Geelong Advertiser, Saturday 4 August 2007, p. 33.
Listening to the radio last night, I heard that Australian motorcyclist Casey Stoner who leads the current MotoGP championship by 44 points half way through the season is back home in Australia at his farm in New South Wales. When asked by Will Hagen if he was listening to a particular program on the radio, he replied, “We don’t get radio or mobile phone reception here”. I was reminded of the problem by a friend in our village the other day who has just upgraded his mobile phone to the 3G network and still finds he can’t get reception. We can, with our older mobile phone. Not in the house, but out in the paddock and then only intermittently.
My friend tried ringing the telco on the landline and after an hour or so was able to establish that the privatised company had no plans to upgrade facilities in this area. Yet it is only a few months since a Federal government scheme, ‘the Towns over 500 program’ was concluded which was to improve mobile phone coverage to 131 towns with populations of 500 or more. In Victoria that delivered facilities to Bruthen, Chiltern, Clunes, Dunolly, Heyfield, Koroit, Maldon, Malmsbury, Mount Macedon, Murtoa, Newstead, Nyah West, Pyramid Hill, Riddells Creek, San Remo, Stratford, Terang, Tongala, Tooradin, Tyabb, Warneet East but not our neck of the woods. In my cynical moments, I wonder how many of these are in marginal constituencies? Our village is a small place but the folks who run the local milk bar and post office told me that there are about 1,300 people in the immediate area.
In case this sounds very selfish I should explain that I am making these points because it is lack of communication or only one way communication which is going to be major determinant of the future of non-metropolitan Australia. Unless rural areas get full access to modern two-way communication then local businesses, farms, and individuals will be hamstrung in any attempt to develop their activities beyond the immediate area, and often not even there. It is not just access of course, but access at comparable prices which is required. I know that raises the question of subsidisation because the costs of supply are higher, but if we really want rural and regional areas to survive and grow, they must have the basic services for the modern world.
But even when communication is available is it of value if it only works in one direction? Have you tried to contact public companies or organizations by phone or email recently? How long on average do you spend going round the mulberry bush pressing buttons to get to the facility you think might be the one you want? When it turns out not to be the case, how long do you wait before a human being replies? On how many occasions do you find that you are simply shuffled from one part of the organization to another without getting to the heart of the problem you are trying to solve? Some organizations are above reproach in that they have built in systems to deal with issues and provide human support from knowledgeable staff. But they are in a minority. Communication is only valuable when it is two-way and effective.
So I’d better head off and see if I can get a few kindred spirits to bombard the telco, or enough prepared to chip in a few dollars to put up a mast to improve reception in our area.