Mount Isa MP Robbie Katter said many areas of his electorate would be plunged into the telecommunications Stone Age if the Turnbull Government accepts the Productivity Commission’s recent recommendation to scrap the Universal Service Obligation (USO) by 2020.
“This would mean people who currently rely on a fixed landline and live in the satellite footprint with no mobile phone coverage, will be forced onto a sub-standard, unreliable satellite voice service. This is regularly compromised by poor weather conditions, mains power outages and latency issues,” Robbie said.
The USO ensures Australians have access to telephone services throughout the country, regardless of location, through Telstra’s standard phone servicing and the national payphone network. The USO is particularly vital to the everyday lives of those in rural and remote communities.
Robbie called on the Federal Government to consider all Australians that will be impacted before even considering the Productivity Commission’s proposal to terminate the USO contract.
“The report fails to recognise the need to retain landlines in areas of rural and remote Australia. The recommendation to wind up the existing USO by 2020 comes in the absence of any viable alternative for those who would be forced to rely on voice over satellite for their telephone service.”
“It’s difficult and naïve to believe the NBN will be rolled out to all these communities by the proposed termination of the USO by 2020, when most of these communities and regions don’t still don’t have reliable (if any) mobile or internet services and we are now in mid-2017.”
“There are mobile phone and internet black spots all over my electorate. Standard fixed line services are the only reliable form of telecommunication contact available in these communities. I am deeply concerned about the potential impact on our regional and remote communities in Queensland if the Turnbull Government scraps the USO.”
In Queensland alone, there are over 1,000 geographically isolated distance education students, many of whom are reliant on satellite internet. A voice service over satellite will seriously degrade the quality of on-air lessons and educational outcomes will be compromised. High latency issues, the dependence on mains power and sensitivity to weather will not only affect education, but safety of life in general. A number of small remote schools are also reliant on a fixed landline and would be seriously compromised without this mode of communication.
“If the USO is scrapped as a cost-cutting exercise it will neglect and leave Australians across the country without reliable phone services. Australians in these communities need secure and reliable phone services every day. This will have serious implications to the Federal Government including access to standard services such as health, education and safety and severely affect the ability to operate a business in regional and remote Australia.”
“The current agreement is in place for well beyond 2020. I will be writing to the Federal Communications Minister calling on the Federal Government to reject the recommendation, honour the 20 year contact and uphold the USO agreement to protect this vital service to regional and remote communities.”