By Paul Hemsley
The Local Government Association of South Australia (LGA) wants patchy mobile phone coverage to be a thing of the past after it welcomed the federal Opposition’s plan worth $100 million to improve cellular reception across regional, remote and outer metropolitan communities.
The federal Coalition announced the plan as a campaign promise that if it’s elected on 7th September 2013, it will invest $80 million in a “Mobile Network Expansion Programme” to improve mobile phone coverage along major transport routes, in small communities and areas prone to natural disasters.
The plan also includes a commitment by the Coalition to create a “Mobile Black Spot Programme” worth $20 million to address “unique mobile coverage problems” that are likely to crop up when the seasons change.
But the Coalition has no desire to fund the deployment of this black spot scheme on its own as it will only fund up to 50 per cent of the plan and will seek out funding contributions from mobile phone network providers to fund the rest.
Although many regions across Australia could stand to benefit from improved mobile coverage, even in dense metropolitan areas where reception can drop out at seemingly random spots known as “black spots” or “dead zones”, it is of particular significance to South Australia because of the its arid and isolated regions that are likely to be far outside mobile coverage areas.
These mobile drop outs are usually perceived as a nuisance to metropolitan denizens or commuters but they can pose a big problem for regional and remote communities because of the difficulties created by the potential need to contact emergency services after events such as road accidents or natural disasters.
Consequently, would-be callers without adequate mobile coverage in an emergency situation could be potentially stuck in the middle of nowhere with little hope of contacting emergency service providers.
So the Coalition has taken the task upon itself to address the problem with its $100 million plan as a continuation of the Howard government’s $2.4 billion fund to eliminate mobile phone black spots by upgrading communications in rural, regional and remote parts of Australia – which the Coalition claims was axed by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in the Labor government’s 2008-09 Federal Budget.
As Mr Rudd subsequently made the National Broadband Network (NBN) his own national priority upon his government’s election in 2007, which the Coalition initially opposed, the Coalition now claims that it will work with NBN Co to co-locate new mobile phone base station with many of the NBN’s fixed wireless broadband towers that are being rolled out across regional Australia.
However the politics over the NBN work out, the Coalition’s plan for better mobile coverage has received praise from the LGA as an “important step” in recognising that there were “real problems” with mobile phone reception across South Australia.
The matter of “economic progress” and “social benefits” of better mobile coverage was also a major point brought up by the Coalition and LGA President David O’Loughlin because the potential exists for more ratepayers moving into “dead zone” areas and greater tourism if they are given the infrastructure to more efficiently contact the outside world.
It is also of particular importance to the LGA because of the smartphone based disaster reporting system called the Emergency Assessment Response System (EARS), which the LGA launched on 19th July, 2013 to capture “real time” information of emergency events to enable better response and recovery.
Mr O’Laughlin said that EARS can upload information in blackspots but is unable to report these problems until the device returns to a mobile reception area.
“Certainly, the use of this technology would be greatly enhanced with improved mobile reception,” Mr O’Laughlin said.
He said the Coalition has indicated that it wants to work in partnership with communities to address gaps in mobile phone coverage that he is sure that local government will be a “keen partner in this venture”.
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