Have your say on regional telecommunications

Published: 16th July 2021

This week, we’re talking telecommunications – black spots, poor mobile and data coverage, and even no mobile phone coverage in some parts of the state.

LGAQ Head of Advocacy Alison Smith is working with her team to prepare a statewide submission for members to address the Federal Government’s 2021 Regional Telecommunications Review.

This review was launched this week and is held every three years. It is a great opportunity for the LGAQ and individual councils to advocate on behalf of local communities for more consistent and reliable digital connectivity. The review will be also travelling to Normanton and Emerald as part of their consultation strategy to hear what the locals have to say.

In this week’s video, Alison and Advocate policy lead Simon Booth talk about the examples they will seek from member councils to ensure this statewide submission captures your stories and advocates strongly for improved services. We are also encouraging individual councils to make your own individual submissions on digital connectivity problems in your particular area. Alison and Simon talk about the template that will be provided for councils to use, so that you can just insert your own local examples to help illustrate to the Federal Government why more than 1.6 million people in regional, rural and remote Queensland need better telecommunications service.

Unfortunately, “no mobile coverage” and “no internet signal” have become common but exasperating catchcries for regional, rural and remote residents, especially those who live and work on the land or who must travel into remote areas for business.

The Digital Divide between city and country has been debated at length at successive annual conferences of the LGAQ – in fact, we have three members’ motions about connectivity that we will capture in our statewide submission. They include lobbying for mobile roaming, addressing mobile blackspots and areas with limited coverage, and achieving more reliable fast access to the internet.

Connectivity is fundamental for economic development, innovation, technology advancement, workforce readiness and improved quality of life. It is more than just connecting households, schools and health care to each other and the rest of the world. It is a tool that enables increased productivity for farms, factories, mining and small business. However, the reality is significant parts of Queensland are still missing out.

The LGAQ Advocate team will be seeking first-hand examples of how unreliable digital connectivity has often placed an undue burden on our communities. These “lived experiences” would be a powerful testimony on the connectivity problems commonly faced by people in regional, rural and remote Queensland.

Here are some examples:

Lockhart River

An isolated Indigenous community in Queensland was left without any phone lines or internet for five days in February, 2021. About 800 Lockhart River residents lost landline and internet connections, followed by mobile services four days later. Telstra, which is the town's sole telecommunications provider, eventually restored the phone services but Lockhart Shire Council Mayor Wayne Butcher said the nine-day outage was extremely risky to public safety and damaging for businesses. "If anyone is stranded or broken down somewhere, we can't help them," he said. "It's not safe, if there was a cyclone coming we wouldn't be able to keep up to date with information and we wouldn't be able to warn people properly. And, we are cut off from all road transport - in short, it's bloody hard to run a business in remote Cape York and Telstra is being less than helpful."

North-West Queensland

Towns in North-West Queensland suffered sporadic phone or internet coverage for a fortnight in January, 2021, leaving residents and businesses feeling stranded and concerned about their safety in emergencies. Telstra blamed the phone and internet outages in Cloncurry, Karumba and Normanton on severe weather damage from ex-Tropical Cyclone Imogen and its associated low. However, residents reported that the connectivity problems were abnormal for a regular storm season and they had been left helpless as repairs were made. In Karumba, local residents reported that calls to emergency services had failed to get through the base station in Karumba when the fixed line was affected by the storm. Locals were left stranded without emergency or 13-hundred phone calls unless they had access to wi-fi.

Southern Queensland

Rural residents in southern Queensland have experienced ongoing problems with their Telstra landline services – and often in areas without mobile coverage. The ABC reported in April 2021 that there was no consistent mobile service at the property of Kim and Judith Felton-Taylor at Wondalli, 50km north east of Goondiwindi, and the Telstra landline only worked sporadically. Over a period of six months in 2019-2020, the Felton-Taylors went 63 days with no landline. The couple told the ABC it was stressful to wake each day not knowing whether they could contact neighbours, family or emergency services. There had been several accidents on their property since their phone troubles began, including a serious bike crash that required an ambulance. Fortunately, the landline worked when they went to call for help on that occasion. The couple eventually sought help from Maranoa MP David Littleproud, whose office organised for Telstra to escalate their case. Upgrades to the local exchange had now improved, but not entirely fixed, their landline service. The ABC also reported that Telstra customers across the Goondiwindi, and further west at Miles and Chinchilla, were having similar problems with unreliable service. Mr Littleproud said it was the most common complaint to his electorate office. "This is putting lives at risk," he told the ABC. "In my own electorate ... people have not been able to use a landline to call 000, to call in a flying doctor, to call in an ambulance from some hundreds of kilometres away."

Look out for LGAQ member communications next week which will include details about how to send your examples to the Advocate team, accessing the template to use for your own submission, and you can meet the panel  when it travels to Emerald (July 27) and Normanton (July 30) as part of its community consultation program by registering here.

Should you have any questions about the review please feel free to contact Simon Booth, our newest member of the Advocacy team working in Infrastructure, Policy, and Regional Development. With years of living in the Northern Territory and working in rural and remote areas before coming to the LGAQ, he knows firsthand some of the issues in regional connectivity.

Meantime, you can read more about the review here.