25 October 2021

Poor phone, internet services put rural lives at risk: Ombudsman

| Sally Hopman
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Woman on phone

Phone users in rural, regional and remote Australia who are most in need of a reliable service, don’t have access to it, according to complaints received by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. Photo: File.

Those who are most in need of reliable telephone and internet services in life-threatening situations are the least likely to have them, according to the Regional Telecommunications Review 2021.

Unreliable service, poor coverage, lack of choice and weak infrastructure are the main problems facing telco users in remote, regional and rural Australia, despite the fact they need it the most, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) Judi Jones told the review last week.

Consumers in these regional communities, more so than their city neighbours, bank on a reliable telco service for their livelihood, to stay connected to family, emergency and support services, work and study from home and run small businesses.

Ms Jones said the data provided to the review was based on the 30,000-plus phone and internet complaints received by her office each year from consumers living in regional, rural and remote Australia, adding that this made it well-placed to offer insight into problems faced by people living outside the cities and towns.

“The consequences of poor service reliability can be greater for regional consumers,” she said.

“Complaints to the TIO show it can take longer to repair a fault and there are fewer alternatives available when the service is out.”

Woman with glasses

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Judi Jones says 30,000 complaints come to her office every year about poor phone and internet services in regional and rural Australia. Photo: Supplied.

She said service outages also had a significant effect on businesses out of town. She said this was because they relied so heavily on taking orders and bookings, promotion, ordering stock, making or processing payments and for all other daily business activities.

“Regional communities face a greater risk in natural disasters, such as bushfires and floods, where reliable telco services play a critical role in co-ordinating disaster response and recovery,” she said.

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“Providing better access to information about available services could allow consumers to make more informed decisions, encourage competition and bridge the telco divide between metropolitan and regional, rural and remote Australia.”

In her recommendations to the review, Ms Jones called for:

  • The promotion of a wider range of telco services in regional communities through grants and other investment incentives.
  • Standardising mobile telephone coverage provided by telcos and providing up-to-date information about what services were available in regional areas.
  • Offering government-subsidised mobile devices that could access both standard mobile networks and satellite networks.
  • Construction of communal connectivity hubs for remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, offering voice, SMS and data access to members of the community.

The full submission is available here.

Original Article published by Sally Hopman on About Regional.

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