Mobile phone black spots to be fixed in regional SA, but remote north misses out – ABC News

Science & Technology

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Living in a mobile black spot can have a devastating impact on locals trying to navigate an emergency situation, but new mobile towers in regional South Australia may fix that. 
The federal government announced a number of mobile infrastructure projects across the state to be co-funded with "a range of partners" as part of the Regional Connectivity Program.
A sum of $9.8 million will see Telstra build eight new mobile towers and upgrade two base stations to improve coverage to an expected 3,564 properties, while $2.5 million will upgrade the NBN technology in Lameroo and Pinnaroo.
The mobile towers will target parts of the state well-known to locals for their poor mobile coverage, including Ceduna on the state's west coast, Bowhill and Parilla in the Murray Mallee, and Wattle Range in the Limestone Coast region.
However, no new towers or upgrades have been listed for northern parts of the state.
Tourism operator Phil van Wegen lives in Marree — more than 350 kilometres from the nearest new tower at Pekina — and said the current mobile coverage was inadequate and dangerous.
"There's no other way of wording it, it's a complete and utter disgrace what's been delivered out here," he said.
Mr van Wegen said the poor mobile coverage in the state's north was problematic in emergency situations.
"A lot of travellers get to the towns, expecting to get some sort of service to touch base with family members, to let them know where they are," he said.
"They can't even get messages out.
"Someone's going to get caught out really badly with an accident or an incident around this area."
Out in Oodnadatta, co-owner of the Pink Roadhouse Peter Moore lives around 530 kilometres from the nearest new mobile tower at Ceduna South.
Mr Moore said there was no phone coverage in the town until only recently, and what they did have was "not adequate" when tourists got stuck in emergency situations.
"We've got 130 people here at Oodnadatta and when you throw in tourists trying to download everything, it does overload," he said.
"Our coverage only has a radius of 10 kilometres out of town and then you're back in the never-never."
Pinnaroo-based shearer Tiffany Atze lives about 37 kilometres from the nearest tower at Parilla, and was concerned the upgrades would not stretch far enough to boost the service on her remote property.
"We don't have a lot of phone coverage as soon as we go out into the paddock," she said.
"You have to find a hill so if you have a breakdown or something like that, or it's an emergency, you've gotta try and find coverage wherever you can."
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The town of Bowhill will be covered by an upgraded phone tower at nearby Lowan, only 10 kilometres away.
Resident Jodie Hawkes was happy to see the investment but was also waiting to see how the new tower performed.
"It's great that COVID has opened up the ability to have Zoom, and MS Teams are more acceptable, so we can have these meetings online," she said.
"But it's really hard and a big disadvantage for us regional people who don't have consistent and reliable service."
Ms Hawkes said regional towns like hers "seemed to get forgotten" in funding programs, and she was pleased to see her hometown represented this time.
"I see these announcements and the big billions of dollars that's been allocated and I always hold my breath, but I never know if it's going to reach the small areas," she said.
Federal Regional Communications Minister Bridget McKenzie confirmed the project would be completed regardless of the federal election result, and would ensure more people had reliable internet access.
Senator McKenzie said it was a good start, but more needed to be done.
"We have put forward an additional $1.3 billion to upgrade NBN wireless towers to actually extend the coverage along more than 8,000 kilometres of transport routes across the country over the next five years," she said.
"I hope that no matter who forms government post May 21, that they continue to invest record amounts in this vital infrastructure for the regions."
Opposition telecommunications spokesperson Michelle Rowland said a Labor federal government would invest $400 million to improve internet and mobile coverage, including an independent audit of current services.
Ms Rowland said Labor had also committed $30 million to help expand on-farm connectivity and enable better wireless extension solutions in the field.
"This is really important for farmers to better utilise sensor and connected machinery technology," she said.
"It's disappointing that the Liberal Nationals have no comparable plan to improve connectivity in that way."
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