Australia — COMMUNICATION breakdowns that hampered efforts during the Victorian bushfires and Queensland floods have still not been resolved, an independent report on regional telecommunications found yesterday.
Emergency alert systems, which will be upgraded in Victoria in November, continue to rely on mobile phones having reception, while the review found that some popular tourist spots and highways across the country continue to have no coverage.
A report handed to the federal government yesterday shows that while mobile phones and the digital age dominate Australia, many regional areas are being left behind, with fixed-line services the only reliable service in many regional areas. Advertisement: Story continues below
Marian Rumens from Murphys Creek, near Toowoomba, told the committee her mobile service had been almost useless during the floods that devastated the region.
”The landline power was cut before the flood so that our only communication was [a] Telstra mobile phone and that signal is very sparse in Murphys Creek,” she said.
The report said the national emergency warning system, Emergency Alert, was being upgraded to allow warnings to be sent to mobile phones based on a user’s current location, rather than their billing address. This will allow tourists in national parks to receive warnings.
The review was launched last July, to see whether digital literacy was lagging in regional areas behind cities.
The review found that infrastructure, and remoteness, were hampering digital literacy in the bush.
Committee chairwoman Rosemary Sinclair told The Age that income and affordability were two factors that could affect people’s uptake of mobile phones and internet access.
But other factors were at play, too.
An estimated 20 per cent of indigenous Australians in remote areas had internet connections, compared with 60 per cent of non-indigenous people in the same areas.
The report recommended efforts be made to improve Aboriginal people’s digital literacy to close the divide.
But the review committee found some good news too, with strong support for NBN broadband services, which the committee said would offer equitable access to broadband for the first time.
”The NBN is by far the most significant government commitment to improving telecommunications in regional Australia,” it said.
”There is a genuine desire across regional Australia for access to faster, more affordable and more reliable broadband services.”
Shadow regional communications minister Luke Hartsuyker said while he had not had a chance to read the report fully, the response by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy ignored the report’s finding that community concern was high regarding the adequacy of the mobile voice and broadband services.
Mr Hartsuyker said the issue was raised with the committee at every regional consultation.