Towering promise

Photo by Cath Grey

Member for Farrer Sussan Ley has refuted the opinion that one of her core election campaign points will not be delivered within the next term of government.

On a visit to Deniliquin last week, Ms Ley said one of her key appeals to voters was the announcement of a $480 million budget spend to improve wireless data and internet across 52 phone towers in Farrer.

The same week, Berrigan Shire Council CEO Karina Ewer said "the upgrades can’t come fast enough“ for her residents, but said they cannot wait for the Federal Government to put their plan into action.

Saying a more immediate solution is needed, Ms Ewer revealed the shire was looking for its own solutions to its poor internet coverage.

She said the state of mobile service in Berrigan Shire is “appalling”, and does not believe the mobile towers will be operational within the next term of Federal Government, lasting three years.

The upgrades were brought as a Coalition budget item in response to the latest 2021 Regional Telecommunications Review, to be introduced ahead of the end of financial year, if the Coalition is re-elected.

Asked whether the build time would be within three years, Ms Ley said “absolutely it will”, but could not provide a definitive timeline because the Federal Government will not be in charge of the build.

It will rather be contributing “majority” sum of the costs for other telecommunications companies (telcos) such as Optus, Telstra and Vodafone, to build the towers in conjunction.

The Regional Telecommunications Review committee did not specifically recommend this approach, but it does fall in line with recommendations to reduce black spots and provide “holistic upgrades” by boosting network speeds and minimising congestion.

Ms Ley has argued it will improve mobile service in regional areas.

“That's one of the three key priorities for me in this campaign, to make sure, and I've had some conversations with the communications minister about how we might get those mobile phone towers working in this region, and it looks very positive.

“And it's a complete game changer compared to how we funded mobile telecommunications before, because what these towers will have to be is they will have to be able to be used by Vodafone, Optus and Telstra.

“So the telcos won't own the tower and keep the other providers out, and the government will be providing much more of the funding per tower.

“To some extent, (the construction time) relies on the telcos who build the towers,” she said.

Asked what percentage of funding the Commonwealth would provide, Ms Ley could not provide a specific figure.

The announcement that 52 NBN wireless towers in Farrer would benefit was made on March 25, and includes towers at Barooga, Tocumwal, Finley and Berrigan North at Berrigan Shire Council.

Ms Ley said the upgrades would target black spots on roads, a key issue for rural Murray-Riverina communities, particularly during emergencies.

“The (connection on the) road between Finley and Deniliquin is terrible,” she said.

“It used to be much better, but it now it's not - that is a perfect example of where this coverage will actually land.

“While we haven't got towers marked on maps, I'm very, very confident that the key areas of my electorate that are black spots now will be covered by this policy, because it's so significant.

“This is so much more spending than we've ever done in this telecommunication space.”

Deniliquin, Mathoura, Barmah, Koondrook-Barham, amd Echuca-Moama (2) are also expected to benefit for the NBN tower promise.