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Federal Government satellite handset subsidy plus progress report on TSI initiatives.



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Federal Government satellite handset subsidy plus progress report on TSI initiatives

The Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Richard Alston today announced the Federal Government's Satellite Phone Subsidy promised as part of the Coalition's response to the Telecommunications Service Inquiry (TSI).

People living in rural and remote Australia, beyond terrestrial mobile phone coverage, can apply for a one-off government grant of up to $1,100 to purchase mobile satellite phone handsets.

The subsidy is available for satellite phone handsets purchased by people in areas without terrestrial CDMA or GSM mobile coverage and that are unlikely to get coverage in the near future. It will also be available to community groups, small business, and emergency services operating in these areas.

This new subsidy will ensure that mobile communications is more accessible and affordable for those living and working in the remotest parts of Australia. This application-based scheme will provide up to 50% of the purchase price of a satellite mobile handset with financial assistance of up to $1,100 (including GST) per handset. It is available for all mobile satellite systems and all telephone companies.

A separate Commonwealth-funded Networking the Nation initiative and State Government Satellite Mobile Phone Scheme operating in Western Australia is already providing a subsidy for these services for people in that state.

The Coalition Government is committed to extending and improving the coverage of mobile services in Australia, and this initiative is part of the Government's response to the independent Telecommunications Service Inquiry (TSI).

This response includes: mobile coverage for towns with population over 500; $50.5 million for the Regional Mobile Phones Programme to provide coverage in towns under 500 and along Australia's secondary highways; $52.2 for health and education networks under the National Communications Fund; up to $48 million to improve internet speeds under the Internet Assistance Program; reduced service connection times and earlier availability of interim services; $8.3 million to improve indigenous telecommunications services; and enhanced quality of service regulations for the USO provider (a progress report on these and other TSI initiatives is attached).

The Coalition has made significant improvements to regional telecommunications since 1996. Over $1 billion is being spent through TSI initiatives and the Networking the Nation and Social Bonus programs to improve services. Regional, rural and remote Australians are already enjoying major improvements in services as a result of these programs, and further benefits will be realised as the TSI initiatives are progressively rolled out.

Media contact: Sasha Grebe, Senator Alston's office 02 6277 7480 or 0409 445 246 Website: www.richardalston.dcita.gov.au

120/02 21 May 2002

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Progress report on the implementation of the Telecommunications Service Inquiry initiatives

In March 2000, the Government initiated the independent Telecommunications Service Inquiry (TSI) to assess the adequacy of telecommunications services in Australia. The Inquiry reported that Australians generally have adequate access to a range of high-quality basic and advanced telecommunications services comparable to the leading information economies of the world.

A significant proportion of people who live and work in rural and remote Australia, however, expressed concerns regarding aspects of key services. These concerns related, in particular, to provision and repair of basic telephone services, mobile phone coverage at affordable prices and reliable access to the Internet.

In May 2001, the Government responded to the recommendations of the TSI with a package of initiatives aimed at further improving telecommunications services in regional, rural and remote Australia. The TSI programs build on the already existing Networking the Nation and Social Bonus programs funded from the proceeds of the first and second partial sales of Telstra.

In the 12 months since the TSI response was announced, the Government has made significant progress in implementing the TSI package, with many initiatives being completed or well advanced. These include:

New service connection times and provision of temporary services Effective from October 2001, the maximum telephone service connection time for remote areas of Australia has been reduced from 12 to 6 months. Also, customers of the Universal Service Provider are entitled to a temporary service if their service connection will take more than 30 working days or if their service repair will take more than five working days.

Mobile telephone service coverage A contract to extend terrestrial mobile phone services, under the $37.7 million Towns Over 500 Program, has been signed with Telstra, following a competitive tender process. Telstra expects to have the first base station installed in the first town by June 2002, with services to the remaining 131 towns covered by the contract rolled out progressively over the next 18 months. All work is expected to be completed by December 2003. All towns will receive CDMA coverage, while a number of selected towns will also receive GSM coverage.

Mobile phone services will be extended to other rural and remote area consumers under the $50.5 million Regional Mobile Phones Program. Tenders to provide terrestrial mobile phone services to 55 towns with populations under 500 are currently being assessed, as are tenders to provide improved terrestrial mobile phone coverage along 35 selected highways. Terrestrial mobile phone services in south-west Western Australia are also currently being improved, with six new base stations already operational. The Satellite Mobile Phone Subsidy to assist people who, because of their location, do not have access to terrestrial mobile phone services, will commence in July 2002.

