Basic communication service lagging in the country, says VFF

Wednesday 8 February 2017
VICTORIAN farmers are being crippled by unacceptable telecommunications access and more effort is needed to bridge the digital divide between city and country areas, according to the State’s peak farmer group.

The Victorian Farmers Federation urged the Federal Government to invest more in rural telecommunications infrastructure at a Productivity Commission inquiry yesterday into the effectiveness of the Commonwealth’s Universal Service Obligation.

VFF Vice President Brett Hosking said the USO, which is intended to ensure all Australians receive a basic level of service from their telecommunications providers, had lost its relevance with an emphasis on maintaining fixed line services when advances in technology meant more farmers were using mobiles.

“The current USO is seriously outdated and ignores the dependence on our daily lives of mobile phones and the internet,” Mr Hosking said.

“Mobile coverage especially is crucial not just for farm safety, but for everything from checking market reports on your phone to emailing yield data to your agronomist.”

The Productivity Commission recommended in its interim report last year into the USO that a baseline service should be extended through the National Broadband Network to include data as well as voice telecommunications.

But Mr Hosking said the VFF had concerns over the NBN’s capacity to deliver a basic level of service for rural communities, with the farmer group receiving complaints from rural communities frustrated with frequent telecommunication drop outs caused by the Sky Muster satellite.

“In Victoria, just as across the country, the NBN has failed the pub test because the rollout has been slow and there’s real concern that so far the service isn’t delivering the service most farmers and rural families need, such as quality reception and download capacity,” he said.

“We receive complaints from farmers frustrated about the level of service being provided under the USO when it’s clear an effort isn’t being made to ensure we can keep up with our city cousins as technology rapidly advances.”

Mr Hosking said improving rural telecommunications should be a political priority and urged the Federal and State Governments to work together in increasing infrastructure spending, but he acknowledged rural communities need to keep fighting for an improved service.

“It’s up to governments to give us an adequate communications service, but it’s up to us to tell them what we need,” he said. “So let’s put more thought into how a better service can be achieved.”

Media Contacts:

Brett Hosking, VFF Vice President: 0427 593 051  

Ashley Mackinnon, VFF Public Affairs Officer: 0417 165 784