Telstra, Optus under review as committee probes rural, regional connectivity crisis

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Rural and regional Australians are set to tell a federal review into the nation’s telecommunication services that they feel like second-class citizens.

The federal government this week announced an extra $20 million to address mobile phone blackspot areas, and a review of regional and rural telecommunications is underway.

Independent committee chair, the former Nationals MP Luke Hartsuyker, said he wanted “to hear the stories, warts and all, from the grassroots about the service they are getting”.

Most of the landholders the ABC spoke with had nothing complimentary to say about any of the nation’s main telecommunication providers — Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.

Neil from Wamboin in New South Wales said he could see the mobile phone towers in Canberra, and yet he had “very poor and patchy service”.

“When I raised the issue at a community meeting with Telstra in Queanbeyan, they told me that I should look at buying a booster or subscribing to a satellite service — all at a considerable personal cost to me,” he said.

Cowra stock and station agent Damien Stephenson said mobile phone connectivity was vital for his job and for many farmers.

But he said the mobile service was virtually non-existent if he travelled more than 15 or 20 kilometres from Cowra.

“It is all very well having access to mobile data but being able to take phone calls from clients is an absolute necessity for my work,” Mr Stephenson said.

“I’m not talking about mobile service on back roads, I am talking about connectivity on major highways.”

Have a back-up plan: Telstra

Mike Maroum, Telstra’s regional general manager for northern NSW, said the team was focussed on improving services and coverage, particularly in towns and on highways.

“We found during the bushfires and floods that emergency coverage is critical and we are working to make it more reliable even in extreme conditions and on major roads,” Mr Maroum said.

He said Telstra was one of three companies providing mobile phone services, including Optus and Vodafone.

Mr Maroum said although Telstra was expanding its land mass coverage, clients would sometimes need to use boosters or satellite services to stay in touch.

“I would urge customers who want to stay connected to have a back-up plan in place, like satellite access or a mobile booster,” he said.

“Have a contingency if connectivity is not as reliable as you might like.

“We cover over a million square kilometres more than the other telcos and we provide service to 99.7 per cent of Australia’s population, but we only cover 25 per cent of the land mass.”

Regional cities also patchy

But even in the big regional cities, some clients say the service is unreliable.

“It is not just about poor mobile reception in rural areas or on farms — I live in a big regional city and I can’t get mobile service in my house,” Dubbo resident Peter Singh said.

“We have to have subscriptions to two different telcos. And we don’t live in the bush, we live in a regional city.”

Submissions to the review close at the end of September and the report into rural and regional telecommunications is due to be handed down at the end of December.

By Michael Condon (Original ABC Article)