Communications are Vital for the Bush
Communications are a constant cause of complaint in regional Australia and not without reason.
For example the electorate of Hume, where Angus Taylor is the local member, is replete with mobile phone towers, while 20 kilometres away in Eden Monaro there are mobile black spots everywhere.
In the hills and valleys outside Bungendore mobile reception is intermittent at best.
In regional Victoria phone users can get reception in the front of their houses but nothing in the back even though they are operating on the 4G network.
It’s bad luck if you are hanging out the washing or working in the shed: you just miss your calls.
Image Source: Mark Eden
This is dangerous for farmers if they’re are out alone in the paddocks on a quad bike and have an accident.
It is also irritating for farmers who spend long hours on automated machinery, time which could be more productively used to search the internet if their IPads were connected.
Regional users have reservations about the NBN which they see as being more expensive but less efficient than the current systems.
Many of them believe that it would be better to wait until the 5G network is established because this would give them greater flexibility.
When it comes to media organisations the situation is even more confusing.
Radio surveys show that the national broadcaster, the ABC, occupies large amounts of frequency broadcasting programmes to which nobody in the bush listens.
At the same time rural and regional media organisations are locked out of licenses.
There are large areas of the bush which have no local radio at all.
Recently the government proposed to provide grants to increase rural and regional news and information services.
Unfortunately the bulk of regional and rural news is provided by multi-media organisations which operate radio, internet based news as well as print but the grants were limited to companies that were predominantly print outlets.
This appears to be a mean and tricky attempt to limit expenditure by making the threshold for the grants too high for commercially viable organisations to meet.
Media and communications infrastructure is essential for the bush.
It provides security in the event of natural disasters; passes on vital information to farmers; provides a platform for the internet of things which is an integral part of modern farm management; and is critical for health management in remote locations.
There is no doubt that the policy framework can be improved.
To this end Inside Canberra will be holding a forum with the Minister for Rural Health and Rural Communications, Senator Bridget McKenzie, in Parliament House on June 25.
The forum will be held from 5 pm to 9 pm and will provide plenty of opportunity to explore the issues involved in both health and communications in the bush.
John McDonnell is a member on the advisory board of Flow Media.
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