Improved telecommunications in regional NSW is about more than just a speedier internet connection. Access to quality, reliable and affordable telecommunications is becoming increasingly important for business growth and productivity, as well as for improving safety outcomes on farm.
These are some of the key takeaways from a NSW Farmers member survey on Round 5A of the Mobile Black Spot Program, which has helped inform our submission to the Australian Government's consultation on the matter.
Flaws in network coverage can prevent farm businesses from expanding and maximising their potential. Members reported problems ranging from inconvenience to missed business opportunities due to poor connectivity.
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Many farmers said that they simply cannot access or upgrade agricultural technology that would improve their productivity as they require mobile service.
For some, a poor connection means an inability to complete simple paperwork provided by government services and banks.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which has forced more services predominantly or exclusively online, has intensified the issued.
And with more children studying from home due to school or university closures, poor connection has also caused study hindrances.
Safety on farm is a serious concern intertwined with connectivity.
Members shared their experiences of poor mobile reception impairing access to emergency services, or of being unable to be contacted to attend accidents.
Disappointingly, telecommunications services in regional areas do not seem to be improving.
In many cases, it was noted that service coverage and quality has decreased in recent years. Issues are not only felt in remote areas, either, with many farmers living near town also reporting a lack of mobile reception.
NSW Farmers continues to support the objectives of the Mobile Black Spot Program.
It is critical that the intended outcomes, to provide regional and remote telecommunications users with consistent and high quality access through increased handheld and external antenna mobile coverage and greater choice of mobile network, are achieved.
The focus moving forward should be on providing lasting solutions that enable growth and increased productivity, rather than providing a minimum service.
We want farming businesses to thrive, not merely survive.
- Garry Grant - Chair, NSW Farmers Rural Affairs Committee
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