GRAIN Producers Australia has backed a campaign by 17 rural and farmer representative groups to improve access to mobile reception and internet in regional areas.
The group wants new minimum service standards for voice and data; public funding to open up the rural mobile networks to their competitors’ customers; and better access satellite broadband.
Rupanyup farmer and Grain Producers Australia chairman Andrew Weidemann said he agreed with those goals.
“I’ve spent a lot of time at conferences speaking about the need for mobile phone coverage and the need for greater access to data,” he said.
“It’s holding investment back and stopping productivity gains. There needs to be coverage regardless of the telecommunications provider.
“Data exchange between equipment is the future of agriculture.”
The rural mobile group presented its goals to government and shadow ministers in Canberra on Monday.
Telstra chief executive Andrew Penn has already spoke out against one of those goals.
Speaking at Culla in western Victoria, the launch of the 100th mobile phone tower assisted by the federal mobile black spot program, Mr Penn said opening the networks would be bad for competition.
"Our model is that people come to Telstra because they know we have the best network and the best coverage," Mr Penn said on Thursday.
"And we are able to basically make sites that might otherwise not be viable on a standalone basis work, through programs such as the mobile blackspots program ... and by virtue of the fact that we can attract more customers because they know we have the best network."
Member for Mallee Andrew Broad has been publicly campaigning since last month to get Telstra and Optus to open up their networks to each other’s customers.
Mr Broad also wrote a submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission stating that farmers in his electorate were having to carry two mobiles to guarantee they could take calls on their own property.
Mr Broad was one of the members of parliament who met with the rural mobile group on Monday.
Mr Weidemann said mobile phone coverage was improving in the Wimmera, but there was still work to do.
“There are still plenty of black spots, still plenty of areas around Glenorchy, Rupanyup and Minyip where you can’t get a signal, but is it improving,” he said.
“It’s a matter of seeing who will be willing to invest the money.”
Mr Weidemann said a lot of farmers in the Wimmera were not getting the internet connections they needed to make upgrades that would soon be industry standard.
“There are still a lot of people who can’t get on the NBN, even on satellite. We are connected to a tower. It took us about six months to get that. People are going through a lot of frustration,” he said.
“Farmers need access to this technology. The future is in connection equipment, from linking to mechanics so they can adjust it in the field right through to the end user on the other side of the world.
“Data is going to be a massive part of grain farming across Australia.”