Wattle Range and MP unite on phone funding


By Raquel Mustillo

BARKER MP Tony Pasin says he is in “screaming agreement” with Wattle Range Council on the need to improve the design of the Federal Government’s mobile blackspot program after elected members supported a more flexible approach to funding.

At Tuesday night’s council meeting, elected members backed a motion to write to Mr Pasin, Federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher and the State Government seeking a more flexible approach to black spot funding.

Mobile network operators and providers propose locations to build new our upgraded base stations, funded by a 50-50 contribution from the Federal Government.

But Councillor Dale Price said the current program was problematic for densely populated areas such as Mount McIntyre and Furner, where it is not viable for telecommunication companies to co-contribute.

“It’s all about the density of population and in areas such as Mount McIntyre, it’s not viable for a telecommunication company to contribute 50pc which means you’ll never get a tower built in locations like that,” he said.

“The government could contribute up to 80pc for towers in regions such as Furner which will, with a big of luck, encourage the telecommunication companies to throw in the rest of the balance.

“Areas like Mount McIntyre and Furner deserve reliable telecommunications and this is one way the Federal Government can step up to the plate and help deliver it.

“This is a case of an essential service that has been outsourced to the private sector and it has become a mess.”

Mr Pasin said he believed the 50pc funding ceiling was “operating to prevent otherwise viable and important mobile phone towers from being constructed”.

He sought to assure council and the community that mobile blackspot funding remained a first priority and he would continue to advocate on the need to improve the design.

“I noted the council’s motion calls on the Federal Government to lift the Federal Government funding ceiling from 50pc in relation to individual black spot projects,” he said.

“In June 2020, I made a submission to the review being undertaken of the mobile black spot program by the Federal Department of Communications.

“In that submission, I suggested four changes to the program including increasing or indeed removing entirely the ceiling cap on Federal Government funding.”

Mr Pasin said he had also encouraged the department to adopt a more flexible approach with “greater emphasis on local community priorities rather than Telco profitability”.

He also supported greater financial contributions from local and State Governments and where possible, the business community.

The Member for Barker recently lashed the country’s major telecommunication providers after it was revealed just two locations in South Australia will be funded under the latest round of the mobile black spot program.

Major provider Telstra struck back, saying telecommunication businesses do not decide which locations get funding and adding “any concerns with the outcome should be directed at the member’s own government”.

South Australian Primary Industries and Regional Development Minister David Basham told parliament Optus chose not to submit any locations under the latest round and Telstra chose to submit four sites, one of which was pulled out due to being funded elsewhere.