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.