Achieving a brilliantly connected future where regional communities can fully benefit from advancing technologies will require a range of support from governments and policy makers.

Great opportunities are within reach, but the right approach to policy and regulation will be an essential element of success.

Governments at all levels need to continue to support innovation in the economy and look in detail at how this can apply to regional areas.

For innovation to take its place as a driver of Australia’s prosperity, the contribution regional communities can play must be recognised. The start-up culture that has helped created many of today’s largest and most successful global corporations cannot continue to be isolated to inner-city enclaves.

Australia needs to prepare for a technology-led future by prioritising STEM education, available no matter where you are, as well as supporting careers in science and engineering.

The Gillard Government’s National Plan for School Improvement and the Turnbull Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda brought much-needed focus to discussions about securing Australia’s future prosperity through a better educated, more agile and globally-competitive workforce. Embedding these reforms must remain a priority over the long term.

Alongside formal education, initiatives such as Code Club Australia (which aims to give every child in Australia the chance to learn how to write code) are an important part of fostering the minds of the future.

We must address the barriers that keep women out of careers in science and technology. Currently women comprise 46% of Australian students working towards a PhD in STEMM, but hold just 21% of senior academics positions. Initiatives like Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE), which aim to improve the gender equity and diversity of careers in science, require continued support.

What role should regulation play in the communications networks of the future?

Competitive, dynamic markets with best-practice regulation – such as Australia currently has for mobile phone networks – are best able to deliver the kind of investment, research and development needed to make a brilliantly-connected future possible. The current mobile phone network regulation model, in which market competition delivers continuous improvements for customers, should be followed as new technologies and services start to become available to regional, rural and remote communities.

Telstra has a long history of world-leading innovation in regional mobile telecommunications. We want to continue to connect people to a brilliant future, and we are actively investing to do just that.

Recent claims that regulatory intervention in the mobile market would benefit consumers have been shown to be false. An open and competitive market has led Australia to being ranked 1st in the world for mobile connectivity. Australia has some of the best mobile service coverage and technology in the world despite our great landmass and dispersed population, plus falling prices for mobile plans and constantly increasing data allowances.

Current regulatory settings ensure that mobile operators can and do compete vigorously to drive mobile infrastructure and technology further into remote Australia. Regulation already ensures competitors can access each other’s mobile towers and the transmission lines that carry data and calls from remote towers back into the mobile operators’ core networks. Mobile spectrum is sold by auction in an open market with limits on the amount any one operator can acquire. The playing field is level for all competitors and the competition is consequently fierce.

Many Australians value having the best possible national mobile coverage regardless of where they live and work, and are willing to pay a premium for it. Network operators compete on coverage to attract this cohort of customers, which in turn drives a strong investment focus on extending networks further into remote areas. Where a carrier has the best coverage in an area it will focus on extending that coverage to stay ahead of its competitors, while its competitors will invest in their own coverage to reduce the leader’s better coverage claim. This virtuous circle is the product of light-touch regulation and the power of the market to deliver what customers want and need.

Governments have also helped support additional mobile coverage, not through more regulation but by harnessing the power of the competitive market to amplify the value of public investments in remote Australian mobile networks. For example, the Australian Government’s Mobile Black Spot Programme is successfully encouraging co-investment. The first two rounds of the programme have already attracted almost $600 million in industry and government funding. This will deliver:

  • 765 new and upgrade mobile base stations
  • 86,300 square kilometres of new and upgraded handheld coverage
  • 202,300 square kilometres of new external antenna coverage
  • over 7,600 kilometres new coverage to major transport routes.