LGs ‘insufficiently resourced to identify telco needs, solutions’

Councils are increasingly expected to facilitate telecommunications service delivery in the outback but aren’t properly resourced to do so, an inquiry has found.

The 2021 Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee (RTIRC) singled out identifying connectivity needs and deploying suitable solutions as areas where councils needed more resourcing

It also found federal, state, and territory governments need to increase their coordination and investment to deal with the “patchwork quilt” of connectivity in the regions.

Among the other 16 key findings, the report says:

  • Regional consumers, businesses and local governments experience difficulty in resolving telecommunications issues, with providers not adequately addressing their complex needs;
  • Regional consumers, businesses and local government need independent advice and improved connectivity literacy so they can make informed connectivity choices;
  • Increased ongoing demand for data on regional, rural and remote mobile and fixed wireless networks is not always being met, causing network congestion issues; and
  • There is an urgent need to consider the future of the Universal Service Obligation to provide reliable voice services to rural and remote consumers.

The RTIRC’s report, “A step change in demand” recommends that a long-term investment and planning framework for digital infrastructure and regional digital capability be developed to increase coordination and investment between the federal, state, and territory governments and other relevant sectors to address connectivity.

Other recommendations are that:

  • Government commits to a substantial Regional Telecommunications Resilience Fund to improve emergency and network resilience across vulnerable communities, and enhances funding for the Strengthening Telecommunications Against Natural Disasters (STAND) package, including the Mobile Network Hardening Program;
  • the Federal Government continues to commit to the provision of accessible and independent information for regional consumers, business and local government;
  • NBN Co commits to holistic upgrades of its regional fixed wireless network to enable faster network speeds and minimise network congestion; and
  • the Federal Government undertakes a feasibility study to consider the capability for mobile roaming to be actuated in emergencies.

The recommendations reinforce ALGA’s federal election advocacy for the continuation of the Stronger Regional Digital Connectivity Package at $55 million over four years to improve community resilience and local economic recovery.

Federal Regional Communications Minister Bridget McKenzie said the Government is carefully considering the Committee’s recommendations before providing its formal response.