Bush call on old phones

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS - JOHN AN­DER­SEN

IT will be a case of go­ing back to the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Stone Age if the Fed­eral Govern­ment pulls the plug on the main­te­nance of fixed line phone ser­vices in the bush, says Mount Isa MP Rob­bie Kat­ter.

Mr Kat­ter warned yes­ter­day that many ar­eas of his elec­torate would be dis­ad­van­taged if the Govern­ment ac­cepted a Pro­duc­tiv­ity Com­mis­sion rec­om­men­da­tion to ditch the Uni­ver­sal Ser­vice Obli­ga­tion by 2020.

The USO en­shrines the prin­ci­ple that all Aus­tralians liv­ing out­side mo­bile and NBN net­works have ac­cess to a re­li­able fixed line phone ser­vice.

“Many ar­eas of my elec­torate would be plunged back into the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Stone Age if the Turn­bull Govern­ment ac­cepts the Pro­duc­tiv­ity Com­mis­sion’s re­cent rec­om­men­da­tion,” Mr Kat­ter said.

He said aban­don­ing the fixed line ser­vice would force people to use an in­fe­rior voice satel­lite ser­vice. This had se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions for the 1000 stu­dents do­ing School of Dis­tance Ed­u­ca­tion.

“It would mean that people who rely on a fixed land­line and live in a satel­lite foot­print with no mo­bile phone cov­er­age will be forced to accept a sub- stan­dard, un­re­li­able satel­lite voice ser­vice,” he said.

Coali­tion MP for Mara­noa David Lit­tleproud said the com- mis­sion’s re­port was an op­por­tu­nity to “re­shape the USO to bet­ter ser­vice the bush”.

“What we as a govern­ment must ap­pre­ci­ate is that although a review is needed, we can’t ap­ply a cookie- cut­ter ap­proach … It is im­per­a­tive that ac­cess to fixed line ser­vices re­mains in ar­eas with­out re­li­able mo­bile cov­er­age,” he said.

Mr Lit­tleproud said USO fund­ing could be spent on new mo­bile phone tow­ers.

He said he would like to see to see tel­cos pay to ac­cess in­fra­struc­ture that would pro­vide “seam­less mo­bile phone cov­er­age across Aus­tralia”.

In a joint state­ment in midJune, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Mitch Fi­field and Re­gional Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Fiona Nash said the Pro­duc­tiv­ity Com­mis­sion had found the USO to be “anachro­nis­tic and costly”. They said the USO was a long­stand­ing con­sumer safe­guard put in place in an era be­fore “the wide­spread avail­abil­ity of mo­bile and broad­band ser­vices”.

Greg Rayner from the Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Work­ers Union said cut­ting telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions sup­port would spell dis­as­ter for re­mote ar­eas.

“We will fight to pro­tect the ser­vices to re­gional and re­mote com­mu­ni­ties as we pres­sure the Govern­ment to stay true to the 20- year con­tract and up­hold the USO agree­ment un­til well be­yond 2020,” Mr Rayner said.

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