Telstra’s dropped the ball on rural telecommunications: Littleproud

Federal Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud has reignited his stoush with Telstra over its regional telecommunications services.

In February, Mr Littleproud accused the telco of abandoning its rural customers, particularly in his central Queensland electorate of Maranoa.

This week, in an opinion article published in the Weekly Times, Mr Littleproud again said Telstra had “given up on the bush” and laid the blame on chief executive Andy Penn.

Referring to Mr Penn’s recent call for the Federal Government to open negotiations with Telstra on the $270 million Universal Service Guarantee [which ensures a baseline level of telco services regardless of where people live], Mr Littleproud said: “He is either utterly unaware, or worse, duplicitous, because discussions have been ongoing for months.

“Mr Penn is right on one thing. The USG is not working and needs reform. [It] was set up when Telstra was privatised to protect regional telecommunications. It was designed in an era when the technology mix was landlines, payphones, and dial-up.

“While there’s now legislated protection for internet services, there remains a gap between mobile services and maintenance of landlines.

“Reform is urgent. First, the USG needs to be extended to mobile phone services. The Federal Government has heavily subsidised more than 1200 extra mobile phone towers that telcos can use, yet there’s no requirement on Telstra or any telco to maintain them.

“Second, mandated roaming needs to be implemented in regional Australia. This would allow customers to pay for a signal and use it regardless of which company operates the tower.

“The ACCC recommended against mandated roaming in 2018 because they were convinced by Telstra it would not make any further investment in the regions. Telstra is already not spending what is needed to improve mobile telecommunications in the bush.”

Mr Littleproud took to social media after the article appeared, tweeting: “Stop the spin @andy_penn. I’m not, and no one expects 100pc mobile coverage across Australia. We’re just expecting the towers that @Telstra do have are maintained properly”.

Mr Penn told the ABC he found Mr Littleproud’s comments “offensive” and that since 2005 Telstra had invested more than $20 billion in the bush.