Deputy Prime Minister and Member for New England, Barnaby Joyce, and Minister for Regional Communications, the Senator the Hon Bridget McKenzie have announced the tabling of the 2021 Regional Telecommunications Review Report in Parliament.
The report delivers a comprehensive set of recommendations to Government to further improve telecommunications access in regional, rural and remote communities across Australia, including in the New England region.
This statutory independent review is conducted every three years to assess the adequacy of telecommunications services in regional, rural and remote parts of Australia.
The review committee lead by Chair, the Hon Luke Hartsuyker, has worked tirelessly to deliver a comprehensive ‘report card’ on regional telecommunications. This was informed by a strong consultation process, which saw over 650 written submissions and delivered 24 virtual consultations.
Deputy Prime Minister and Member for New England, Barnaby Joyce, said having access to good quality, reliable telecommunications is a key issue for constituents. Robust digital connectivity is vital, keeping connected to families, ensuring local businesses can access and adequately service local and international markets, enabling remote working, and providing access to online education and telehealth and government services.
“For example, University Students at the University of New England, rely on modern, quality, digital connectivity. It is an essential foundation for the region’s longer-term development.
“I’d like to thank people in our region who provided input to the Review – it is important this region’s voice is heard and is taken into account in the Government’s response,” the Deputy Prime Minister said.
Minister McKenzie said the 2021 Hartsuyker Review sets out 16 key findings in relation to Australian, state, territory and local government investment in digital connectivity, the reliability and resilience of regional services, the ongoing ‘step change’ in data usage, and connectivity literacy and digital inclusion.
“The Liberal National Government has implemented many impactful initiatives following previous Regional Telecommunications Reviews.
“These include the Mobile Black Spot Program which to date has generated a total investment of more than $875 million to deliver more than 1,270 new mobile base stations across Australia and the Regional Connectivity Program, including the Regional Tech Hub, which is $171 million worth of investments.
“The Regional Tech Hub provides independent and factual information to help people in regional and rural Australia get connected and stay connected more easily.
Funded by the Federal Government (announced as $3 million over 2019-20/20-21 under the Regional Connectivity Program) as part of their response to the Regional Telecommunications Review 2018, the Hub includes a website, online helpdesk, phone support line and social media access through Facebook and Twitter.
Further investments in regional communications have been made through the $37.1 million Strengthening Telecommunications Against Natural Disasters (STAND) package, the $68 million Connecting Northern Australia and the $16.4 million Peri-Urban Mobile Program (PUMP).
In summary, the Report’s recommendations are:
- Adopt a longer term strategic approach to regional digital infrastructure and skills
- Increase Government investment in regional connectivity
- Implement a regional telecommunications resilience fund
- Trial emerging connectivity technologies
- Build connectivity literacy and digital capability among regional users
- Enhance NBN Co’s regional fixed wireless and Sky Muster services
- Implement and enforce new performance and reliability standards for wholesale and retail services
- Continue but reform existing universal services for the future
- Improve consumer information about mobile services including, coverage and performance
- Encourage shared network access and innovative funding for mobile regional areas
- Focus on the digital needs of Indigenous communities
- Improve affordability for vulnerable groups in regional areas
“We will deliver a strong response in the coming weeks, including any initiatives to be delivered through the 2022-23 Budget process, set to be delivered by the Treasurer on 29 March,” Minister McKenzie said.
Mr Joyce said he is looking forward to seeing the Australian Government deliver further telecommunications improvements for local residents and businesses in its response.
The full report and list of recommendations is available at: www.rtirc.gov.au