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Why we need a telecommunications coalition for the bush

It is time to fix telecommunications in the bush. To this end, grass roots organisations, farming associations and consumer experts from the Australian Communication Consumer Action Network have formed the Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition (RRR Coalition).

The RRR Coalition is a unique alliance of volunteer-run organisations and advocacy bodies: This issue is too important and too big to fight alone.

2017 shapes as a big year for telecommunications in the bush and it is crucial to put regional, rural and remote Australia on the agenda. Together, the RRR Coalition has the goal to enable the bush to grow to its full potential.

1. Equity: We need to bridge the digital divide

Connectivity underpins the entire breadth of health care, education and social inclusion. Rural Australians should not be left behind their urban counterparts: Children in rural Australia need to be educated to the highest standard and our communities need to become more dynamic. In order to engage meaningfully in today’s world, access to reliable, affordable and adequate voice and data service is crucial.

2. Economy: We need to unlock regional businesses

At present, agriculture is one of the most innovative sectors in Australia. Farmers are ready to use electronic probes to monitor soil quality and use sophisticated agricultural software to monitor yield predictions and crop histories. However, by not being able to participate in the digital age efficiently, businesses operating in rural and remote Australia are missing out. This is not only unfair, it is a real economic problem, stopping Australian agriculture from growing and evolving.

3.  Evolution: We need to be ready to change the bush

We should not only look at what rural and remote telecommunications users are missing out on at present, but we need to look into the future and imagine the potential of a fully connected bush. By enabling regional, rural and remote Australia to utilize its full potential, regional Australia can become the engine room of Australia’s economy.

Next steps

Over the next weeks, RRR Coalition members will tell their telecommunications story through the AustralianFarmers’ website, highlighting the gaps at present and their hopes for the future. AustralianFarmers is the online home for all Australians living and working alongside farmers in regional, rural and remote communities.

We hope to send a delegation to Parliament House early next year. Combining the social media campaign #datadrought with hands-on advocacy will enable the Australian bush community to get their voice heard.

We need cooperation from all levels of government and from telecommunication providers to connect people living in regional, rural and remote Australia and to provide both data and voice services to the bush. This task is daunting: Australia has a challenging and unique geography. However, a more innovative Australia cannot afford to leave the bush behind. Let’s unlock our full potential.

Mark Harvey-Sutton is NFF's Manager of Rural Affairs

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