David Littlerpoud MP David Littlerpoud

Telstra’s regional service is a sham

May 26, 2021

Major reform is needed in the way Telstra deals with non-metropolitan Australia, writes David Littleproud.

TELSTRA has given up on the bush and it’s the chief executive Andy Penn who is to blame.

The only reason Mr Penn keeps up Telstra’s charade of “caring” for the bush in their corporate propaganda is so he can tell shareholders in the city that Telstra provides 99 per cent coverage across Australia.

The reality is, under his leadership Telstra is destroying telecommunications in regional Australia.

Mr Penn recently said the Federal Government needed to open negotiations with Telstra on the $270 million Universal Service Guarantee to improve telecommunication in the bush.
He is either utterly unaware, or worse, duplicitous, because discussions have been ongoing for months.

Telstra’s social licence is nothing to write home about anyway, considering the Productivity Commission found they were gaming the USG to the detriment of the bush, and recently Telstra was fined $50 million for unconscionable behaviour towards First Australians.

Mr Penn is right on one thing. The USG is not working and needs reform.

The USG was set up when Telstra was privatised to protect regional telecommunications. It was designed in an era when the technology mix was landlines, pay phones and dial-up.

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

Telstra manages the $270 million USG annual program, but it’s failing to manage our basic landline services.

There are people in western Queensland who have not had a working landline for more than three months. In remote areas where there is no mobile coverage, access to a landline can be a matter of life and death.

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.

In some parts we are seeing towers that aren’t maintained, reducing their coverage. This must change.

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. The ACCC was sold a pup. Telstra is already not spending what is needed to improve mobile telecommunications in the bush.

There needs to be defined service time requirements for repairs, and severe penalties if Telstra doesn’t meet them. The current system of averaging out service times across the nation works to the detriment of those in country Australia.

The market has failed in regional Australia. The National Party believes it’s time for the Government to step in. These reforms are critical to the advancement, safety, and security of regional Australia.

● David Littleproud is the federal Agriculture Minister and the deputy leader of The Nationals