Queensland is the most decentralised state in Australia, and the need for fairer, more reliable and more affordable phone and internet services is a high priority issue for people living and working in regional, rural and remote (RRR) areas. Effective, reliable and affordable phone and internet services is an essential part of everyday life, providing an economic and social lifeline for RRR Queenslanders. Telecommunication services are vitally important for community safety, to support business development, enhance children’s education and maintain social connections.

Distance and low population densities present ongoing problems for the implementation of reliable, efficient, and secure telecommunications services. The Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII), which measures digital inclusion related to access, affordability and digital ability across the Australian population has ranked Queensland the third worst in Australia for digital inclusion.

A member telecommunications survey undertaken by AgForce in 2015 showed just 39 percent had reliable mobile phone connections, while almost 20 percent had no mobile connection at all; almost half relied on satellite internet connection and only 11 percent had benefited from the NBN rollout. Connection issues were further reinforced by Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia (BIRRR) through their Regional Internet Access Survey, undertaken in 2016. Their survey results revealed 73 percent of respondents did not have reliable mobile phone coverage, while 74 percent of mobile broadband users and 89 percent of satellite users had download speeds under 5 Mbps.

Without leadership and without change, Queensland risks growing and entrenching the digital divide between urban and rural telecommunications users even further. Just as urban businesses expect a certain level of service, the agribusiness sector also requires a foundation of telecommunications to run viable enterprises that make valuable social, economic and environmental contributions to our state.

  • All levels of government and all sides of politics need to collaborate with the telecommunications industry to extend and improve services in Queensland’s RRR areas as quickly as possible
  • An increase in mobile coverage for all Telcos in Queensland
  • An Increase of the fixed wireless footprint for both NBN and third party providers in Queensland, through:
    o    Funded programs assisting RRR residents to identify mobile blackspots, that gives clear reports on coverage for both data and voice. This data should be used to prioritise areas based on connectivity
    o    Commitment to co-funding a further $24 million in black spot infrastructure in RRR Queensland
    o    Government investment incentive programs geared to RRR Queensland, with incentives matched to the more remote, inversely related to the population
    o    The development of community engagement programs to investigate whether existing infrastructure can be used to improve connectivity
  • A central, government coordinated site that captures Telco and other telecommunications investment timelines to enable people to make informed decisions and business decisions about their own personal telecommunications infrastructure
  • Continued programs to develop and support digital literacy and capacity building. Expanded to include support for AgForce’s proposed Telecommunications Innovation Project
  • Work with relevant federal counterparts to ensure a Universal Service Obligation that is technology neutral and supports both voice and data is implemented. It is essential that everyone should have access, with a reasonable amount of speed and a reasonable amount of data, and at a reasonable cost.

Data Roaming

Policy Position (Endorsed May 2017)

At date of endorsement, AgForce supports mobile roaming remaining unregulated.

Queensland is the most decentralised state in Australia, and the need for better, fairer telecommunications is one of the biggest issues for people living and working in the bush. Having effective and affordable phone and internet services is not just important for businesses, it’s an essential part of everyday life.

On 5 September 2016, the ACCC commenced an inquiry into whether to declare a wholesale domestic mobile roaming service.
AgForce welcomed the inquiry and has always been supportive of increased coverage and quality of services for our members. However, taking sides with particular viewpoints on roaming (i.e. Telstra – regulated roaming or Vodaphone – completely unregulated roaming) is problematic for an organisation like AgForce that has members in a wide range of locations. Many members are in locations with little or no mobile service and due to low population numbers, it will not be likely that competitive market forces will be adequate to fill this gap anytime soon. Regulatory intervention is required to fill this market failure gap.
Through the process of the inquiry, AgForce maintained that any regulation of roaming needed to ensure pricing mechanisms and market settings seek balance so as to preserve commercial activity and not detract from network expansion. The biggest risk for farmers in the process was that a declaration of wholesale roaming would counter incentives for future infrastructure investment.

