NSW Farmers Walcha chapter chair is cautious about new legislation

Sonia O'Keefe says landlines provide crucial backup in the bush.

Sonia O'Keefe says landlines provide crucial backup in the bush.

The Telecommunications Reform Package which will legally ensure all Australians have access to broadband is good legislation, says Walcha NSW Farmers chapter chair Sonia O’Keefe, but landlines need to be retained.

Ms O’Keefe was commenting after a Senate Committee recommended the legislation be passed by Parliament earlier this month.

“It is an attempt to bring legislation up to date with technology and better reflect consumer expectations,” Ms O’Keefe said.  

“My main concern is around the retention of landline phone services.  The legislation intends that NBN Co will be the statutory provider for voice and data across Australia.  

“The Skymuster satellite is not capable of providing a voice service because of the high latency, and for residents in the satellite footprint, without mobile coverage, a landline phone is still the main form of communication.”

Ms O’Keefe said she was also concerned the future NBN Co funding structure would replicate what happened toTelstra.

“The NBN Co is required to be funded independent of government (and therefore making a profit) by 2030, and yet this legislation will provide for a funding scheme that will see other telecommunications companies contributing to NBN, because it would be the Statutory Internet Provider,” Ms O’Keefe said.  

“This funding model too closely represents what has happened with Telstra, that is a public enterprise being privatised then subsided by government and competing businesses.  This has resulted in Telstra being focussed on shareholders, which as a private company it should do, and not necessarily giving the due priority to residents in low density population areas, which is probably the responsibility of government, to correct market failure.  There needs to be a mechanism to ensure that this doesn’t happen with NBN Co.”

The recommendation was welcomed by the Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition (RRRCC).

“We are pleased the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee has taken this view,” National Farmers’ Federation President, Fiona Simson said.

“In effect, this new obligation will, for the first time, legally ensure all Australians have access to broadband.

“Most pleasing was the emphasis placed on submissions from rural, regional and remote bodies, including the RRRCC, in the Committee’s report.”

Australian Communication Consumers Action Network (ACCAN) CEO Teresa Corbin said the package was overall, positive for bush consumers.

“We believe the package will help ensure broadband services in regional, rural and remote Australia will be sustainably funded into the future.”

Ms Corbin said the onus was now on the Parliament to bring the package into effect.

“As a Coalition we have, and continue to, work tirelessly to inform parliamentarians of the challenging state of telecommunications infrastructure in the bush.

“Better bush telecommunications are vital, and in need of legislative protections.”

Ms Simson said modern and effective telecommunications infrastructure promised to unlock economic growth for rural, regional and remote Australia.

"We believe this package offers an important step towards achieving this growth.