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Welcome to the latest current affairs that impact communications consumers. 

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Outback mobile tower and windmillThe first of many issues in 2017 to be a focus for the Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition was the Productivity Commission’s Draft Report for the Inquiry into the Universal Service Obligation (USO).

The USO underpins consumers’ access to phone services, including payphones. While many may have never heard about the USO, it is an important obligation that aims to ensure voice services are available and accessible to all Australians.

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NBN satellite ground station, Wolumla, AustraliaThe Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition is urging the approximately 1200 households who have not yet switched from the Interim Satellite Service (ISS) to the Sky Muster National Broadband Network (nbn) satellite service to do so as soon as possible.

"These households need to switch before 28 February or they will be left without an internet service. They should contact their preferred provider as soon as practicable to arrange a new service," NFF President Fiona Simson said.

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Magnifying glass on top of documentThis week a Federal Parliamentary Committee is expected to report on a draft bill to amend the Competition and Consumer Act telco specific provisions. In this blog we will outline our assessment of the impact on consumers. This is the approach we took in our response to the Department of Communications and the Arts consultation on the proposed changes in October 2016.

Not surprisingly, Telstra is generally supportive of the removal of the telco specific rules. However, other telecommunications industry providers are taking a different approach as they believe the removal of the specific rules would weaken competition in the telco sector.

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Laptop on a  deskBroadband is now considered essential to provide access to services and employment opportunities, as well as entertainment and education. This is true for all consumers, no matter whether they live in regional, rural or remote areas or in the cities.

Reliable broadband connections are also pivotal for small businesses and farmers who often rely on them to run their businesses. Internet connections provide opportunities for farmers to use sophisticated agricultural software to monitor yield predictions and more. But when services fail, there are no guarantees that apply to internet services to ensure faults are fixed within certain timeframes. This can result in long outages, meaning lost money and productivity for farmers and small businesses, and frustration for general consumers.

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Grand Intentions book coverGrand Intentions, a new novel by Professor Trevor Barr, was inspired by the Australian telco industry. The novel tells the story of a fictitious telecommunications company, Telco One, as it undergoes major changes.

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Kate CarnellMany small businesses rely on telecommunication services to operate. When services do not deliver, this can result in losses for small business owners.

To get insights into what telecommunication issues small businesses are facing and hear more about what they need from their services, we interviewed the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO), Kate Carnell.

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Group of people holding smartphonesComplaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) about excess data charges have been steadily dropping over the past year. This is most likely due to better value excess data packs (most telcos now charge about $10 for 1GB) and plans with bigger data allowances being offered by the telcos.

While complaints are down, excess data charges can still be a shock on your monthly bill, especially if you are on a tight budget. Extra data packs that automatically kick in are convenient, but most of these data packs expire when your monthly billing period is up. It is important to watch your data usage because you may spend extra money on data that you might not get to use.

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Man using mobile phone at airportAustralian telcos have taken action to reduce bill shock from global roaming by introducing roaming packs. But before travelling, you should consider all your options for global roaming, especially if you are on a tight budget. Check out your options for global roaming below.

Do you need to use your phone number while overseas?

Telstra, Optus and Vodafone offer their customers global roaming packs that include calls, text and data, at an extra cost. Virgin Mobile offers roaming packs that only include data. Signing up to a roaming pack can be a good option if you need to be contactable overseas on your Australian mobile number.

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Man using iPadWith the NBN rollout picking up momentum, we’re looking at some tips that can help you choose a good value internet plan. We have had a running debate around the ACCAN office about what good value actually means in a telco product – is it the cheapest? What about quality? Good value means different things to different people, for most people it is probably the best quality you can afford.

We know that many consumers cannot yet access the NBN. These tips may still be useful in choosing a plan over other networks. If you are connecting to Sky Muster, check out our guide.

To find out if you can connect to the NBN, check their website.

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