A Northern business group has secured $5.5 million in funding under a federal programme to install mobile phone transmitters as part of an effort to reduce notorious coverage blackspots in the region.
Richard Duncan, director of the Northern Midlands Business Association, said his organisation lobbied Telstra, as well as federal, state and local governments to secure the funds under round two of the regional connectivity programme.
The project to install three transmitters was approved earlier this year, but he was disappointed a fourth transmitter was left out.
"I don't know why Delmont exchange was left out because that would have been the cheapest of [the four transmitters]," he said.
He said the Delmont exchange, located about 10 km south of Cressy, was an important area to boost coverage in because of the farms and irrigation schemes in the area.
"Farming is a high-tech business these days, they need that connectivity to operate alot of equipment, to irrigate effectively," he said.
These include tractors, harvesters and combines that operate by GPS, or automatic irrigation systems that rely on phone data to operate.
He said they started the lobbying programs because residents and businesses want better connections.
"We wanted to make this the most connected municipality in the state," he said.
Black Spots North, West, and East
The Northern Midlands is one of numerous areas in Tasmania suffering from lack of mobile coverage.
Other areas of the state with poor reception are the West, the North-West, as well as parts of the North-East.
During a phone call between The Examiner and someone driving to Queenstown recently, the interview proved impossible to complete due to call cutouts.
On top of Ben Lomond for a story about the opening of the ski season last week, The Examiner was unable to pick up reception from the Telstra network.
Ray Mostogl, chief executive of the Tasmanian Minerals, Manufacturing and Energy Council, said the lack of coverage affected businesses in mining and manufacturing, as well as farmers in rural regions.
"Given that Tasmania's mining sector contributed over 60 per cent of the state's exports, telecoms companies should invest more in the West of the state," he said.
"You'd think in this day and age we could get better coverage but also faster speeds - it's not just about the black spots.
"These [miners] are using a hell of alot of data, it's very high-tech what they do, and they are constrained by data capacity as well as signal strength."
Further Out, Less Economic
The Telstra board and senior executives met in Launceston last week as part of an effort to focus on regional areas.
Activities it held during that time included a trip to a Launceston school to hand out gifts to the schoolchildren.
Attending the school event on Thursday last week was Michael Patterson, Telstra regional manager - Tasmania, who said mobile coverage was a "perennial" issue frequently raised by Tasmanians.
"We are doing alot in [mobile] infrastructure, but in terms of the mobile network, the further you go out, the less economic it is," he said.
He pointed to Telstra's King Island and Flinder's Island projects as examples.
"The Flinder's Island project, we are talking 900 people, and it was an $11 million project. We are doing the King Island project, that's a $10 million project, and that is 1500 people."
Another one was a $5 million project to boost mobile phone coverage on the West Coast.
"So there are a whole range of projects in regional areas where it is uneconomic for us to invest by ourselves, so we partner with local, state and federal governments to do them," he said.
"It's a model that is working really well and we are working with stakeholders to prioritise where to focus next."
Large Area, Small Population
One such stakeholder was George Town Mayor Greg Kieser, who said he trying to boost connectivity around his municipal area, including in areas such as Bellbuoy Beach, Low Head and Beechford.
"Our problems are just emblematic of small, rural councils, where you have smaller populations, larger geographic distributions and so the infrastructure that Telstra invests doesn't always provide the level of coverage quality that your community needs or expects," he said.
But he said he had a "constructive" dialog with the telecoms company.
"They have been quite reasonable in their efforts to address the black spots in our area," he said.
The infrastructure that Telstra invests doesn't always provide the level of coverage quality that your community needs or expects- Mayor Greg Kieser
Black Black Spots Safety Risks
Others pointed out the safety risks of having decent phone coverage.
"If someone is injured [on an isolated road], imagine having to drive on just to find a phone signal to call for help," Mr Mostogl said.
Round two of the RCP will provide $140 million over two years to improve telecommunications infrastructure in regional Australia.
Bridget Archer, MP for Bass, said she understood people living in rural areas were frustrated by the patchy or lack of connectivity.
"Our party committed over $2 million towards establishing nine mobile base stations across the Bass electorate," she said.
"Five of which have been completed and the remaining four, including in Beechford, Myrtle Bank, Pioneer and Bridgenorth, are set to be complete by the end of this year."
Brian Mitchell, Lyons labor MHR, said he would work with Telstra, to boost connectivity to regional Tasmania.
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