OPINION: Mobile black spots are a stain on our nation

This would be more use than a mobile phone in some parts of MIA
This would be more use than a mobile phone in some parts of MIA

It was Sydney’s darkest hour. Panic swept across the Harbour city.

A fire at Telstra Chatswood Exchange caused an outage, leaving some Sydneysiders with no mobile phone reception – for up to 50 minutes. Some say 55. Tragedies are always exaggerated over time. 

People couldn’t check their twitter feeds or book their Ubers. They had to walk to cafes rather than ordering through menulog. The cursing, hair pulling and teeth grinding could be seen everywhere.

Our thoughts and prayers were with the victims. 

Telstra were quick to provide updates and restore service. There’s no tolerance for black spots in big cities, everything must cease until coverage is restored.  

In the MIA, there are residents who have gone decades with mobile coverage in places they live, and make a living.

There are regions where you can’t dial Tripe 0 in an emergency. Where farmers can’t communicate with their employees, customers or families. Where you have to pay double city rates for signals with half the strength. 

The federal government’s mobile black spot program is supposed to provide staggered funding to improve telecommunication networks in regional areas. 

But last week, farmers in Rankins Springs were told in that funding is to be allocated based on a per capita formula. In other words, if you don’t live in an area with a decent amount of people, you won’t get funding. It’s just not profitable. 

It’s amazing to think that in a rich first world country that’s been booming for 20 years, people are being told they’ll have to learn to live with patchy or non-existent mobile coverage.

In 2017, mobile and Internet coverage is essential to function in society. To connect to community. To operate a business. And to stay safe.

It’s clear there are market forces at play that discourage carriers from investing in remote areas. If ever there was a market failure that justifies government intervention, this is it. 

If government can afford to subsidise private schools and property investors in cities, it should be able to chip enough to ensure that a farmer who injures himself in the paddock can call an ambulance. 

The federal government should urgently upgrade its mobile black spot program to ensure all Australians can access a reliable level of service. 



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