A peak not-for-profit representing internet users says the same concerns about communications outside of metropolitan areas are being repeated in an inquiry every three years.
The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications is undertaking a regional telecommunications review, with the review legislated to occur every three years after a growing digital divide emerged in 2005.
But Internet Australia, an organisation representing internet users, said after submissions closed on Thursday that the concerns raised in the first inquiry are very similar to the latest.
“Despite the efforts of governments in responding to a succession of RTIRC reports over the past 15 years, there continues to exist a patchwork of broadband connectivity in regional Australia,” the group said in a statement.
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The organisation pointed to many regional and rural students being unable to effectively participate in home learning as a recent consequence of the infrastructure inequity.
“Reliable and dependable data communications networks are essential for people and businesses throughout the country,” it said.
An issues paper points out that mobile services are available to 99.5% of Australia’s population and 33% of its landmass.
About 3.85 million regional premises have access to either NBN fixed-line services, fixed-wireless services or the Sky Muster satellite services.
“However, the costs of providing broadband services in regional Australia are very high,” the paper says, noting the NBN Co fixed wireless and satellite networks could incur a net loss of around $12.9 billion over 30 years.
The coronavirus led NBN Co to scale up its network capacity in regional Australia as people worked and learned remotely, and the review is examining whether these temporary measures also reflect increasing demand in regional areas.
The review is also seeking to increase levels of digital inclusion among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, who are also the subject of work under way on an Indigenous Digital Inclusion Plan.
A committee undertaking the review has completed 24 consultation sessions this year covering regional Australia from far north Queensland, the Western Australian wheatbelt and King Island.
It is due to make recommendations to the government by December 2021 or earlier.
This article was first published by The Mandarin.