Tuesday 22 February 2022

The Minister for Regional Communications, Senator the Hon Bridget McKenzie, today announced the tabling in Parliament of the report of the 2021 Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee - A step change in demand.

An independent statutory review into the adequacy of telecommunications services in regional, rural and remote parts of Australia is conducted every three years. It is important in setting the future priorities and investment in regional telecommunications.

The 2021 review committee lead by Chair, the Hon Luke Hartsuyker, has worked tirelessly to deliver a comprehensive ‘report card’ on regional telecommunications. The Report highlights the ever-increasing demand for connectivity in the regions, and the need for telecommunications to be accessible, reliable and of good quality.

Minister McKenzie said the 2021 Hartsuyker Review sets out 16 key findings in relation to Australian, state, territory and local government investment in digital connectivity, the reliability and resilience of regional services, the ongoing ‘step change’ in data usage, and consumer literacy and digital inclusion.

“Factors such as COVID-19, a growing digital economy and the ongoing threat of natural disasters have underlined the importance of access to high quality telecommunication services,” Minister McKenzie said.

“The findings and recommendations are based on extensive community engagement, including a record number of submissions and strong community feedback in the 24 virtual consultations. This feedback is invaluable in developing evidence-based solutions for those living, working and travelling in our regions.

“Access to a good quality, reliable, modern telecommunications is a key issue. Robust digital connectivity is vital, keeping connected to families, ensuring local businesses can access and adequately service local and international markets, enabling remote working, keeping people safe – everyday – and in disasters – and providing access to online education and telehealth and government services.

“The Liberal and Nationals Government has already implemented many impactful initiatives following previous Regional Telecommunications Reviews.

“These include the Mobile Black Spot Program which to date has generated a total investment of more than $875 million to deliver more than 1,270 new mobile base stations across Australia.

“The Regional Connectivity Program, including the Regional Tech Hub, is $171 million worth of investments.”

“The Regional Tech Hub, for example, provides independent and factual information to help people in regional and rural Australia get connected and stay connected more easily. Funded by the Federal Government (announced as $3 million over 2019-20/20-21 under the Regional Connectivity Program) as part of their response to the Regional Telecommunications Review 2018, the Hub includes a website, online helpdesk, phone support line and social media access through Facebook and Twitter.

Further investments in regional communications have been made through the $37.1 million Strengthening Telecommunications Against Natural Disasters (STAND) package, the $68 million Connecting Northern Australia and the $16.4 million Peri-Urban Mobile Program (PUMP).

“These programs represent an investment that is improving connectivity in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia, both now and into the future, ensuring people are connected to each other and helping businesses to prosper in the modern global marketplace.

This is in addition to investment in baseline services via the National Broadband Network, which has seen more than $5 billion directed to regional Australia, as well as annual expenditure of $270 million on the Universal Service Obligation, mostly directed to regional, rural and remote Australia.

“These initiatives make regional Australia more dynamic and sustainable and an even better place to live and work.”

The 2021 Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee Chair, the Hon Luke Hartsuyker said this review forms an important part of ongoing commitments to regional connectivity and continuous support of regional Australia.

“This review is a report card on the state of play in regional telecommunications and the recommendations to government will help to ensure the significant improvements in achieved in recent years will continue into the future,” Mr Hartsuyker said.

In summary, the Report’s 12 recommendations are:

  • Adopt a longer term strategic approach to regional digital infrastructure and skills
  • Increase Government investment in regional connectivity
  • Implement a regional telecommunications resilience fund
  • Trial emerging connectivity technologies
  • Build connectivity literacy and digital capability among regional users
  • Enhance NBN Co’s regional fixed wireless and Sky Muster services
  • Implement and enforce new performance and reliability standards for wholesale and retail services
  • Continue but reform existing universal services for the future
  • Improve consumer information about mobile services including coverage and performance
  • Encourage shared network access and innovative funding for mobile in regional areas
  • Focus on the digital needs of Indigenous communities
  • Improve affordability for vulnerable groups in regional areas

Minister McKenzie said the Liberal and Nationals Government was giving careful consideration to the Committee’s recommendations before providing its formal response.

“I look forward to working with stakeholders to finalise and continue our proven track record in regional telecommunications,” Minister McKenzie said.

The full report and list of recommendations is available at: www.rtirc.gov.au