Photo: Samara Cassidy with her children Beau and Jordan, at their family's piggery and sheep farm. (ABC News: Jennifer Huxley)
The traditional landline telephone has become almost obsolete in some city households, replaced by mobile and internet services, but for many people in the bush, landlines remain crucial and could even be the difference between life and death.Australia's Universal Service Obligation (USO), which guarantees access to a fixed copper line telephone service, is set to be scrapped by the Federal Government.
It comes after the Productivity Commission last year released a report stating the $300-million-a-year USO contract with Telstra was "anachronistic and costly" and should be "replaced by a new framework".
In its response to the report, the Federal Government said it planned to do just that, through the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN).
"When the NBN rollout is completed in 2020, all premises will have access to high-speed broadband services upon request, and 97 per cent of premises on the NBN (fixed line and fixed wireless areas) will have access to fixed voice services on request," the statement read.
"In addition to the NBN, consumers are embracing mobile technology.
"More than 99 per cent of Australians have access to at least one commercial mobile network."
Landline telephones a lifeline for manyThe idea of losing their landline connection has farming families on edge, with the traditional telephone a lifeline for many in rural and remote Australia, where mobile phone coverage is poor and internet data is expensive.
Jordan Cassidy, 14, and her six-year-old brother Beau live on a piggery on Queensland's Southern Downs, 50 kilometres from the nearest school.
Their mother Samara Cassidy said her family relied on distance education so they could continue to run the business.
"To drive the kids to school everyday is 100 kilometres to there and back, and 200 kilometres by the time I go pick them up again," she said.
"It's just too much out of our day to do that."
Public transport was not an option either, after the bus route was cancelled when Jordan became its only passenger.
Ms Cassidy said her children used both the internet and a landline connection to participate in their classes.
"[Without a landline], it would mean my kids wouldn't be able to do their schooling properly, because our mobile service — while we get a bit of coverage — it's sketchy and does drop out," she said.The Federal Government stated it would not make any changes to the USO until all Australians were guaranteed a reliable and cost-effective broadband and voice service.
For residents outside the footprint of fixed-line connections to the NBN, they are worried about the reliability of the Sky Muster satellite and cost of data.
"We do get a certain amount of data for schooling but that's chewed through by the end of the month with the two kids online and then we've got dropouts, so if we're adding phone to that as well, we're using even more data every day," Ms Cassidy said.
In a statement, the Department of Communications said it was examining alternative voice service options for residents in the Sky Muster footprint.
"NBN has worked closely … to improve the reliability of the Sky Muster installation process, network stability and service speed," a spokesperson said.
Fears NBN won't be reliable in remote areasAgForce spokesperson and Dalby farmer Kim Bremner said a landline connection was a must.
Photo: Mr Bremner says the NBN will not be sufficiently reliable for people in remote areas. (ABC News: Melanie Vujkovic)
"We don't believe that the NBN will be sufficiently reliable for those people in the remote areas," Mr Bremner said."It's about having two options so if one of them goes down, you've got the other option.
"If you have an accident, you need to be able to contact the [Royal] Flying Doctor [Service] or emergency services."
'Grave concerns' for those in isolated situationsConsumer advocacy group Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia (BIRRR) is calling on rural landholders to have their say on the future of bush telecommunications by filling out a survey.
BIRRR spokeswoman Kristy Sparrow said the results would be provided to the government taskforce committee looking into the new Universal Service Guarantee (USG).
"This USG is so vital for rural, regional and remote Australia — if they get this wrong, we have grave concerns that some could well be left in very tough and isolated situations, with potentially disastrous consequences," she said.
"The Government must not consider rural, regional and remote mobile connectivity as a replacement for a Universal Service Guarantee voice service, until this connectivity at least meets the same service guarantees as existing landlines."
The department said the Government would aim to release a progress report in the second half of 2018.
The BIRRR survey closes on March 28.