Digital tools like Big Data and fast internet are crucial to productivity increases on farms – just like they are for other types of businesses. These tools are also potential lifesavers for people who live in rural and remote communities. As such, there is a need for further investment in digital infrastructure across the rural and remote areas of Australia.
Regional communities continue to face difficulties in accessing affordable quality telecommunications, putting them at a clear disadvantage both socially and commercially. Reliable broadband and telephone services are not only essential for survival in the Australian bush, they are also crucial to the creation of new opportunities in agriculture.
State-of-the-art tools such as Big Data and fast internet greatly increase onfarm productivity by enabling farmers to digitally analyse soil moisture, meteorological records and satellite imagery. Critical for this development will be the provision of agricultural data in an openly accessible location. Additionally, it is vital to maintain the existing copper networks for fixed line telephones in rural areas. Foggy and overcast weather conditions make wireless connectivity highly unreliable, while fixed line telephones provide a reliable communications option at these times.
The rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) and the Mobile Blackspot Programme have significantly improved telecommunications in rural and regional Australia. However, the 2015 Regional Telecommunications Review established that there are currently still communication infrastructure shortfalls in regional Australia, relating to limited coverage, poor data speeds and limited competition between different telecommunication carriers.
Rural users pay significantly higher fees for the same telecommunication services than urban customers. It is therefore crucial that the final NBN technology mix will adequately cater to rural and remote telecommunication needs.
What the industry needs
To better provide farmers operating in rural and remote areas with the necessary digital infrastructure, the NFF would suggest the following measures:
- A commitment to long term funding for the Mobile Blackspot Programme
- Continued investment in the NBN Fixed Wireless network, to manage the capacity of the NBN’s Long Term Satellites
- Reform of the Universal Service Obligation to ensure funding is allocated to best meet the needs of rural Australia.