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Community & Business

1 March, 2022

Phone signal black spots

Phone services are a vital lifeline for regional, rural and remote Australians.

By Emily Middleton

Photo via Unsplash

It’s our way of connecting, networking, trading, as well as access to emergency services.

A new national report on telecommunications has made 12 recommendations for change, which if implemented, would herald a new era for the bush. 

We’ve all had nightmares about it, or maybe even lived experience: we’ve gotten stuck on an unknown track, our car’s broken down, we’ve gotten bogged - but we have no reception to call for help.

Instead, there’s kilometres of walking to the nearest town or property, just to use their phone. Or maybe we are calling a loved one while on a drive, and the connection constantly cuts out due to black spots.

NSW Farmers association is calling for more than a ‘band-aid fix’ on phone connectivity issues, stating the recommendations are not necessarily groundbreaking.

“The independent committee reporting on Australia’s telecommunications system compared the need for digital access to the need for electricity, which is not far off the mark and indicates how rapidly we have come to depend on reliable connectivity,” said NSW Farmers vice-president Xavier Martin.

“COVID-19 accelerated the need to be able to be connected from anywhere, and there’s a real opportunity to bring regional, rural and remote Australia up to the same standard as urban centers.

“The benefits of a reliable connection are varied in the bush from making farms safer and health services more effective, to building efficiencies and opening the door to regional online businesses.”

The recommendations cover the need for a longer-term approach to telecommunications in the bush, as well as a pressing need for stronger investment and greater resilience in phone and data infrastructure. 

“The black summer bushfires and other natural disasters have exposed the dangers of poor or unreliable connectivity, and this is a reality our farmers have to deal with daily when they move around their property,” said Mr Martin. 

Since the national report, Telstra and TPG announced a 10-year network sharing arrangement, which could increase coverage in rural areas, pending approval from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

“Ultimately we want to see 100 per cent coverage of NSW, so you can get an email or make a call no matter where you are,” said NSW Farmers Rural Affairs Committee chair Garry Grant.

“Network roaming will be key to unlocking this greater coverage, but until we get there these sorts of ‘team ups’ between rival operators could be a good way forward.

“At the end of the day phone service is a major safety issue across many regional, rural and remote areas, so anything that will improve coverage is a good thing.”

Major telecommunication companies have coverage of more than 95 per cent of the population, yet there are still stretches of long roads and patches of the state that are effectively mobile black spots.

As summarised by the NSW farmers association, the impact of accidents on farms or country roads is exacerbated by a reduced ability to call for help, while many businesses struggle to do the basics such as banking and invoicing without reliable data connections.

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