IN A sex-plagued parliamentary year, no government has needed a budget to reset the narrative more than this one. At last media will have to focus on what many appear to have forgotten — the people. As a history-making spike of 43,000 people abandoned the city for the regions, already families are turning back for one reason — they cannot run their business with Third-World connectivity.
Take one tree-changer: Living in inner Sydney on 5G, their fridge recognised when it was out of milk, ordered it from the shop, and had it delivered to their door.
Since moving to the country, they have reverted to filing their Business Activity Statement on paper because they struggle to load the MyGov web page. When the district of Woorinen, Victoria, an agricultural powerhouse worth almost $3 billion a year, petitioned Regional Communications Minister Mark Coulton for a signal, they complained the only mobile reception is on the highway and the internet is so bad students found it impossible to do remote learning.
Without a hint of irony, he told them to look at four websites and provided 12 email addresses.
“Residents may benefit from the use of an external antenna or authorised repeater to improve their indoor reception,” he said in his official reply.
It is not the minister’s job to sell boosters, which start at $1000, for communications companies, especially since TPG made a $734 million full-year profit in 2020 and Telstra reported a $1.1 billion net profit for the half in February 2021.
From the Moon, we could send back vision and audio — and now some 50 years later we struggle to do exactly that from 12km outside a major centre.
A 21-tonne Chinese satellite 2021 035B is hurtling towards Earth and will crash about when you are reading this, somewhere between Perth and New Zealand, but don’t try and call anyone in much of that area as they don’t have reception.
An international board member based in north-west NSW is the only one of his colleagues who cannot join meetings on video-link, even though his peers are Zooming in from remote islands off the Scottish Isles and the Maldives. Cluelessly entrenched bureaucrats from the “bush-city” with golden reception and taxpayer funded NBN spruiked a new National Disability Insurance Scheme app at Parliament, while it was told of aged residents in Queensland forced to crawl outside to phone for help after a fall.
And the family which reverted to paper to file their BAS spent $2500 on reception boosters only to find out they are only compatible with 3G, which will be turned off in three years.
More than a decade ago, Labor was selling us super-fast broadband internet promising fibre to every home and fixed wireless and satellite for the places that were impossible to get to. It was expensive but we would be set for a lifetime.
Then Liberal communications minister Malcolm Turnbull brought in the MTM — the Multi Technology Mix. Now MTM is an acronym that technology insiders refer to as “Malcolm Turnbull’s Mess”, and $53 billion later we have spent more than Labor intended in the first place and have worse internet than Vietnam.
We are also paying, through phone bills and taxes, for Telstra’s Universal Service Obligation to ensure standard telephone services and payphones are “reasonably accessible to all” until 2032. Why would you pay Telstra for a copper network when you have a nationally owned internet company?
This obsession inside the government with making the NBN profitable and selling it off has to end.
Who would buy a service that’s overpriced, irregular, frustrating, and when you have complaints, blame shifts between the company and the retailer and your software? Then gifts $4.3 million in bonuses to executives and $73.2 million in bonuses to employees? If the government wants us to buy boosters, they can pay for them out of the NBN bonuses.
Governments across all levels are responsible for loss-making ventures for the reason of service to the people, paid for in their rates and taxes – pools, trains, libraries, hospitals, roads – none appreciate and few make a profit.
But telecommunications are thrown into the corporate sphere, hamstrung by red tape which favours large companies and legislation that limits who can transmit, strangling out bespoke solutions which would work in regional areas where because of hills, trees, terrain and sheer cost, towers cannot.
During the bushfires, flying squads turned out to regional communities to provide reception.
Trucking in coverage is an admission of failure.
The whole point of the NBN Skymuster is that it is a signal from space that cannot be interrupted.
For many families, a move to the regions offers them an affordable home and COVID has proven that we can work remotely as long as the infrastructure allows it.
Problem is, it often doesn’t.
On Tuesday, the media will sit in budget lockup with a cold pie buffet and scrutineer each dollar spent.
Hopefully, their obsession will fall from the soap opera to the substance.