Rural people are not owed good internet; it’s what they need to run businesses and maintain social connectedness and mental wellbeing.
AgForce vice president and telecommunications chair Georgie Somerset was responding to comments made by nbn co CEO Bill Morrow in Sydney last week, when he told journalists from around Australia that there was no viable business case for telecommunications companies to make investments in rural areas.
The familiarisation day explored all aspects of the company’s charter and the ways in which it’s making fast internet available, and demonstrated applications such as 4K TV and virtual reality headsets.
The latter is a potential wonderland for isolated people, offering them the opportunity to explore homes and businesses for sale, different parts of the world for school children to experience, and the latest product demonstrations at their fingertips, but the amount of data it would take to view any of it was a question no-one could answer on the day.
Lightning fast download speeds were emphasised for the urban and regional-heavy audience but when it came to data capacity, the story for rural users was described as “constrained”.
Mr Morrow said this was due to the way the Sky Muster satellite service was designed.
He said the second satellite, launched in October, was originally for service back-up, a “$300m insurance policy” that was repurposed and will now help with capacity.
Although much emphasis was placed on the way people will be able to interact, such as for health diagnoses and through digital classrooms, the fair use policy instituted for Sky Muster users, which caps peak and off-peak usage, was only touched on briefly at the end of the day.
“The bottom line is, the satellites have finite capacity, and we need to ensure it’s shared fairly,” satellite and fixed wireless general manager Gavin Williams said.
Earlier in the day Mr Morrow told the group there was a massive subsidisation of the satellite service.
“The margin we make in capital city areas offsets the country loss,” he said. “It costs $8000 a home to install. It would be 16 years before you’d begin paying for a service.
“I don’t think competition would go into those areas.”
Georgie Somerset said rural Australia was one of the economic drivers of the country, adding that it wasn’t an economic argument to make.
“It’s an unrelenting issue,” she said. “We’ve got to stop putting bandaids on problems.
“We need systemic change – having the data and how to use it, and demystifying technology.”