Single mobile blackspot site a blow for Mayo

23 Jul 2020

Posted April 22, 2020

The allocation of Round 5 Mobile Black Spot Program (MBSP) funding for a base station at Kuitpo between Meadows and Willunga is good news for the community but fails to address the enormous backlog of mobile black spots in Mayo, local MP Rebekha Sharkie said today.

The base station is being built by Optus and is one of only 17 announced for South Australia this week by the Federal Government.

"Mayo has more than 130 nominated mobile blackspot sites and we've only managed to secure eight sites since the program started in 2015 before I was elected to office, and only half of them are in service which is really frustrating for my community," Rebekha said.

"This round I lobbied Telstra, Optus and Vodafone to consider 12 priority sites, including Kuitpo, but also Forest Range, Cudlee Creek, Biggs Flat, Waitpinga, Myponga, Vivonne Bay, Kanmantoo/Callington and Clayton.

"I am concerned that with each successive round, base station sites in regional areas are being considered less economical for the mobile network operators.

"Of the $80 million made available in Round 5, the Federal Government only allocated $34 million to proffered sites that met their guidelines and were considered value for money to taxpayers.

"I note that the Government is looking at conducting a Round5A, using the leftover $46 million, to test a range of different programs to improve mobile connectivity.

"I understand the criteria for 3G compatibility was one sticking point for telcos, as well as the opportunities for telcos to share infrastructure, and I understand these issues will be examined in the Discussion Paper on Round5A.

"I encourage our community to also contribute their feedback to the Discussion Paper on options for the design of the next round.

"In light of the restrictions of the program, I am pleased that late last year Centre Alliance was able to successfully advocate for a $200,000 Federal funding commitment for a bespoke communications project in Cherry Gardens.

"This money will go towards a $350,000 Regional Digital Connectivity Infrastructure project to set up 4G equipment on the existing NBN tower on a site near the Blackwood Golf Course.

"The State Government has committed funding to the project with the remainder to be sourced from a mobile network operator."

Rebekha also remains concerned about the South Australian Government's new process of prioritising its co-contribution to the MBSP for sites where local communities can raise $50,000 to improve mobile coverage.

"I was advised last year by the State Minister for Regional Development Mr Tim Whetstone that a number of communities had submitted Expressions of Interest valued at $50,000 for Round 5 but he was not in a position to share the Government's list of priority sites," Rebekha said.

"In the interests of transparency, South Australians should know how many of the 17 sites in SA included a $50,000 contribution from a local community as well as a State contribution.

"Purely on the basis of equity, it does not seem fair that communities in my electorate or any other regional electorate have a reduced chance of fixing their mobile blackspot because they might not have the financial capacity to pay $50,000.

"Many of the communities in my electorate with nominated mobile blackspots are still struggling to recover from the recent bushfires and do not have the capacity to crowd-source funding for a mobile tower.

"I was more than willing to work with the Cherry Gardens community to secure their Regional Digital Connectivity project but there was never any pressure applied to this small community to fund the infrastructure themselves."

Round 5 MBSP locations selected for SA include Avenue Ranges, Farina, Fowlers Bay, Keilira, Koonibba, Kuitpo, Legges Lane, Leigh Creek Copley, Leigh Creek Town, Lyndhurst, Mintabie, Mudamuckla, Nundroo Roadhouse, Paruna, Peebinga, Wellington and Yongala Township.

In the past four rounds of the MBSP Mayo secured an Optus satellite small cell at Stokes Bay (in-service); an Optus macrocell at Parawa (in-service); an Optus macrocell for the eastern side of Kangaroo Island (scheduled to be built in the second quarter of 2020); a Telstra base station at Ashbourne (in-service), a Telstra base station at Gosse/Stokes Bay (in-service); a Telstra base station on Long Valley Road between Wistow and Strathalbyn (scheduled to be built in the third quarter of 2020); and a base station in Kanmantoo (a replacement site for Montacute which is expected to be finished in the second quarter of 2020).

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