By Raquel Mustillo
MEMBER for Barker Tony Pasin has lashed the country’s telecommunication providers after just two locations in South Australia will be addressed under the Federal Government’s latest round of Mobile Blackspot Funding.
However major provider Telstra has struck back, saying telecommunication businesses do not decide which locations get funding, saying “any concerns with the outcome should be directed at the member’s own government”.
Mr Pasin said he was disappointed that telecommunications providers had not shown more interest in partnering with the government, adding the latest round was necessitated because insufficient interest was shown in round five of the program.
Under the program, mobile network operators and providers propose locations to build new or upgraded base stations to deliver improved mobile coverage to locations on the government’s database of reported mobile black spots.
Mr Pasin said “very few applications” were received from telecommunication companies for mobile base stations in both South Australia and Barker, despite almost identified 400 black spots across the electorate – with almost half of the blackspots located in the Limestone Coast.
““In all honesty it’s hard to put into words how angry I am about the decision by Australia’s telecommunication companies to turn their backs on rural and remote Australians,” he said.
“I think the executives at these Telcos should take a good hard look at themselves and rethink their attitudes to regional Australia.
“In the meanwhile I will be talking to [Communications] Minister Fletcher about what actions the Federal Government can take to ensure Australians living in regional Australia with mobile phone plans receive the services they pay for when entering into a mobile phone contract.”
Of the 159 identified mobile blackspots in the Limestone Coast, 46 are within the Naracoorte Lucindale Council area.
Naracoorte Lucindale mayor Erika Vickery supported Mr Pasin’s comments and said she shared his frustration.
“There are so many areas in our district that have very poor mobile coverage and it’s so difficult because we rely so much on our mobiles, even more than landlines,” she said.
“We don’t have service everywhere and it’s very, very patchy, which makes it extremely difficult for businesses, particularly agricultural businesses, to operate.
“Ultimately the decision is up to the telcos as to where they want to apply to put the towers.
“It is really putting our regional people at a disadvantage without having that support from the telcos.”
However, the nation’s two major telecommunication providers said they had both invested heavily in the region and were continuing to help more regional South Australians in the future.
A Telstra spokesperson said the company has led the way in reducing the number of blackspot sites across Australia was investing hundreds of millions of dollars of its own funds to continue to address mobile connectivity.
“Of the almost 1300 blackspot sites selected and announced by the Commonwealth Government for co-funding for the program since 2015, Telstra will be conducting more than two-thirds of them and investing up to $300m of its own funds to reduce blackspot sites across Australia,” the spokesperson said.
“We have announced close to half a billion dollars additional investment in our regional networks in recent months.
“Telstra’s commitment to regional Australia is unequalled and we look forward to helping more regional South Australians connect in the future.”
The spokesperson said the government assesses options and makes the decision on which locations receive blackspot funding.
An Optus spokesperson said the company now has 36 sites across the region and was awarded the majority of the sites under the previous round of the Mobile Black Spot Program, including Legges Lane, Keilira and Avenue Range.
Naracoorte Lucindale council leads the number of mobile blackspot locations, followed by Wattle Range (37), Grant District (31), Tatiara District (27), Kingston (13), Robe (3) and Mount Gambier (2).