NSW Farmers says an agreement to share mobile networks is an important first step in bridging the digital divide in the bush.

On Monday Telstra and TPG announced a 10-year network sharing arrangement, which could increase coverage in rural areas, pending approval from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

NSW Farmers Rural Affairs Committee Chair Garry Grant said it was a positive step towards delivering better phone and data services across the state.

“Ultimately we want to see 100 per cent coverage of NSW, so you can get an email or make a call no matter where you are,” Mr Grant said.

“NSW Farmers believes network roaming will be key to unlocking this greater coverage, but until we get there these sorts of ‘team ups’ between rival operators could be a good way forward.

“At the end of the day phone service is a major safety issue across many regional, rural and remote areas, so anything that will improve coverage is a good thing.”

While major telcos boast coverage of more than 95 per cent of the population, the fact remains that there are huge swathes of the state – and many stretches of long roads – that are effectively mobile blackspots. The impact of accidents on farms or country roads is exacerbated by a reduced ability to call for help, while many businesses struggle to do the basics such as banking and invoicing without reliable data connections.

“Just last week we were talking about fixing phone services being vital for the future of farming,” Mr Grant said.

“It’s good to see private companies make moves to solve the problem, but where there are gaps we need stronger investment from government to plug them up.

“It will be important for rural areas that this not only im- proves access for those al- ready covered – but extends the coverage to more marginal areas.”