Telstra and Optus under review as committee investigates rural and regional connectivity crisis

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Rural and regional Australians are about to tell a federal review of the country’s telecommunications services that they feel like second-class citizens.

The federal government this week announced an additional $ 20 million to address mobile phone black spots, and a regional and rural telecommunications review is underway.

The chairman of the independent committee, former national deputy Luke Hartsuyker, said he wanted to “hear the stories, the warts and everything, base on the service they get”.

Most of the landowners ABC spoke to had nothing complimentary to say about one of the country’s major telecommunications providers – Telstra, Optus and Vodaphone.

Former national deputy Luke Hartsuyker chairs the independent federal committee examining access to rural and regional telecommunications. (

Provided

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Neil from Wamboin in New South Wales said he could see cell phone towers in Canberra, yet he had “very poor and spotty service”.

Damien Stephenson, inventory and station officer at Cowra, said cellphone connectivity was vital to his work and to many farmers.

But he said mobile service was virtually non-existent if he traveled more than 15 or 20 kilometers from Cowra.

“It’s great to have access to mobile data, but being able to take customer phone calls is an absolute necessity for my job,” said Mr. Stephenson.

Phone screen showing a "No service" message when trying to load the ABC home page.
Many rural and regional Australians have unreliable or “non-existent” mobile phone coverage.(

ABC Sud-Est SA: Lucy Robinson

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Have a back-up plan: Telstra

Mike Maroum, Telstra’s regional general manager for North New South Wales, said the team is focusing on improving services and coverage, especially in towns and on highways.

“We have found during the bushfires and floods that emergency coverage is essential and we are working to make it more reliable even in extreme conditions and on main roads,” Maroum said.

He said Telstra was one of three companies providing mobile phone services, including Optus and Vodaphone.

Mr Maroum said that even if Telstra extended its terrestrial coverage, customers would sometimes need to use amplifiers or satellite services to stay in touch.

“Have a contingency if the connectivity is not as reliable as you would like.

“We cover over a million square kilometers more than other telecom operators and we serve 99.7% of Australia’s population, but we only cover 25% of the land mass.”

A mobile phone signal tower in South Australia.
Telstra says it is expanding its terrestrial coverage, but concedes that sometimes customers will need to use amplifiers or satellite services.(

ABC News: Isabel Dayman

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Regional cities also unequal

But even in large regional cities, some customers say the service is unreliable.

“It’s not just about poor mobile reception in rural areas or on farms – I live in a large regional city and can’t get mobile service in my house,” said Peter Singh, a Dubbo resident.

Submissions to the journal close at the end of September and the report on rural and regional telecommunications is due in late December.


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