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Mobile phones: an open letter to regional Australia.



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Media Release

 

SENATOR THE HON RICHARD ALSTON

Minister for Communications, the Information Economy and the Arts

Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate

 

Mobile phones: an open letter to regional Australia

 

As the Minister for Communications, I am concerned that residents of regional Australia may have been misled about the future of the analogue mobile phone network by some of the statements made by Mr Boyd Munro and his Association for the Protection of Users of Mobile Phones (APUMP).

 

Mr Munro blames the Howard Government for deciding to close the analogue mobile phone network. But Mr Munro knows that it was the Labor Government of Paul Keating which imposed this policy on Australia, in 1992. Labor then bound the hands of future governments by giving a written contractual commitment that the analogue system would be shut.

 

Mr Munro consistently refuses to acknowledge that the real blame for this unfair policy lies with the Labor Party.

 

Since winning office in March 1996, the Coalition has worked tirelessly to develop a practical and workable policy which is designed to ensure that mobile phone users in regional Australia do not lose out.

 

Under our policy, announced on February 5, the Australian Communications Authority will, by June 30, have identified those areas which currently receive an analogue service but do not have alternative coverage (from digital, for example) which offers a quality of service and breadth of coverage reasonably equivalent to that offered by analogue.

 

The Government will then ask Telstra, Optus and Vodafone if they agree to keep the analogue service in those areas. If they do, the service will remain. We must adopt this approach because of the commitments made by Labor.

 

If the phone companies do not agree to retain an analogue service in those areas identified by the ACA, the Government will, if necessary, require Telstra, Optus and Vodafone to provide reasonably equivalent coverage through other means, for example, by extending their digital service.

 

It is important to remember that the ACA review will be looking at both the quality of service and the breadth of coverage. While it is true that an analogue base station can provide a mobile service over a much larger geographic area than does a digital base station, this simply points to the need for additional digital base stations to be installed, thus providing access to a range of enhanced services such as voice mail, short messaging, and data services, which are simply not available on an analogue network.

 

Rather than condemn rural Australians to a second class technology, the Government wants to ensure that all Australians have access to a world class telecommunications service.

 

The legal advice is quite clear: if we were to abandon the former Labor Government's policy of completely closing the analogue network, the taxpayers could be liable for compensation to Optus and Vodafone potentially worth billions of dollars.

 

Rather than take this dangerous and irresponsible course of action, advocated by Mr Munro, the Government has instead developed a practicable and workable solution which will minimise the impact of the analogue phaseout on rural mobile phone users, and on taxpayers.

 

Mr Munro, for all his campaigning on this issue, has no solution. His proposal - that the Government should simply abandon the analogue phaseout - is completely unworkable.

 

Mr Munro also ignores the sovereign risk implications of overturning a previous government decision, despite my clear explanation to him of these implications at a public function in Tamworth on January 22.

 

Sovereign risk means, quite simply, that a Government which tears up one legally binding agreement guaranteeing a company's investment will never be trusted not to do it again. It's the sort of thing that happens in military dictatorships or the worst of the banana republics, not in Australia.

 

This is not some abstract concept: the Government has been told by new phone companies that they would not have the confidence to invest in new infrastructure if we reversed the decision to scrap the analogue phase out.

 

We would prefer that Labor had not insisted the analogue network be closed. But we have developed a practical and workable solution which is designed to ensure that rural mobile phone users do not lose out as a result of the analogue phaseout.

 

Media Con tact:

Terry O'Connor, Minister's office 02 6277 7480 or 0419 636 879

Website http://www.richardalston.dca.gov.au

 

 

18/98

26 February 1998

 

Local councils or industry organisations wishing to make submissions to the ACA review should write to:

 

Roger Smith

Analogue Mobile Phone Review

Australian Communications Authority

PO Box 78

Belconnen, ACT 2616

 

 

Individuals are, of course, welcome to make submissions to the review. However, to ensure the ACA is able to concentrate its resources on a speedy completion of the review, it would be appreciated if personal submissions were made through local councils.

 

Further information on the review and the analogue service closure is available from the ACA's Analogue Closure Hotline on freecall 1800 351 135.