Connectivity for liveability

May 12, 2018

Federal Member for Murray Damian Drum says a review is under way to reassess the government’s approach to stamping out regional and rural areas with poor connectivity.

Greater Shepparton’s mayor says it is ‘‘ridiculous’’ that areas of the city have poor mobile connectivity in the 21st century.

And regional communities with mobile black spots may be kept on hold after no further funding was allocated to the Federal Government’s program to fix them in this week’s Federal Budget.

But Federal Member for Murray Damian Drum says a review is under way to reassess the government’s approach to stamping out regional and rural areas with poor connectivity, and remains confident another program would be established in the previous one’s place.

Mayor Kim O’Keeffe was disappointed to learn funding had not been added to the program, arguing there could be consequences for communities if coverage wasn’t improved.

She singled out Katandra West as a town where minimal mobile connectivity was ‘‘totally unacceptable’’, citing potential barriers to accessing emergency services as a ‘‘huge concern’’.

She also said it did nothing to improve livability in small towns, with poor coverage a clear barrier to running a business.

Cr O’Keeffe said the council would now work out next steps in lobbying for funding to fix local black spots.

‘‘Basically we’re going to sit down now, look at what the next step is, and have local discussions about what we can do.’’

She said it was ridiculous that priority areas even needed to be considered in the modern day, when reliable coverage is what most have come to expect.

Mr Drum said Regional Communications Minister Bridget McKenzie would be ‘‘putting her own stamp on the program to make sure it’s done in most strategic manner possible’’.

‘‘A targeted approach is what we’re trying to achieve,’’ he said.

The minister earlier this month announced a Regional Telecommunications Review set to look into communication concerns in regional, rural and remote areas.

It will begin shortly, and rural Australians are being asked to participate.

‘‘There is a full intention that there will be a future round of the black spot program rolled out and at the moment, we’re currently still rolling it out,’’ Mr Drum said.

‘‘It’s not like it’s going to stop, we’re just taking a more strategic approach to how these programs might look.’’

He said programs ‘‘based on similar lines’’ would likely result, arguing the review hoped to ensure the right areas were being prioritised for upgrades.

‘‘The most important thing is that we have a program to keep rolling out mobile phone coverage in areas that are poorly affected.’’

‘‘We’ve got a lot of work to do.’’

‘‘I will be guided by the review ... as to the best way for the rollout to continue.’’

Mr Drum said while more funding for the program was not in the budget, he considered there would be other program opportunities this year.

The program’s first three rounds saw about $680million in investment to improving mobile coverage in regional and remote Australia across more than 750 mobile base stations.

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed earlier this year voiced grave concerns for what poorly connectivity could mean in the event of an emergency.

Stakeholders had previously argued whichever tier of government was best placed to provide reliable mobile phone coverage to poorly connected communities should lead the way with it.

This follows the Victorian Government’s decision to turn its back on the Federal Government’s mobile black spot program and instead put funding into its own towers.

A Victorian Government statement this week said it was working with local councils, Regional Partnerships and emergency services to ensure its own mobile towers were ‘‘based on merit and necessity rather than political interests’’.

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