A senior Telstra executive took a hefty swipe at rival, Vodafone, for not investing enough to improve rural communications during a session at Beef 2018.
Channa Seneviratne, Telstra’s executive director for network and infrastructure engineering, said Vodafone didn’t seem interested in investing in communications infrastructure in the bush but was happy to try and grab onto Telstra’s coat tails.
He was responding to criticism from remote Northern Territory cattlemen in the audience who said Telstra was their only choice of service provider because it owned all the infrastructure.
They said rivals to Telstra could much offer better phone and internet deals but Top End cattleman couldn’t take advantage of the lower prices.
One remote station owner said he was paying $3500 a month to Telstra for internet services “which is fun”.
Remote stations now couldn’t operate their business and get staff without internet connectivity, he said.
Mr Seneviratne said Telstra was investing heavily in infrastructure to improve its services in remote and isolated areas, particularly under the Black Spot Program.
But Vodafone, a giant international telco with deep pockets, wasn’t, he said.
A prime example was the latest round of tenders for the Federal Government’s Black Spot program to bring more high-speed mobile networks to isolated communities, he said.
The Federal Government has so far rolled out three rounds of the program – 2015, 2016 and this year.
Mr Seneviratne said during the latest round Telstra had won 86 of the 102 locations up for grabs. Optus had got the rest.
He asked the audience if they invested in infrastructure would they allow a competitor to use them for nothing as Vodafone wanted to do?
All competitors had the legal right to use Telstra’s towers and infrastructure but the telco expected a co-investment in return.
Telstra had invested $260 million of its own capital into the Black Spot program so far and wanted a return on that money.
Telstra was also constantly looking at new technologies to improve its internet coverage and had had recent discussions with Google which is using high-altitude balloons to bring coverage to parts of Africa and Latin America.
A Pilbara catleman asked how people in remote areas could cut through the corporate maze and get to speak with the Telstra person who could answer their questions and discuss how they could adopt new communications technologies.
Rachel Cliffe, Telstra’s area manager based in Townsville, said cattle producers should contact their nearest Telstra Country Wide manager who would steer them in the right direction.
And farmers shouldn’t get too excited about the roll-out of 5G starting next year.
Mr Seneviratne said the capital cities and some regional centres would be first in line because Telstra needed to starting recouping its large investment in the new network as quickly as possible.