4 x 4 Australia - - Contents - DEAN MEL­LOR

HOW crap is mo­bile phone cov­er­age in this coun­try?

I was watch­ing the ABC news the other night and saw a story on mo­bile phone black spots in Aus­tralia. When a graphic came up de­pict­ing all of the black spots around the coun­try, I nearly spat out my Iced Vovo and knocked over my cuppa.

I al­ready knew cov­er­age was pretty crook out­side of cap­i­tal cities and ma­jor re­gional cen­tres, but noth­ing could pre­pare me for what I saw on the screen. You can check out the map by head­ing to na­tionalmap.gov.au, hit­ting the ‘Com­mu­ni­ca­tions’ sub­menu and tick­ing the ‘Mo­bile Black Spot Data­base’ box. I guar­an­tee you’ll be as­tounded.

It’s not just re­mote ar­eas of Aus­tralia that are af­fected; there are loads of black spots within a 50km ra­dius of all cap­i­tal cities. While this is in­con­ve­nient, it’s not nearly as bad as the ser­vice pro­vided to peo­ple who live in or travel through coun­try ar­eas and re­mote parts of Aus­tralia.

The ABC news story de­tailed an in­ci­dent in Wal­halla, Victoria, which is home to one of the 6000 black spots in this coun­try. Ac­cord­ing to the story, a vis­it­ing tour-bus driver col­lapsed of a heart at­tack and fell seven me­tres down an em­bank­ment. No one present had mo­bile phone cov­er­age, so the lo­cal hote­lier, Mr Michael Leaney, had to run back and forth be­tween his ho­tel’s land­line and the ac­ci­dent site – a 10-minute scram­ble up and down a steep hill – to re­lay in­for­ma­tion to emer­gency ser­vices.

Ac­cord­ing to the ABC, Wal­halla had ap­plied for fund­ing through the Coali­tion’s $160 mil­lion Mo­bile Black Spot Pro­gramme, but had been knocked back. This is a small town, but one that, ac­cord­ing to Mr Leaney, at­tracts more than 120,000 vis­i­tors per year – and it’s hardly a long way off the beaten track.

One thing I find quite as­tound­ing is the lack of mo­bile phone cov­er­age along many of the coun­try’s ma­jor high­ways. For ex­am­ple, any­one who’s trav­elled up the Stu­art High­way from Port Au­gusta to Alice Springs, and then on to Dar­win, will know there’s bug­ger-all mo­bile phone re­cep­tion along most of the route.

I was re­cently trav­el­ling through South Aus­tralia’s spec­tac­u­lar Flin­ders Ranges, where I spent sev­eral nights at the Prairie Ho­tel in Parachilna. Or­di­nar­ily I could rely on Parachilna to have some mo­bile phone re­cep­tion; as long as I stand in the right spot I can usu­ally check in with my bet­ter half each night and let her know ev­ery­thing’s okay – but not on this trip. Not only was the mo­bile phone cov­er­age on the blink, but the ho­tel’s land­line was also stuffed.

The ul­ti­mate irony was that there was ab­so­lutely zero phone re­cep­tion (mo­bile or land­line) on the very day that Tel­stra was of­fer­ing Aus­tralia-wide free data, in an at­tempt to make amends for pre­vi­ous tech­ni­cal stuff-ups.

While not be­ing able to ac­cess a day of free data def­i­nitely falls into the first-world-prob­lem cat­e­gory, in this day and age it’s not ac­cept­able for a busi­ness such as the Prairie Ho­tel to have to op­er­ate with­out a phone line. It sure makes it hard for ho­tel staff to take book­ings or or­der sup­plies, let alone call for help if there’s an emer­gency.

Now I un­der­stand Aus­tralia is a bloody big place and there aren’t un­lim­ited funds to ex­pand the mo­bile phone net­work to cover the whole coun­try, but I think what we have now is se­ri­ously de­fi­cient. I won’t hold my breath wait­ing for things to get much bet­ter any time soon; ac­cord­ing to the ABC story, the Coali­tion is al­ready work­ing with telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies to fix cov­er­age, but it has not al­lo­cated any new money in the fed­eral bud­get to ad­dress the is­sue.

At least the price of satel­lite phones has re­duced sig­nif­i­cantly over the past cou­ple of years.


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