Our Say: Powering up to end regional data drought

It is like telemarketers that won’t stop ringing and just won’t go away or a persistent stream of unsolicited emails that just never end. 

It is the issue of the appalling coverage and connectivity in the regions for mobile phones and the internet.

And the victims, deservedly, are the governments which have left the regions without adequate services for so long. They would never get away with it in metropolitan areas. They would rapidly be disconnected from political power.

They now face a powerful lobby group seeking a fix.

The digital divide is not new and communities in the Central West and Western NSW (and regions across Australia) have been clamouring for years for vast improvements.

Governments have injected funding and infrastructure, but nowhere near enough.

Members of federal and state parliaments have, to be fair, pushed the issue with their governments but progress has been incremental.

The impact on the regions is wide-ranging. The list is long but a snapshot of just three problem areas is indicative.

Local economic growth is hindered. It is believed productivity in the agricultural sector could be boosted if people in remote or drought-hit areas could diversify and work in jobs in other sectors from their homes.

In health, residents could consult with specialist medical professionals over video-call technology, saving long and costly travel – and time away from work. Education also has its problems with connectivity levels affecting students – access, reliability and affordability of services.

Running out of patience with the “data drought”, advocacy groups have started the Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition to lobby for equitable access to reliable and quality telecommunications services for consumers and small businesses.

It includes the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF), the Country Women’s Association of NSW, the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association and AgForce Queensland.

That is a great deal of “firepower”. Communities should fully support the push.

Various governments would be well advised to take calls from the communications coalition (and listen) and study its emails and submissions carefully – and end the digital divide.

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