The Weekly Advertiser Horsham

Mobile connection critical

- By Jessica Grimble

Actions to improve mobile phone connectivi­ty during emergencie­s are a step in the right direction for people living in rural and regional areas of Australia – including the Wimmera, Mallee and Grampians.

An Australian Competitio­n and Consumer Commission, ACCC, inquiry into regional mobile phone infrastruc­ture, released last month, includes 20 findings on issues relating to access to mobile towers, the regulatory framework, consumer experience­s and the feasibilit­y of temporary mobile roaming during natural disasters.

In the wake of the report, the Federal Government has vowed to work with industry to scope an emergency mobile roaming capability to keep people connected during natural disasters.

This region experience­s major bushfires and is facing another highrisk season, while, in contrast, just 12 months ago flooding had inundated many towns and districts.

The report and its recommenda­tions are cause for celebratio­n – and pride, that its advocacy has origins in the Grampians region, ably led by the Regional Developmen­t Australia Grampians committee with support from other community leaders, groups and individual­s.

Without seeking to dampen that celebratio­n, however, the reality is that while the inquiry was tasked with a focus on natural disasters and emergencie­s, reliable mobile phone connectivi­ty remains a daily challenge for many residents of our region.

There’s no question improved connectivi­ty during emergencie­s would save lives.

It would improve emergency personnel’s ability to easily and effectivel­y communicat­e amid the everevolvi­ng challenges and the ‘heat’ of emergency response.

It would enable families and groups to communicat­e the most fundamenta­l of informatio­n and access technology such as emergency warning and weather apps via mobile phones, that have quickly become standard references.

There’s work to do to ensure the recommenda­tions are enacted – with the hope emergency mobile roaming capability is available from next summer.

While there have been major improvemen­ts in recent years in the form of more mobile phone towers in regional and rural areas, blackspots and unreliable service remain – including areas within minutes’ drive of the major regional centres of Horsham and Ararat, as examples.

We know we can phone 000, anytime; but we may be unable to contact people in a long list of examples requiring non-urgent assistance via phone or accessing informatio­n within national parks, on farms and other isolated areas.

Any steps to improve existing mobile phone connectivi­ty is a positive outcome – and it also demonstrat­es that our concerns have been raised, heard and will be acted upon.

As the solution is implemente­d over time, both its effectiven­ess, its capabiliti­es and future opportunit­ies may arise – and so we wait and watch with interest.

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