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FASTER MOBILE NETWORK SPEEDS

The first of January not only marked the start of a new year, but also the birth of new telecommunication networks with both Telstra and Optus switching on their new 700mhz mobile phone networks aimed at improving communication options for many areas of Queensland.

The 700mhz frequency allows faster network speeds and larger geographic footprints, which potentially could provide significant benefits for coastal and regional councils and the communities they serve.

Importantly, the frequency also has the capability to punch through walls, thus allowing better in-building coverage for homes, offices, lifts and underground carparks.

Download speeds on the new network will be up to 100Mbs.

Both carriers are rolling out the network with Telstra announcing that the services would be initially switched on to 600 towns and suburbs throughout the country while Optus announced it would initially roll out 270 sites.

Telstra has announced Brisbane, regional centres and towns such as Home Hill, Tieri, Gympie, Gladstone, Mt Isa and Rockhampton will be amongst the first in Queensland to receive the new services.

Most new handsets are compatible including the iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Sony Xperia Z3.

LGAQ innovation Executive Lou Boyle said improving network speeds was important as it underpinned new business models for councils  

 

INFRASTRUCTURE TOPS ELECTION WISHLISTS

The snap 2015 Queensland election has caused local councils across the state to get out of the blocks early in putting forward their views on what a new government should have as policy priorities over the next three years.  The LGAQ’s 10 Point Policy Plan has served as something of a template for some councils, whose election wish lists include local projects which would fit into the Association’s proposal for a hefty reinvestment in local infrastructure across the state.

Past experience has shown that those councils that take the time to develop policy and investment plans to take to new governments are likely to gain at least some success, particularly if they are fortunate enough to be located in marginal electorates.

The Bundaberg Regional Council wants all parties contesting the 31 January Queensland election to commit to funding important local infrastructure projects such as the Multiplex community facility, the Rubyanna Waste Water Treatment Plant and flood mitigation measures.

Central Highlands Regional Council has identified flood mitigation projects, support to build the Blackwater Aquatic Centre, assistance to implement sport and recreation master plans and significant roads projects in the plan.

Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jameson is seeking policy commitments on these issues: no more boundary changes; preservation of the regional inter-urban break; Beerwah East as the preferred identified growth area; a fair outcome on the Caloundra South infrastructure agreements; and approval of the Sunshine Coast Airport Environmental Impact Statement and support for Council’s proposed financing strategy

Betterment: an idea whose time has come

The future of funding for natural disaster relief and recovery may be uncertain thanks to the Productivity Commission’s current inquiry but it seems at least one aspect of the debate has all involved in furious agreement. The commission, state governments and local councils are all pushing for a greater role for the concept of “betterment” in future disaster funding policy.  It’s not hard to see why. In Queensland alone, more than $5.4 billion has been spent restoring local government assets destroyed or damaged by natural disasters since 2008.  Adopting a “betterment’’ approach to disaster mitigation should mean that there will be less need to spend big on restoring such assets when disaster strikes. Regional economies will be stronger, communities will bounce back faster, and government coffers richer. Yet, while the Federal and State governments have earmarked millions of dollars for spending on betterment programs, to date there has been no permanent betterment funding program.

The LGAQ’s 10 Point Policy Plan for the next election calls on the parties contesting the poll to endorse a $100 million a year funding program for betterment and disaster mitigation. This would be made up of $40 million from the state, $40 million from the Commonwealth and $20 million from councils.

Communities hit by the spate of natural disasters since 2008 are seeing the benefits of betterment programs. In Bundaberg, crucial roads and bridges damaged by the 2013 floods have been rebuilt to a higher standard thanks to targeted betterment funding. The Bribie Island seawall at Bongaree, damaged in a storm surge last year, is being strengthened.  And in the Central Highlands region, gravel floodways on 10 roads that have been damaged time and again by repeated floods are now being upgraded with strengthened concrete.

These initial investments are all aimed at avoiding a bigger repair bill in the future, so that regional economies can recover as quickly as possible from the unavoidable events that come with being in this part of the world.  

The truth about natural disaster funding

New figures have revealed that a Productivity Commission proposal to lift the NDRRA small disaster threshold from $240,000 to $2 million would have cost Queensland councils up to $9.3 million if was introduced before the recent spate of floods and cyclones in the state.

The LGAQ will lodge a supplementary submission to the Commission’s current inquiry using data supplied by the Queensland Reconstruction Authority to illustrate the impact on councils of changing the threshold.

The $9.3 million, based on events over the period March 2009 to January 2014, is higher than the $6.3 million previously estimated by the QRA as that figure only included actual claims received to date.

However, the QRA recognises that further claims up to $9.3 million could be made for these events in accordance with current damage estimates and permitted timelines.

To highlight a couple of events that would have been excluded under the proposed change to the small disaster threshold and the potential impact on councils and their communities:

  • one localised, heavy rainfall event in northern Queensland in October 2011 that affected only one council area (Cassowary Coast Regional Council) caused damage resulting in an estimated $1.3 million of eligible expenditure. This event happened only 8 months after the same council was at the centre of the impacts of Tropical Cyclone Yasi in February 2011.
  • a tropical low in Far North Queensland 3-4 February 2012 caused an estimated $1.9 million in damage across eight remote councils, mostly Indigenous councils which have no rates base to support their revenue.

The LGAQ appeared on behalf of councils at the recent public hearings in Brisbane on 31 October, along with a number of councils who appeared the same day. Queensland local government was also well-represented at the Townsville public hearings held the previous day.

Apart from lodging a supplentary submission to the commission, the LGAQ is continuing to push the natural disaster funding case with the Federal and State governments.

Aurukun tackles telecommunications challenge

Aurukun Shire Council has a serious capacity problem when it comes to its phone and data services, which is why it has begun lobbying state and federal governments for $700,000 in funding to help upgrade its telecommunications facilities.

The remote Indigenous Cape York Peninsula community, located approximately 830km from Cairns and with a population 1,400, is a growth township with housing, community, business and tourism infrastructure being rapidly developed.

Aurukun, which has no ADSL broadband service, currently receives its Telstra and communication services via radio transmission towers, which includes mobile calls, mobile internet and fixed data services.

However, the radio transmission equipment at Aurukun can only support a total transmission capacity of 34Mb – which Telstra says is five times short of a modern, functional system for a community the size of Aurukun.

Aurukun Mayor Cr Dereck Walpo said the slow and poor mobile internet connectivity was causing major, negative impacts in his community.

“In Aurukun, we are experiencing serious phone, internet speed and capacity problems, and we need it fixed as soon as possible,” said Mayor Walpo.

“Council, government agencies, stakeholders and residents are continually frustrated by this deficiency.

“We are a forward-thinking council and community, and we have big plans for the future, especially in relation to tourism and business.

“Unfortunately, we’re being held back at the moment by a poor telecommunications service.

The LGAQ’s innovation executive, Lou Boyle, said the lack of scalable core telecommunication infrastructure in many rural and regional councils was retarding growth opportunities.

 

“Telstra is asking Councils to pay for upgrades, in some instances millions, to ensure communities, including businesses and the state government can access services,” he said.

 

The LGAQ has congratulated the Commonwealth for allocating $100 million to help fix mobile black-spots, but more needs to be done if our rural and indigenous towns are going to progress.

 

Cr Walpo said Telstra had advised the council that necessary improvements would cost $700,000.

 

“The effect on business is also very significant where basic tasks, that are taken for granted elsewhere in the country, are impossible in Aurukun,’’ he said.

 

“Every day, our mobile devices, programs and communications are becoming more and more data hungry, therefore our problem is growing exponentially worse.”

 

 

 

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