Queensland-based agricultural lobby group AgForce has called on the Federal Government to “try harder” in rolling out fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) technology to 100 per cent of premises under the National Broadband Network (NBN).
The company building the network, NBN Co, is currently mandated to reach 93 per cent of homes with the technology, with the seven per cent of the Australian population considered most rural to be provided with either fixed wireless or satellite technologies. Both technologies are expected to deliver slower speeds of 12 megabits per second (Mbps) - compared to 100Mbps for fibre - and are often considered inferior technologies.
In a Parliamentary inquiry into the NBN, AgForce chief executive, Robert Andrew Walker, said the seven per cent of the country to miss out on fibre will most likely be the seven per cent that is already missing out on technology.
“Our optimum level is 100 per cent and I think governments need to explore all options of delivery of technology to ensure the greatest impact and the greatest access can be achieved,” Walker said. “Governments need to try harder to fill that gap... We’re not convinced that you can’t get 100 per cent because I think technology will evolve but we need to make sure we explore all options.”
AgForce was one of three organisations to voice similar concerns at the hearing in Brisbane this week, with the government-funded Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee and Smartnet echoing similar proposals.
Access, rather than speed, was key according to Walker, who said access to efficient internet technology was most important to those in rural and regional Queensland.
“All levels of government have a social, moral and political obligation to provide these services in an advance and up-to-date level for people living in these areas," he said.
The average age for farmers in Queensland has risen to 65, or in some cases 70 years old, due to the lack of technology access for the younger generation.
“Youth are being driven from regional and rural Queensland because of the lack of education facilities and the lack of drivers within those communities to retain the youth in those centres and that can be put down clearly to the lack of technology,” he said.
“The next generation of farmers require high speed access to download and alternate means of interaction and education and unfortunately they’ve been failed in that regard and are being driven to major urban centres where technology is available. Unfortunately with the continued absence of appropriate broadband access they’re unable or choose not to return hence the growing age of primary producers.”
Walker also noted the importance of broadband technology for those needing healthcare in rural Queensland, specifically specialist services.
“In remote parts of this state it’s quite different to being in urban areas particularly for specialist services,” he said. “If you have a medical condition that requires access to specialist medical advice and you’re living in one of the far flung corners of this state, that round trip can take sometimes weeks and that’s if you’re able to get a specialist appointment.”
Public hearings for the inquiry, which is looking into the potential role and benefits of the NBN, moved to Townsville on Tuesday, one of the first mainland release sites.
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