itWire is reporting that the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee has, in its first report, recommended significant alterations to government policy, aimed primarily at improving communications services in rural areas of Australia. It is understood that the changes proposed changes include a radical overhaul of the universal service obligation and its expansion to cover a wider range of services, alongside recommendations that the government mandate inter-carrier roaming between mobile operators in areas where there is only one network. The proposals come after the committee held public consultations in 20 locations across Australia, as well as stakeholder meetings in all state and territory capitals. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has declined to comment on the findings but has stated that a response to the report would be given by 5 March 2009.
The committee was established as part of legislative changes that preceded the sale of the third block of shares in Telstra by the government in 2005; its initial creation was in response to the 2002 Regional Telecommunications Inquiry which recommended regular reviews of telecommunications services in regional, rural and remote Australia to ensure that services are ‘available equitably across Australia’.