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EDITORIAL: Mobile connection critical

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 high-risk season, while, in contrast, just 12 months ago flooding had inundated many towns and districts. 

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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 ever-evolving 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, black-spots 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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The entire November 8, 2023 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!