This paper considers the implications of changes in the technological and regulatory environment in the telecommunications industry in Australia for Indigenous Australians living in remote and rural areas. This group is particularly vulnerable to falling on the wrong side of the 'digital divide' because of their geographical location and their low socioeconomic status.
The paper surveys some of the important features of the industry that have implications for the provision of telecommunications services in rural and remote communities. These include economies of scale and scope, network externalities and the social and economic significance of the industry. The next section highlights some of the components of the regulatory environment that have particular implications for rural and remote Indigenous communities. These include price controls, the access regime, the Universal Service Obligation and the Customer Service Guarantee. Some of the government programs aimed at raising the quality of telecommunications services in rural and remote Australia are also discussed.
The paper presents evidence on the current availability and quality of services and the demand for these services in rural and remote Australia. The evidence suggests that the telecommunications services available to these communities are inferior to those in urban Australia but given the nature of the industry, particularly the economies of scale and scope, the substantial government intervention has helped to reduce the gap. The available evidence also shows that Australians in remote and rural areas are less likely to utilise the new services such as mobile phones and the internet than Australians in urban centres.
Technological developments offer the opportunity to reduce the disadvantages of location for rural and remote communities. For example, improved communications may be helpful in the provision of health and education services and for preserving Indigenous culture. There is also scope for expanding the export from these communities of arts and crafts and reducing the market power of suppliers of goods and services to these communities. However, it is important to recognise that technology alone will not solve all the problems facing rural and remote Indigenous communities in Australia. Recognition of the cultural and social environments of rural and remote Indigenous communities will be necessary to make these technological developments work for the people living there.
ISBN: 0 7315 2654 6