Telecommunications across Mayo – Rebekha Sharkie

Telecommunications is a lottery across Mayo, and that needs to change.

Our geography, climate and changing government policies have resulted in clear disparities between those areas with and those without reliable phone and internet services. My office has advocated on behalf of hundreds of constituents who have received poor service in this space. There are too many mobile black spots across our region and yet we know, thanks to the Auditor General’s office, that one in five towers funded under Round 1 of the Mobile Black Spot Program failed to deliver new coverage.

We also know that Telstra receives about $270 million a year through the Universal Service Guarantee (USG) to ensure every household in Australia has a landline telephone and yet there are many areas in Mayo with badly degraded copper. That’s a problem because the Coalition’s multi-technology version of the NBN relies on copper for fibre to the node and those allocated wireless and satellite also look to copper for a reliable voice service.

I’m inclined to agree with the tech specialists who say we should have gone with fibre, which has nowhere near the expensive maintenance of the copper network. Do it once and do it properly. But a year off from the NBN roll-out deadline we face the reality of a Coalition Government which stands by its policy choice to deliver the fastest and cheapest network to taxpayers and an Opposition (currently) that says it’s too late to go back to its original NBN vision and it won’t throw good money after bad.

The majority of people, myself included, consider reliable and affordable telecommunications to be an essential utility. I have been taken aback in my discussions with multiple Ministers in the current Government when they talk of access to telecommunications as a matter purely for the private market – especially once the NBN is ‘finished’. Sadly, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the NBN technology lottery.

Remediating the NBN will require a series of solutions tailored to a particular area. In that respect Labor was at least offering a technology-neutral approach to tailored local solutions, including the Mobile Black Spot Program. We cannot litter the landscape with base stations that don’t deliver promised coverage. We need an evidence-based strategy that involves community collaboration and telco co-operation to ensure we can deliver real results to local problems.

The same goes for the NBN network and voice services. Between the USG and the internal subsidies for the NBN in regional Australia there are hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of government (and industry) subsidies spent every year on telecommunications in rural and remote Australia.

I don’t believe we are getting value for money. We need a more transparent, results-driven spend of this money. Telstra needs to do a better job of maintaining our copper network where we continue to rely upon it.

I will continue to advocate for more resilient telecommunications infrastructure in populated high bushfire risk areas, including extended battery-backup power. I have also come to the view that our entire approach to telecommunications in Mayo needs to be renovated.

My major priority now that I have been re-elected will be to spearhead a community-led approach to addressing Mayo’s telecommunications woes. As locals, we know the problems better than anyone and we can work with local, State and Federal governments, emergency services, and the telecommunications carriers to seek tailored solutions to our unique community needs.

I intend to do all I can to empower our community to avoid any unnecessary tragedies, and to keep our communities both safe and connected.