Fix the digital divide

Bendigo Weekly | Bendigo Weekly | 05-Oct-2017


Federal Member for Bendigo

One of the highlights of the Elmore Field Days is to meet with the real innovators of the agriculture industry and to learn firsthand how their products will help farmers and modernise farming methods.

Increasingly these new systems and products need fast reliable internet and telecommunications. For many this is a problem and the federal government is entirely to blame.

At the Elmore Field Days, and almost daily in my office, local constituents including farmers raise the failures of the government’s NBN rollout and the importance of internet connectivity for their farm, business, house and regional communities.

One farmer who has access to fixed wireless NBN said that he was now able to monitor in real time fence and stock movements. 

Having experienced big financial losses due to livestock theft, this technology is vital to catching these criminals.

Another farmer was able to monitor soil moisture ensuring watering of pasture paddocks only occurred when absolutely needed and also prevented overwatering. However, others said that they were unable to adopt these types of technologies, or many of the technologies on display at the field days, because of a lack of connectivity. 

If you’re stuck on the Sky Muster satellite service – forget it. If you’re too far from the node – forget it. 

If you don’t have line of site to a fixed wireless tower there is a significant cost to install mini towers and relay equipment to ensure full coverage across your property. 

The recent report compiled by the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network included 23 recommendations to improve the future course of the NBN and get the project back on track. 

Labor MPs are calling for the recommendations to be implemented to ensure the NBN rollout meets the needs of current and future internet users. 

These recommendations are the first steps to fixing the NBN mess. 

The committee had consulted with business, industry and residents over a 12 month period and identified systemic issues of faults, failed connections, reliability and chronic speed issues occurring across the network.

The committee has highlighted 23 recommendations to help improve customer service, technology improvements, handling of complaints and transparency. 

These include the government directing and enabling NBNco to complete as much as possible of the remaining fixed line network using FTTC at a minimum (or FTTP), and require NBNco to produce a costed plan and timetable under which that would be achieved.

Another recommendation is the urgent need for new consumer and supplier rights which provide protections, wholesale service-levels and remedies for service failures and the introduction of a new business grade product specifically geared towards small business.

Also on the list is the introduction of a regional and remote reference group to support the rollout of the NBN in rural and remote Australia.

At the Elmore Field Days I had the chance to ask regional Australians if they feel the recommendations will help their cohort receive stronger infrastructure. The short answer was yes.

The government must at a minimum implement these recommendations which will deliver improved outcomes for regional and rural communities.

It is imperative rural and regional Australians are given the same technology as their city counterparts. 

There is a digital divide in our country and it’s time the government acted and fixed this NBN mess. 


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