Submissions -- Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation Inquiry

Posted on October 13, 2016

The Northern Territory Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association of Australia (NTICPA) are pleased to contribute to the Productivity Commissions’ Draft Paper in the form of this letter. Our views are in response to the Productivity Commission’s Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation – Alice Springs Community Roundtable.

NTICPA is a state non-partisan, volunteer organisation that represents families who live in rural and remote Australia. This inquiry has significant relevance for us, given that members reside in very remote areas of Australia and it is of utmost importance for the continued safety, wellbeing, education and business health of these families to have access to appropriate and quality Telecommunications.

ICPA throughout Australia is a voluntary parent body dedicated to ensuring that all geographically isolated students have equity of access to a continuing and appropriate education. This encompasses the education of children from early childhood through to tertiary. The member families of the association reside and work in rural and remote Australia and all share a common goal of achieving access to education for their children and the provision of services required to achieve this. Many of our families live on isolated stations, great distances from their nearest community with their only access to education, including early childhood education, being via distance education programs conducted over the telephone (PLT) and internet (IDL) learning. Technology is fundamental in enabling rural and remote children access to an aspired equitable education.

In Metropolitan Australia there are up to five forms of Telecommunication available:
• Fixed Line - Voice & Data DSL)
• Mobile - Voice (mobile & VoIP) & Data (3g/4g)
• NBN Fibre - Voice (VoIP & Data
• NBN Fixed Wireless - Voice (VoIP) & Data
• NBN Satellite - Voice (VoIP) & Data

In the vast majority of the Northern Territory we only have 2 current forms of Telecommunication, satellite and fixed line. At times due to faults we are left with only one form or in some instances none!

We propose an updated Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation stipulate all Australians have access to at least two forms of telecommunications. We propose The ‘Minimum Level of Telecommunications’ for all areas where people reside or carry on business be 2 forms of telecommunication. It is vital that where families stand to lose one form of telecommunication that another be implemented as a matter of utmost urgency, so that the minimum is always 2 forms of telecommunication.

It is clearly stated in the AUSGOV issued NBN Sky Muster Service Users Guide on page 12 - Frequently Asked Questions: ‘Your internet service provider may offer a VoIP service and many need additional equipment. This service does NOT replace your normal telephone landline and should not be relied upon for emergency calls’. It is therefore evident that the Australian Government is of the opinion that Satellite alone should not be relied upon in emergency situations.

According to the Australian Government demand for standard (fixed line) voice services and payphones has reduced and continues to decline. If VoIP replaces fixed line services in very remote areas, the 2% of Australia where NBN Satellite will be rolled out, families will be left with only one form of Telecommunication.

With the ever increasing installation and maintenance costs to providers for the continued service of fixed lines coming under scrutiny in the commission’s inquiry, we surmise an impending retraction of Fixed Line Services. The resolution is not to pass some of the costing over to rural and remote families. The current financial cost to families educating children in these locations continues to rise and can be attributed to many leaving these areas. We implore the Commission, for the sake of our children’s education, safety, health and to continued economically viable businesses, keeping families at home in the bush, that the invaluable introduction of at least two forms of telecommunications in areas where people reside or carry on business, most definitely needs to be implemented without families bearing the brunt of these costs.

A suggestion to support the inclusion of a minimum 2 telecommunication policy in an updated USO, would be continuing to support the mandated right to a fixed line service in all areas where people reside or carry on business until a Mobile Service is in place. We support the belief that it is imperative for all Australians to have at least two forms of Telecommunication available to them in order for the safe practice of normal, everyday life.

Tiani Cook, NTICPA President.

Download the submission letter here.

Download ICPA (Aust) submission to the inquiry here.

Read how Telecommunications are affecting families from Alice Springs here.