SENATOR DAVID FAWCETT
Deputy Government Whip in the Senate
Senator for South AustraliaMedia Release
Mobile Phone Towers
The Australian Government understands the importance of telecommunications services during an emergency or power outage.
The Government’s $220 million Mobile Black Spot Program is delivering 765 new or improved mobile towers across Australia, and under the program mobile network operators were incentivised to provide additional battery backup or alternative power sources for new mobile base stations.
Battery backup is an important part of network resiliency, along with alternative technologies such as diesel generators, solar power or other auxiliary power methods. All mobile network operators have developed robust emergency response plans for natural disasters, including the use of generators in the event of extended power outages and the deployment of temporary emergency mobile base stations (typically referred to as a C.O.W. – Cell On Wheels).
Under the Mobile Black Spot program, the Government provided additional weighting to new base station proposals which included upgraded backup capacity. This was designed to encourage mobile network operators to come forward with proposals to build new or upgraded mobile base stations with improved backup options, which can be an important factor in keeping connectivity available during bushfires and other emergencies.
Battery backup is not a ‘silver bullet’ in emergency situations, and operators have to make use of a variety of technologies (e.g. diesel generators, temporary base stations, etc.) to address network outages as they arise, particularly if the power outage is for longer than the batteries provide.
Mobile network operators are best placed to implement the most effective network resiliency options across areas with different needs. Ultimately, every dollar spent on additional battery backup is a dollar diverted away from investments in new mobile coverage.
Even in areas where mobile coverage is available, any communication system can be temporarily affected by adverse conditions. It is strongly recommended that people do not rely on a single form of communication or source of information during disasters.
As part of effective disaster preparation and planning:
- A range of information sources should be used in an emergency situation to ensure people stay aware of local conditions. These information sources include local radio, television and state and territory emergency service websites.
- A portable transistor radio with a spare set of batteries can provide a valuable backup in the event there is a loss of mains power. For example, during emergency situations people can listen to ABC Local Radio to receive up-to-date warnings.
Commonwealth, State and Territory governments actively work with mobile network operators to improve the resilience of their networks through forums such as the Trusted Information Sharing Network on Critical Infrastructure.
Through the Mobile Black Spots Program, the Coalition Government has committed $220 million to improving mobile coverage in regional and remote locations across Australia. State and local governments, mobile network operators (Telstra, Optus and Vodafone), businesses and community organisations have also contributed funding.
Rounds 1 and 2 of the program are delivering over $600 million in new investment in mobile infrastructure across regional and remote Australia. The South Australian Government agreed to these guidelines.
Under Rounds 1 & 2 of the program, the South Australian government will co-invest a total $1.5 million which will help deliver 31 towers. This outcome compares to:
- New South Wales co-invested $32.3 million which delivered 183 towers
- Queensland co-invested $23.7 million which delivered 144 towers
- Western Australia co-invested $53 million which delivered 208 towers
- Victoria co-invested $28.9 million which delivered 142 towers
For more information visit: www.communications.gov.au/mobile_coverage
Quotes attributable to Senator Fawcett
It should be noted that no communications technology is completely resilient to power outages and consumers need to know the risks so that they can plan for disasters accordingly. Even in areas where mobile coverage is available, any communication system can be temporarily affected by adverse conditions.
Battery backup can add a significant cost to the operation and maintenance of base stations, particularly in remote areas where usage is low and base stations are often commercially unviable. The Federal government works collaboratively with States to invest in mobile infrastructure.
Other states are investing substantially more and achieving significantly better outcomes.
Ms Sharkie’s efforts would be better directed at calling out the South Australian Government for its failure to co-invest in critical mobile infrastructure via the Mobile Black Spot Program.
Under this program mobile network operators are incentivised to provide additional battery backup or alternative power sources for new mobile base stations.
The Mobile Black Spots Program has been a huge success, with the first two rounds alone attracting $598 million in funding. Yet the South Australian Government has only offered to contribute $2 million to the second round of the program, which is 0.3 per cent of the total funding.