AgForce publicly acknowledged the long-established services provided by Telstra to RRR Queensland and Australia and recognise that ‘the biggest coverage’ is their point of difference in the marketplace. However, with roaming and the interests of all members at stake, AgForce stood behind Government intervention that balanced public investment in some RRR areas with commercial investment in others.

On 23 October 2017, the ACCC released a final report for the mobile roaming declaration inquiry. The ACCC decided not to declare a mobile roaming service as it is not satisfied that declaration would promote the long-term interests of end-users. The ACCC also released a separate paper ‘Measures to address regional mobile issues’ which proposes a number of measures to improve mobile services in regional areas.

AgForce welcomed the decision not to declare a mobile roaming service, and urged the Federal Government to boost funding for the mobile phone blackspots program so regional Australians can access more reliable and affordable telecommunications services. Forcing mobile network operators to share their existing networks with competitors wasn’t going to bring about the increased ongoing investment needed to provide consumers with extended coverage.

Other relevant information

Relevant AgForce submissions on data roaming can be seen below by logging in to the Member Only section in the top right corner of the screen.
Innovation Project

Policy Position (Endorsed June 2017)

AgForce Farmers’ Board supports a federally funded Telecommunications Innovation Project to assist regional, rural and remote Australians access and use of telecommunication technologies.

Regional, rural and remote (RRR) Australians struggle to access and use telecommunication technologies and are therefore missing out on essential services and opportunities that metropolitan users take for granted. There is a need to bridge the gap between existing telecommunications offerings in RRR Australia and the digital ability of end users to apply these services to improve livelihoods and lifestyles.

In 2016, AgForce began seeking support from the major telecommunications companies (Telcos) for a project or program aimed at solving this issue. In January 2017, the Telcos communicated back to AgForce that while they were extremely supportive of the intent of such a project/program, they were not able to sponsor it under their remit with public funds. Their advice was for AgForce to seek funding from Government.

What the industry needs
AgForce has since submitted a proposal to the Federal Government to rollout out a Telecommunications Innovation Project (TIP). The project is designed to reach out to, educate and support RRR residents to take control of their connectivity and usage needs. It involves:
  • Step 1: Helping RRR residents understand telecommunications options.
  • Step 2: Convert connectivity into outcomes for RRR Australia.
While AgForce recognises the challenge to get people online is critical to innovation in agriculture, possibly more so are improvements in the ability of RRR users to capitalise on digital technologies. The TIP will focus on:
  • identifying barriers to, and constraints of, RRR telecommunications usability
  • connecting RRR Australians with people who can help them resolve telecommunications technical issues
  • empowering users to understand their telecommunications needs and options
  • collaborating with users and providers to devise solutions for improving business and social outcomes
  • sharing these learnings across stakeholders and industries.
The aims of the TIP are:
  • to relieve, improve and expand the services of Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia (BIRRR) volunteers to strengthen telecommunications service provision to RRR Australians
  • to provide an industry contact for RRR residents who have challenges using telecommunications
  • to centralise issues identification and problem solving, and facilitate knowledge sharing across stakeholders, geographical areas and industries
  • to maximise use of existing resources of service providers/government and only fill genuine gaps
KEY ACTIVITIES: The above aims will be achieved through establishing a network of regionally-located knowledge brokers and technical support people. Activities of these people will include:
  • fielding enquires from RRR residents about telecommunications usage issues
  • helping RRR residents to identify their telecommunications needs (e.g. data/speed/automation)
  • providing unbiased advice on options (e.g. technology, plans, hardware, design)
  • explaining what technologies are available to residents and who can provide such services
  • educating RRR residents on what they can do through their telecommunications service (e.g. government services, health information, practical resources)
  • assisting individuals and groups with applying technology options to improve property management;
  • collecting and sharing information with all stakeholders.
The TIP will not replace/duplicate Telcos’ existing call centres or technical services. Further, TIP will inform and work alongside government organisations such as Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), the Digital Transformation Office and the Bureau of Communications Research to help advocate for improved telecommunications in RRR Australia.

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