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(Australian Associated Press)
Telecommunications giant Telstra has vowed to make “life and death” landline phone services more reliable across regional and rural Australia, by upgrading hardware and cutting down on repair times.
The commitment has been warmly embraced by the federal government as it continues preparing its own response to a sweeping review of telecommunications in the outback.
Telstra says it will be able to repair landlines more quickly by ramping up its stock of a device which facilitates multiple connections from a phone line.
The carrier will also replace 1000 cable joints along some of the country’s worst-performing cables in its landline network and about 200 batteries in areas where power failures are more frequent.
The hardware upgrades come as about 350 customers will also be moved from an older network onto a newer one.
Regional Services Minister Bridget McKenzie says the commitments will help address landline issues that have long frustrated Australians.
Repeat issues and long repair times for some people living rural and remote areas are “just not good enough”, she said on Wednesday.
“For some, a landline service is their only connection to the outside world and can literally mean the difference between life and death.
“It is essential these services are reliable, and that any issues are fixed quickly.”
Telstra chief executive Andy Penn says while the carrier has made great strides in improving mobile coverage in rural and regional Australia, landlines remain vital.
“Mobile coverage doesn’t get everywhere,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“The basic telephony service continues to be critically important as well, and that of course uses multiple technologies itself.”
Telstra says the upgrades are part of its ongoing investment in its Universal Service Obligation, under which it must ensure phone service are “reasonably accessible” to all Australians.
They come after the release in December of a comprehensive three-yearly review into regional telecommunications.
It recommended the government undertake an audit on repair times for landlines and how mass disruption events – such as extreme weather – affect them.
“Penalties should be considered for excessive repair time frames,” the report states.
Greater investment in telecommunications infrastructure in regional Australia could also lead to more money flowing in such areas, the inquiry found.
Senator McKenzie is due to hand down the government’s response to the report by the end of March.