Bush phone services to get $163m boost

The Federal Government has announced a $163.1 million package to fix problems with communications services in the bush.

In its long-awaited response to last year's Besley inquiry, the Government also promised no Australian would have to wait longer than 30 working days to get access to a new telephone service.

The deadline for installing new services in remote areas will be halved to six months but a temporary service will be provided after 30 days and after five days to people waiting for repairs.

Communications Minister, Senator Richard Alston said the package ensures that both the Government and Telstra meet their responsibilities to regional, rural and remote Australia.

"All Australians have a right to a decent, affordable and reliable phone service irrespective of where they live."

The package includes $52.2 million over four years for a new communications fund for educational and health services.

Mobile phone coverage will be extended to towns with more than 500 people at a cost of $37.7 million over three years and $50.5 million will go to improve mobile coverage in other areas of Australia, with matching funding sought from states and territories.

Telstra has also been asked to chip in, providing $38 million of a $50 million program to improve Internet access via a national online help service and technical support.

Telstra officials said the aim was to ensure all residential and small business customers had access equivalent to at least 19.2Kbit/sec, regardless of where they lived.