Smoke and Mirrors on improved mobile coverage
Summer is upon us and with it comes the annual influx of holiday makers from the North, the West and the South. Our Princes Highway approaches from the north have reasonable mobile reception in most town areas as you drive through parts however the southern section of the Princes Highway to the Victorian border remain poor. As does the length of Kings Highway from the Batemans Bay round-about to the top of the Clyde Mountain and beyond to Braidwood. While this has a bearing on the lives of people who live and work along these corridors it also has a considerable impact for those wanting to request urgent help to accidents. On far too many occasions locals along the Kings Highway corridor have had knocks on their doors at all times of the day and night asking to use the phone to report an accident. For many in remote areas of the Shire there has come a new dependence on the mobile phone as emergency services adopt the “Txt Alert” method to alert those in a flood or fire area to evacuate. For rural residents in Eurobodalla, the Deua Valley, Nelligen reaches and Tilba surrounds the only thing they have to rely on is antiquated land lines or local radio. Sadly for many they are also out of range of local radio reception. There is a growing telecommunications divide between the cities and our regional and rural areas. Folks in Australia’s major cities have access to three superfast 4G networks. With so many smaller providers running their own networks the city folk also benefit from strong competition with discounted mobile and data plans. But what happens when those good city folk leave the city limits? Their providers haven’t replicated towers along our corridors and Telstra doesn’t offer reciprocation use. So the Vodaphone people, the Optus people, the Virgins and the 3 folk have no reception, even if they are in a Telstra corridor. So on any given day along most of our South Eastern highways most travellers have poor or nil mobile coverage for most of their journey. Australians living in a regional areas have singular access to a mobile service from one provider. It is Telstra in the main who put up the towers.
Regional Australians understand that we live in a big country with low population density in many places. It is understood that mobile networks cost a lot and it isn’t economically viable to build more than one network in many rural and remote areas. In June 2016 Member for Gilmore Ann Sudmalis said “Areas in Gilmore will receive improved mobile phone coverage if the Coalition is re-elected as part of an additional $60 million commitment to extend the successful Mobile Black Spot Programme” “New mobile base stations in Kangaroo Valley, East Lynne, Clyde Mountain, and the Sussex Inlet/Wandandian/Bewong area will bring a much-needed boost to mobile coverage, providing benefits to emergency service operators, businesses, and residents.” “We have selected these areas of the electorate because they have been overlooked by mobile network operators due to commercial factors. A re-elected Coalition government will invite mobile network operators to bid for this new funding to provide coverage in the identified locations.
“The Coalition is committed to improving mobile coverage along major transport routes, in small communities, as well as addressing unique mobile coverage problems such as areas with high seasonal demand.” With only four base stations mentioned and all of the in the north of the Eurobodalla Shire and Central Gilmore electorate it is beginning to leave a very sour taste in the mouths of those further south who, from the rollout forecast by the Government, will remain in a communication black hole for many years to come. This feeling of being left-out is bought home even more with the painfully slow roll-out of the NBN to the area. With poor communication and poor internet South Coast business struggles to move forward and with the demands of summer visitors to the area the telecommunications and internet are often bought to a standstill based on the demand being greater than the capacity to supply. The Australian Government has committed $220 million to the Mobile Black Spot Program to invest in telecommunications infrastructure to improve mobile coverage along major regional transport routes, in small communities and in locations prone to natural disasters. Round 1 of the Mobile Black Spot Program has begun. As you can see from this map from the Mobile black-spot location database the blue circles are the mobile black-spots reported by the community and it is quite clear that in the South East of NSW, including the our highway corridors, is well affected.
The Government tells us they are committing funds to fix the problem however new base stations in the South East, under Round 1, are few and far between and the proposed Round 2 project, expected to commence in 2017, has just one base station to be installed in our region. As you can see from the number of blue circles regional Australia is still poorly covered with mobile reception and the proposed round of new towers don’t even begin to solve the problem. The extent of mobile black-spots and what Governments can actually achieve are poles apart. Meanwhile the infantile name calling from each of the major political parties continues with each saying other is more inadequate such as yesterday’s Media release from the Prime Minister “There has been strong community demand for improved mobile coverage in regional and remote Australia – but the previous Labor government failed to allocate a single dollar of public money to address this problem” In a statement on 24 May, 2016 issued by Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare and Shadow Regional Communications Minister Stephen Jones, Labor said: “Like the Turnbull Government’s promise to deliver the NBN, the Mobile Black Spot Programme has over-promised and under-delivered.”
According to the figures provided by Labor, of the 499 mobile towers funded in Round 1 of the program, only 21 had been switched on as of 4 May.
Of those 499, it added, 416 towers “are in Liberal and Nationals’ electorates”
In Victoria, a state that remains riddled with black spots, creating the same risks of zero communication on high fire-danger days when mobiles are relied upon by emergency authorities to issue warnings the Andrews government now stands accused of "childish and pathetic" tactics after complaining it is being ripped off under a federal plan to eliminate mobile phone black spots. The Federal government has pulled 31 tower upgrades proposed by Labor they were deemed a waste of taxpayers' money, providing little or zero benefit in terms of coverage. Meanwhile, summer draws closer and the demands on the networks will see an inevitable grinding to a halt of our mobile phone network and with that will follow the inevitable return to dial-up speed performances on the internet as the Netflix crazy holiday makers arrive and suck all out data. According to figures from the Australian Communication and Media Authority’s 2015/16 report Australia’s internet downloads have more than doubled over the past two years, as people watch increasing amounts of online video. Australians downloaded nearly 2.2 million terabytes of data from April to June this year, compared to one million terabytes in 2014.
That’s roughly the equivalent of 1.1 billion high-definition movies. So this summer it might be best to stay off the highways, put away your phone and grab a good book and pray there aren’t any catastrophes.