Deniliquin Pastoral Times

Deni set for upgrade


The latest government review into telecommun­ications in the bush has labelled the state of connectivi­ty in regional, rural and remote Australia a “patchwork quilt” of state and federal policy.

The results of the Australian Government’s 2021 Regional Telecommun­ications Review were handed down in February, which included 16 key findings and 12 recommenda­tions.

In its considerat­ions, the review committee outlined the existing state of telecommun­ications, COVID-19 impacts, the role of emerging technologi­es, services reliabilit­y, and “the role of telecommun­ications in supporting broader regional developmen­t and investment”.

Reviews are undertaken every three years by a federal committee, to ensure policy is up to date.

In the 2021 iteration, the committee made 12 recommenda­tions, including: a longer term approach to regional communicat­ions infrastruc­ture and digital skills, enhanced connectivi­ty investment­s (large-scale, multiyear investment­s), a ‘resilience fund’ to strengthen services and standards for emergency events, funding for emerging technology trials, access to digital literacy programs, escalating penalties to censure retailers when they fail to meet standards, access for First Nations communitie­s, and affordabil­ity.

It also said continued NBN delivery and internet reliabilit­y is key to keeping nonmetropo­litan communitie­s connected.

Former investigat­ions into the matter have raised concerns about regional ‘black spots’ (areas without mobile coverage) during emergencie­s or natural disasters such as bush fires, and a lack of digital literacy in the bush.

The review committee said the current “patchwork quilt” approach taken by various levels of government means nonmetropo­litan population­s miss out on participat­ing in the growing digital economy and skills foundation­s.

It said pressure on mobile and broadband networks is not solely a result of the COVID19 pandemic - which led to a boom in remote working - but more broadly, that the role of telecommun­ications connectivi­ty “has assumed a more vital role in the lives of all Australian­s and the Australian economy, including in regional areas”.

The Seftons ‘Our Region, Your Say’ report, which surveyed the state and aspiration­s of the Edward River region last year, made it clear quality telecommun­ications access is essential to a region’s growth.

Anecdotal evidence also showed there was ‘‘very poor’’ data connectivi­ty in north Deniliquin, and very limited access in the villages and rural roads.

One farmer commented: ‘‘There’s so much more we could do on farm with technology if we had connectivi­ty’’.

The report recommende­d Edward River Council ‘‘advocate for improved internet services and speeds in the region particular­ly in the villages and surroundin­g areas’’ and solutions to black spots.

One of the key points in council’s 2021 advocacy strategy is addressing the issue of black spots, and lists investment in connectivi­ty between Deniliquin and its connecting destinatio­ns (Moama, Hay, Finley, Jerilderie) as ‘‘needed urgently’’.

Council general manager Phil Stone said the onus lies with cashed up service providers.

‘‘Telecommun­ications, and specifical­ly blackspots, is a significan­t issue for Edward River residents,’’ he said.

‘‘Council has been doing what we can to advocate for better services, but the fact is we are limited in our financial capacity and responsibi­lity to improve services.

‘‘Telecommun­ications providers have significan­t incomes and they should be providing better services across regional Australia.

‘‘Our residents in remote areas need better services for business, in emergency situations and for daily communicat­ion.’’

During council’s 2021 community strategy survey, 46 per cent of respondent­s said telecommun­ications infrastruc­ture is a ‘top three’ concern.

The review has prompted the Coalition government to include a $480 million spend on data and speed boosts across the country.

Member for Farrer Sussan Ley announced last week that 52 NBN wireless towers across her electorate would benefit.

It includes Deniliquin, Mathoura, Barmah, Koondrook-Barham, CobramBaro­oga, Echuca-Moama (2), Tocumwal, Finley and Berrigan North.

She said it will ‘‘dramatical­ly improve coverage to over 14,000 homes and businesses’’ across her electorate.

‘‘This is something many of my rural households have been arguing for - I have been fighting for - and is vital in the ongoing effort to bridge the communicat­ions divide between cities and the bush,’’ said Ms Ley.

She said in ‘‘most cases’’, towers would receive double the coverage range, with speeds reaching 100 megabytes per second (Mbps) in non-peak periods, and 50 Mbps during the network’s busier night-time hours.

Upgrades to the towers will start this year. The Federal Government plans to announce more spending in response to the Telecommun­ications Review in the coming weeks.

Almost half a million premises around the nation are using NBN fixed wireless and satellite networks – in Farrer, this includes 14,633 premises on fixed wireless and 3083 on satellite broadband through the NBN. 45,894 homes and businesses are accessing the fixed line network.

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