantly for many Territorians, while payphone locations will be rationalised, Telstra payphones that service Indigenous communities and those outside mobile coverage will generally be quarantined from this process.
The Government has also been reviewing telecommunications Consumer Safeguards in a three stage process. Part A considered redress and complaints handling matters and the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman and ACMA are implementing recommendations in relation to these issues. In mid December 2019 the Government released its final report on Part B, the reliability of services. You can read a copy of the report here. The Consultation Paper for Part C of the Review (Choice and Fairness in the retail relationship between the customer and provider) will be released shortly.
Parliamentary Inquiries into the NBN
The National Broadband Network has been the subject of various Parliamentary Inquiries and interest in its operations remains high.
Senate Inquiry into the NBN
A report by the Senate 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 examined 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.
Relevant recommendations for the NT include 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 NT as well as recommendations for improving the Skymuster satellite service.
The Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network (NBN) has been re-established in the 46th Parliament, and is currently examining the business case for the NBN and the experiences of small businesses. Further information can be found here.
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.
We urge you to speak up and have your say!
For more information on remote telecommunications:
Check the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network website for information about consumer rights, including fact sheets and tips, research, and industry news.
Check the Australian Communications and Media Authority website for information for industry, including tips, contacts for complaints, research publications and blogs.