In its Pre-Budget Submission for the 2017-18 Budget, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has urged the Federal Government to allocate funding to telecommunications initiatives that will benefit consumers. ACCAN’s recommendations include ongoing funding for the Mobile Black Spot Program, ongoing funding to ensure that the Universal Service Obligation (USO) continues until new safeguards and programs are in place and funding for a broadband performance monitoring program.
“The Mobile Black Spot Program is delivering new or improved coverage for many areas across the country,” said ACCAN CEO, Teresa Corbin. “The first two rounds of the Program will fund more than 750 new or upgraded mobile base stations, but there are many more mobile black spots that need funding, which is why we’re calling for ongoing funding for the Program in our Pre-Budget Submission.”
Expansion of mobile coverage is critical in regional and rural areas where there remain premises, vital community areas and high traffic areas that have no mobile coverage. The Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition, of which ACCAN is a member, is also calling for an ongoing funding commitment for mobile expansion in rural and regional Australia.
Last week, ACCAN voiced concerns around the Productivity Commission’s Draft Report on the USO at a public hearing in Sydney. The Pre-Budget Submission recommends continued allocation of Commonwealth funding ($100m per annum) towards the existing USO until new safeguards and programs are in place and a longer term commitment to a minimum of the same level of funding for community telecommunications programs.
“ACCAN agrees with the Productivity Commission’s assessment that the USO must be modernised and reformed to include both voice and data services. However, access to these services needs to be underpinned by comprehensive guarantees, standards and performance levels,” added Ms. Corbin.
In the Pre-Budget Submission, ACCAN also recommends funding be allocated to the ACCC to conduct and report on independent broadband performance monitoring on an ongoing basis. ACCAN has long been calling for an independent broadband monitoring program to help consumers more easily choose services that suit their needs.
“Broadband plans are commonly advertised on headline speed claims which may only be achievable in ideal test conditions and are not what consumers should expect in real world everyday use,” said Ms. Corbin. “Consumers do not have access to information about which providers and services will deliver consistent performance. As a result, they may not be choosing the best services to suit their needs, or they may struggle to identify and rectify poor performance issues when they occur.”
The need for a performance monitoring program is reflected in the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman 2015-16 Annual Report which showed a 48 per cent increase in complaints about slow data speeds. It is also supported by an ACCAN survey from early 2016 which showed confusion amongst consumers around broadband speed claims and advertising.
ACCAN’s 2016 research with the South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS) demonstrated a need for a review of the Centrelink Telephone Allowance (CTA). The CTA is a quarterly allowance designed to help consumers on income support payments to stay connected to telecommunications services. In a survey of low-income consumers, 62 per cent reported difficulty paying, having to cut back, or having to stop using one or more telecommunications services for financial reasons in the past 12 months. Our Pre-Budget Submission calls for the allocation of additional funding for an updated Commonwealth Telecommunications Allowance with baseline levels that reflect the real cost of contemporary telecommunications services, and improved targeting to assist those who need it most.
Finally, the Submission calls for funding to be allocated to the ABC to provide a minimum of 14 hours of audio described content on its main channel and a minimum of 14 hours of audio description a week on ABC iView. For more information on audio description, access ACCAN’s policy position.