Internet Assistance Program The Internet Assistance Program (IAP)-comprising $10 million Commonwealth and up to $38 million Telstra funding-commenced operating in July 2001. It helps users optimise Internet speed and allows them to achieve an effective service speed of at least 19.2 kilobits per second over Telstra's fixed network for web and email applications. The IAP may be contacted by calling the Online Help Service on 1800 427 457 or at www.iapselfhelp.com.

National Communications Fund The successful applicants for funds under the $52.2 million National Communications Fund are expected to be announced in early June 2002. The Fund aims to support significant telecommunications projects in the education and health sectors in regional areas, to improve service delivery in those sectors whilst also improving telecommunications services generally.

Telecommunications services for Indigenous communities Site visits to look at improving payphone services for remote Indigenous communities under the Universal Service Obligation (USO) are underway. This initiative is expected to be combined with the Telecommunications Action Plan for Remote Indigenous Communities initiative to which the Government has committed $8.3 million over three years. This includes a Community Phone Program, an Online Access Centre Business Study, an Internet Access Program, a Content Development Program, and an Information and Awareness Program.

Resources are also being provided to improve coordination mechanisms and the provision of information to communities. Detailed implementation strategies will be developed by the end of 2002, in close consultation with representative Indigenous organisations; relevant Commonwealth, State and Territory government agencies; and industry providers.

Community Information Campaign A $5.3.9 million community information campaign-to increase the awareness of regional, rural and remote area consumers of the availability of Government grants and commercial communications services, as well as consumer safeguards and rights-has been completed. The online information resource element of the campaign is continuing and may be accessed at www.newconnections.gov.au.

Enhanced quality of service regulations Proposals to enhance reliability standards maintained by the Primary Universal Service Provider under the USO have

been developed. They include proposals to monitor the occurrence of faults, require the remediation of poorly performing services, and deal with extreme cases of failure to meet the Customer Service Guarantee. The proposals are currently being considered by the Government, and will be put in place in the near future.

Consumer information and empowerment Australian Consumer Authority proposals-to improve the quality of service monitoring and reporting and to enable consumers to make more informed decisions about their telecommunications services-are being implemented. These include consumer information guidelines for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and a comprehensive toolkit for mobile service buyers launched 20 May.

Priority assistance services Measures to provide priority customers-those with a diagnosed medical condition who are at risk of suffering a rapid, life-threatening deterioration in their condition-with faster service connection and fault repair have been developed and will be put into effect by 31 July 2002. Responsibility for providing this service has been placed on the Primary Universal Service Provider, Telstra. A public information strategy is currently being developed to advise consumers of these priority assistance measures. Measures to extend this service across the industry are being explored through a cooperative industry process.

Consumer representation In order to provide additional support for consumer representation and research in telecommunications, increases in funding for disability groups were announced in July 2001, with priority given to disability groups and consumers in regional, rural and remote areas. The announcement of allocations for 2002-03 is expected prior to July 2002.

Other initiatives The Productivity Commission has conducted a review of telecommunications-specific competition regulation ( Report on Telecommunications Competition Regulation, December 2001 ). The Government responded to the report in April 2002, announcing measures requiring publication of benchmark terms and conditions for access to core services; measures to facilitate investment in new telecommunications infrastructure; and greater transparency in the way Telstra treats wholesale customers and its own retail operations. The objective of these measures is to significantly increase competition and investment in the telecommunications market.

The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) has now completed its review of the Customer Service Guarantee. The Government is currently considering its response to the recommendations arising from the review.

Mr Allan Horsley, was appointed to the ACA in December 2000 to provide a regional perspective on issues administered by the ACA.

An Internet initiative also underway includes the redirection of funding to support the development of high-speed regional networks. Applications for these funds will be considered and allocated by the Board of the Networking the Nation program when it meets this month.

On 22 March 2002, the Government announced additional funding for a comprehensive teletypewriter (TTY) training program as part of the National Relay Service. This initiative will ensure that people with speech or hearing impairments can access quality telecommunications services.

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