USO welcome, focus must now be on cost

Tuesday, 9th January 2018 // Breaking News, Cotton Matters // Comments (0)

Cotton Australia has welcomed the Australian Government’s response to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into the Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation (USO) released in December 2017. The USO is a long-standing safeguard that ensures all Australians have access to a voice only Standard Telephone Service and payphones.

“It is now well-acknowledged that the existing arrangements of this important service setting are out of date and in need of reform. We welcome the Government’s commitment to provide universal access to voice and broadband services through a new Universal Service Guarantee once the national broadband network (nbn) rollout is complete,” says Cotton Australia General Manager, Michael Murray.

“This guarantee is vitally important to ensure access to these services for all premises, regardless of location. Rural, regional and remote Australia depends on this sort of assurance to see current and future business and community needs met, now and in the future.”

Whilst Cotton Australia recognises the positives in the Government’s plan, there are also some issues that will need to be carefully worked through to ensure rural and regional needs are well considered as the new Guarantee is developed.

“Australia’s cotton growers are high users of technology on-farm, and still have enormous potential to realise through improved telecommunications and application of digital solutions in their businesses,” Mr Murray says. “However, currently the telecommunications needs of growers for everyday business are not being met, with many growers left behind due to poor speed, coverage and high cost.”

“Our cotton growers have high reliance on the mobile network, reflective of broader trends. The Government response to the USO indicates a heavy reliance on mobile services in a future Universal Guarantee. If this is the case, the current situation must be improved and we reiterate our call for the Federal Government to commit to future rounds of the Mobile Blackspot Program as soon as possible.”

Whilst Cotton Australia is conscious of the investment made to date in this important program and the remaining work that is yet to be completed, mobile services are still inadequate for many of our industry’s businesses, and it is vital that we have funding certainty for this program in coming years.

In addition, any future plans for voice services to be transitioned to national broadband network (nbn) infrastructure will need to be considered very carefully. In our submission to the USO Inquiry earlier this year, Cotton Australia emphasised the need for legislative rights for broadband and voice services with no degradation in service, and recommended keeping the Copper Continuity Obligation in place until an alternative arrangement was proven, with reliability of voice services guaranteed.

Now that the Australian Government has released its response, alongside our affiliates in the Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition (RRRCC), Cotton Australia calls on all parties to engage in sensible reform of the USO cost and delivery options to provide for a future Universal Service Guarantee that meets the needs of the industry.