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Monday, 9 May 1994
Page: 399

Senator CHRIS EVANS —My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. The minister will be aware of concerns raised regarding telephone service problems and call drop-out in rural areas. Can he advise what steps the government is taking to address these issues and ensure adequate telephone services for rural Australians?

Senator COLLINS —Remote and regional communities in Australia do rely very heavily on the standard telephone service, which overall provides a very good service to regional Australia. But there are some gaps in it. The government has provided $4 million over the next four years through the primary industries and energy portfolio to accelerate improvements to the standard telephone network in rural Australia to overcome these identified gaps.

  As a result of cooperative efforts between the Department of Primary Industries and Energy, the Department of Communications and the Arts and Telecom, I am pleased to advise the Senate of the first stage of the accelerated improvement program which is now being put into place. Given the high cost of telecommunications infrastructure, these funds are targeted very carefully to the areas of most need and, in particular, to those parts of the standard telephone service network that are most prone to difficulty. The first communities to benefit from this funding will be the residents of Penong in South Australia and of Emerald, Capella, Princhester, Langdale Hill and Isaac River in Queensland.

  The first stage of the program, costing $1.5 million, will upgrade some of the oldest technology on the network—the analog radio concentrator systems—to the modern digital radio concentrator systems or high-capacity radio concentrator services. The improvements to call quality and reliability and to ancillary services such as facsimile capacity will be significant.