Better connectivity a high agenda

By Tyler Wright and Renee Wood

Yarra Ranges Council is advocating for better telecommunications services ahead of the Federal election.

Mobile connectivity, NBN and broadband strength and emergency resilience have been raised as key areas that need addressing.

Mayor Jim Child said families and businesses rely on a good mobile and broadband network to operate, during both daily life and while in emergency situations.

“At the moment, those particular areas are letting us down,” Cr Child said.

Throughout the municipality several areas have been exposed as blackspots which need better infrastructure in order to ensure connectivity.

A survey of mobile connection was conducted, visiting 24,000 sites across the municipality and the Dandenong Ranges, East Warburton, Steel’s Creek, Hoddle’s Creek and Fernshaw are areas of concern.

“We saw about 25 per cent of those sites were experiencing difficulty,” he said.

Sassafras resident Belinda Young runs the local group Mums of the Hills and said the area is isolated, making residents more dependent on telecommunications.

“Our aim is to get information out on where people can go – resources they can access. If there are showers available or food drop offs – all those kinds of things we do to try and help locals be directed to the right place,” she said.

“When we’re unable to do that, we’ve got our hands tied around our back basically.

“People miss out on access to showers, to Wifi and charging stations for several days or even longer, to the point where things have been restored by they time they found out they had access to it.”

Increasing weak NBN signals is also on the telecommunications agenda, with businesses and residents suffering from the lack of strong connectivity.

Fixed wireless, fibre to the node and satellite mediums are all currently installed however, Cr Child said fibre to the premises would be the best fit to reduce disadvantages throughout the municipality.

“That’s the key outcome, to deliver that strong connection to the business premises, to the residents and have a good strong NBN and also broadband connectivity.”

David Hockley of Phazed Electrics in Millgrove, said he’s accustomed to his area losing power which affects mobile and internet connection, and once it does he may as well be in the “sahara desert”.

“My business is dead,” he said.

“No one can call me to say that they’ve even got a problem. Last time I had to drive to Chirnside Park to get reception, and any message that people could put through I couldn’t respond or call them back in any case because their phones were dead. ”

The recent council storm survey has also shown that the number of reported internet and power outages have increased by 31 and 41 per cent respectively after the June 2021 storm event.

Mr Hockley said any Federal Government action to improve telecommunications in the Yarra Ranges needs to be clearly thought out.

“As long as the funding is actually put in the right areas and allocated to the right places, it could be a benefit. A major benefit,” he said.

In its election campaign, council is further pushing for upgrades to emergency services to build resilience and ensure services are available through power outages.

“We had mobile towers that failed because they weren’t powered, we had telephone exchanges that failed because they weren’t powered.

“We’ve found out that probably 98 per cent of our communities and people rely on communications through telecommunications to actually get the information that they need in times of disaster,” Cr Child said.

“Its towards extending the longevity of the towers, so that if there is an incident, they can prolong the length of time it runs out, for example.

“It would save lives.”