Have you noticed that during the summer period, when demand for mobile phone services is at its highest, reception is often intermittent? And that when you travel half way to Anglesea the phone drops out? Summer is the time when residents need good mobile phone contact, critical for bushfire safety and the proper functioning of the FireReady app.
In February 2014 the federal government advertised two projects to improve coverage in regional areas of Australia. The $80 million Mobile Network Expansion Project is designed to improve mobile coverage along major transport routes, in small communities and in communities that are prone to natural disasters. The $20 million Mobile Black Spot Project is intended to improve mobile coverage in locations with unique coverage problems such as areas with high demand for services, for example in summer.
AIDA submitted a case for Aireys Inlet and district to be considered for improvement to existing mobile phone coverage under these projects. We also encouraged the shire to submit a proposal. Our community fits the criteria for consideration under each project. If we achieve an upgrade, we can expect widespread media coverage.
In response to AIDA’s submission to the Member for Corangamite, Sarah Henderson, requesting that Aireys Inlet and district be included in the Federal Government’s funding to address mobile black spots in Australia we learned that Ms Henderson had received nominations from nineteen areas in her electorate.
A survey by the Department of Communications found that Corangamite was among the electorates with the highest number of mobile black spots in Australia. However, only three areas from Corangamite were able to be nominated for inclusion and Aireys Inlet and district was not included in the recommendations. The communities that were included were the ones from which Ms Henderson received the most correspondence. AIDA argued, without success, that we represented hundreds of residents and that our application should be given greater weight.
More recently AIDA has been advised that the Federal Department of Communications has said locations to be included in the program would be selected based on where mobile carriers proposed to build towers after referring to the black-spot nominations. AIDA is seeking clarification about this and will continue to lobby for improvements to mobile coverage in the area.
As part of that lobbying effort, AIDA wrote to Ms Henderson (with a copy to Malcolm Turnbull, Federal Minister for Communications) noting that effective communication in our region can be a matter of life and death in the summer bushfire season, when the number of residents in Lorne, Aireys Inlet and district and Anglesea during the peak summer period is almost 40,000 not including day-trippers or those passing through the towns. The letter also noted that the only effective escape route for residents and visitors to the three towns is the Great Ocean Road so that without early warning assistance via the FireReady app and other mobile communications, not all 40,000 will escape.
Other points made in the letter were as follows:
The difference in distribution of residents between most of the year and peak summer tells the key story. The mobile system more or less copes in winter, at least in the townships, but with the summer numbers it frequently fails totally or download speeds become pathetically slow. It is the summer period that is critical in so many ways. We live in a bushfire prone area and need access to our FireReady app, to mobile bushfire alerts and to contact with relatives. Businesses need to be able to carry on and provide services. Without phone communication, so much falls into a heap and life becomes more hazardous.
The Telstra Mobile Network coverage map indicates the service should be better than locals experience. When one drives from Aireys Inlet to Lorne or to Anglesea,mobile coverage drops out repeatedly. This is the winter situation – it is far worse in summer. The western part of Anglesea along the Great Ocean Road, even in winter, often has poor or no coverage, despite what is shown Telstra’s coverage map. This occurs on even the most up-to-date phones.
Gary Johnson and Charlotte Allen