Digital divide hurts economic growth

CWA of NSW president Annette Turner
CWA of NSW president Annette Turner

A lack of mobile phone and internet connectivity is limiting economic growth in regional NSW, the Country Women’s Association of NSW said.

The association is one group behind the newly formed Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition (RRRCC).

The collection of like-minded advocacy groups has “come together to say enough is enough”.

“We’re not complaining about customer’s a discussion about unlocking a section of the economy that is underutilised due to lack of connectivity,” CWA of NSW president Annette Turner said.

“It’s time to fix telecommunications in the bush.”

Economic growth in Sydney averaged 2.2 per cent between 2012 and 2015, research by SGS Economics and Planning has revealed. Regional areas of NSW contracted by 0.3 per cent in that period.

The Far West/ Orana region enjoyed 1.8 per cent growth in 2015, the research shows, while the Central West economy grew just 0.2 per cent.

Sydney regions grew between 2.7 and 5.8 per cent.

Mrs Turner said better connectivity would boost productivity in the agricultural sector, allow farming families to diversify and even provide a form of drought-proofing.

“It does have a flow-on effect...the younger women that are able to work from the property are creating employment and the economy is better for it,” she said.

The NSW and federal governments on Thursday announced 39 new towers under round two of the Mobile Black Spots Program, including three in the Prakes electorate.

Ballimore and Westella are both set to receive improved mobile reception and internet access, as well as the key grain-growing region of Yellow Mountain.

The phone tower roll-out is set to begin in 2017.

Speaking before the announcement, Mrs Turner said government MPs should be applauded for addressing mobile black spots.

But she said the RRRCC wants to see long-term public funding for open access mobile network expansion in rural and regional Australia.

“I do feel that they should be applauded but I do feel that it is a right that we should have,” Mrs Turner said.

“I don’t expect us to have Netflix. I would just be grateful for a service where I could have that phone service, I could have technical support and have a reasonable amount of data available.”