Black-spot blue­print

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - Front Page - BY DEAN LAW­SON

Are­gional devel­op­ment ad­vo­cate has de­scribed a $25-mil­lion Fed­eral Govern­ment telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions plan as the per­fect cat­a­lyst to de­velop a ‘sys­tem­atic’ sched­ule to im­prove mo­bile-phone ser­vices across Vic­to­ria.

Wim­mera South­ern Mallee Re­gional Part­ner­ship chair­man David Jochinke said clos­ing a wire­less phone-cov­er­age loop in re­gional Vic­to­ria was both fea­si­ble and nec­es­sary.

He added that im­prove­ments in telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions across the Wim­mera and south­ern Mallee were crit­i­cal in sup­port­ing the re­gion’s ef­forts and abil­ity to sur­vive and thrive.

Fed­eral Re­gional Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Bridget Mcken­zie an­nounced govern­ment plans to in­vest $25-mil­lion in re­gional telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions un­der round four of a Mo­bile Black Spot Pro­gram.

She said the new round would call for ap­pli­ca­tions from mo­bile-ser­vice car­ri­ers in the next few months and in­clude in­put from state, ter­ri­tory and lo­cal gov­ern­ments as well as busi­nesses, com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tions and emer­gency ser­vices.

Mr Jochinke said dis­cus­sions at a Wim­mera South­ern Mallee Re­gion- al Assem­bly in Stawell con­firmed a crit­i­cal need for the re­gion to have the most up-to-date telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tems pos­si­ble in place.

“The think­ing needs to go well beyond meet­ing emer­gency-ser­vice needs,” he said.

“That’s ob­vi­ously im­por­tant but what we’re talk­ing about is growth and op­por­tu­nity for the whole com­mu­nity.

“It would make more sense to have a sys­tem that pro­vides sig­nif­i­cant com­mu­nity ben­e­fits for 365 days in a year in­stead of only a few.

“The prob­lem we have is that no-one seems to have a re­ally good han­dle of a com­plete mo­bile-phone re­cep­tion pic­ture in our part of the world. What we do know is that there are bad re­cep­tion ar­eas in our own re­gion.

“We need a struc­tured plan to sys­tem­at­i­cally fill in all black spots.

“We re­alise we can’t click our fin­gers and have it all done to­day, but we need a rank­ing and pri­or­ity sys­tem that clearly iden­ti­fies what needs to be done.”

Mr Jochinke said the need in­volved more than sim­ply build­ing tow­ers to pro­vide sig­nal cov­er­age.

“Cov­er­age is one thing, but mak­ing sure we al­low for tech­no­log­i­cal up­grades such as the in­tro­duc­tion of 5G to al­low us to keep pace with the rest of the world is just as im­por­tant,” he said.

Mr Jochinke said ‘hu­man cap­i­tal’ was es­sen­tial for the Wim­mera’s fu­ture and up-to-date telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions played a crit­i­cal role in main­tain­ing and de­vel­op­ing re­gional busi­nesses, ed­u­ca­tion and health ser­vices and com­mu­nity health and progress in gen­eral.

He ap­pealed to the State Govern­ment to get in­volved in de­vel­op­ing a com­pre­hen­sive plan to elim­i­nate black-spot cov­er­age ar­eas so re­gions could have surety.

“If we have a plan, we can work on fund­ing agree­ments that steadily tick off tar­get ar­eas. This could mean that in five or 10 years’ time there will be no such thing as a Telco black spot,” Mr Jochinke said.

“We need all lev­els of govern­ment in­volved and a po­lit­i­cal bi­par­ti­san ap­proach to move for­ward be­cause in the end it doesn’t mat­ter who is in govern­ment – the same prob­lem will still need to be ad­dressed.”

In ref­er­ence to the Wim­mera and south­ern Mallee be­ing a prime tar­get for new telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions in­fra­struc­ture, Mr Jochinke said he con­sid­ered it a ‘no-brainer’.

“It’s pretty straight­for­ward. We have a lot of open space and a pick of places where we could have tow­ers to help make it work,” he said.

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