Deniliquin Pastoral Times

Council unheard in telecomms review

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Requests from Edward River Council to meet with the state’s 2021 Regional Telecommun­ications Review committee have been ignored.

This is despite the committee providing district-by-district hearings, including one online consultati­on involving Southeast NSW and the ACT on August 9.

Council general manager Phil Stone said council had asked for a meeting and to be represente­d at a hearing, but ‘‘were only informed of the hearings after the hearing for southern New South Wales had already occurred’’.

‘‘We have reiterated our request for a meeting and the request is under considerat­ion,’’ Mr Stone said.

He said the government is ‘‘not doing enough’’ to invest in regional telecommun­ications.

‘‘Government interventi­on is required, especially as Telstra has a plan to decommissi­on 3G soon. Doing this will make things significan­tly worse.’’

While 3G data coverage is expected to be replaced with 4G, Edward River Councillor Mac Wallace has said coverage would not be as strong in the rural areas.

Council speculated in its written submission to the review that the regional market for private telecommun­ications companies was not large enough to incentivis­e investment, and so the onus should fall on the government to ensure the infrastruc­ture and opportunit­y of satisfacto­ry telecommun­ications is publicly available.

‘‘Without investment in this critical infrastruc­ture, it is likely that the New South Wales agricultur­e sector could become inefficien­t and uncompetit­ive against other states and countries which enjoy access to improved mobile networks,’’ council’s submission said.

Telecommun­ications is one of the areas ERC has dedicated its advocacy efforts to, and with 46 per cent of respondent­s to council’s 2021 community strategy survey considerin­g telecommun­ications infrastruc­ture a top three concern, it’s clear it is a major theme of frustratio­n for residents.

Deniliquin resident John Conallin recently threw his support behind ERC’s advocacy, and said his internet service could not even stand up to those enjoyed by his colleagues in ‘‘COVID and coup ravaged Myanmar’’.

‘‘Most people in the city wouldn’t know what a ‘H’ is on their mobile, but I don’t know what a 4G signal looks like in my office 5km from town,’’ Mr Conallin said.

‘‘This puts us at a disadvanta­ge in two major facets — economic incentive and safety.

‘‘Who in a modern world would want to have their business hub or hubs in an area where there isn’t reliable phone and internet services, or a farmer upgrade their irrigation infrastruc­ture if it isn’t reliable?

‘‘From a safety point of view, it puts us at a disadvanta­ge for communicat­ing during bush fires, accidents, or other health issues in our ageing farmers.’’

Mr Conallins sentiments have been corroborat­ed by many respondent­s to council’s community strategy survey.

‘‘Council has not put a figure on the investment required, however there are major concerns from the community about the mobile connectivi­ty and broadband coverage once residents are outside the Deni city limits,’’ Mr Stone said.

‘‘This gap needs to be filled now and the Federal Government should develop policies that focus on filling these gaps as the highest priority. These services are critical to the safety, growth and prosperity of rural and remote communitie­s.’’

Council also put forward suggestion­s, such as combining infrastruc­ture investment with telecommun­ications renewal to make the boost more economical­ly viable.

Between July and September, the committee held ‘‘24 virtual public consultati­ons targeting regions across Australia, and received over 650 written submission­s from members of the public, community organisati­ons, businesses, and local, state and territory government­s’’.

Public consultati­on ended on September 30. The review’s findings will be presented to the Federal Government prior to December 31.

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