Telstra sale rings rural alarm bells

By JOSEPH TERNOWETSKY

COUNTRY people want three simple things when it comes to communications ? a phone, a phone that works, and a phone that works all the time.

That is what John Ellrott, who owns a property at Morinish, outside Rockhampton, sees as the most important part of the sale of Telstra.

But even this wish list is far more difficult to realise than it seems.

Mr Ellrott's phone regularly goes offline and he has had to wait three weeks before his lines were repaired.

"When our phones go down we have no idea what kind of people have called who are interested in our livestock,'' the 53-year-old cattle salesman said.

"If we needed to make an emergency phone call, it is just not possible.''

Even though Telstra and the government have just announced a $3 billion expansion of rural telecommunication services, Mr Ellrott remains sceptical about the privatisation.

"I think they are just doing this to keep us happy in the short term,'' he said.

"Our treatment will probably worsen when Telstra sells out.'' Agforce president Peter Kenny agrees.

He said Telstra did not even maintain the services it provided to rural areas now.

"What we want is their repair services brought up to date,'' he said.

The $3 billion expansion would include $1 billion in subsidies for phone and internet services, as well as $2 billion for a bush telecommunications trust fund.

Although the specifics of the expansion have not yet been released, Malcolm Broad, Telstra Country Wide manager for Central Queensland said his branch was already researching how to improve rural services.

His research was not related to the $3 billion expansion. "Technology is changing in a such a way we want to be very clear on what initiatives we put in place,'' he said. "We are still in the planning phase.



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