Spotty coverage cost local vendors

The Chestnut Festival has not had these kinds of reception issues before. Picture: Lauren Bianchi.

By Tanya Steele

The 39th Annual Kalorama Chestnut Festival saw some local stallholders devastated by losses to their business when a lack of phone reception cost them trade profits.

Reception issues were felt by some, but not all of the stall holders on what was otherwise a stellar day out in the hills.

Jaki the Stall coordinator from the Chestnut Festival said that while some of the stallholders were experiencing difficulties, the committee didn’t realise how bad the issues were until the next day.

“I believe the coverage was more restricted in some areas of the oval, I heard mixed reviews overall,” she said.

“A lot of people said it (the reception) was slow and some said they had none at all.”

Babaji’s restaurant had their regular stall at this year’s festival and co-owner Billy Crombie said the stall had issues connecting their phone to complete electronic sales on the day.

“We’ve never had any problems before and there was no reception that day – I know that we turned away at least $2,000 in trade,” she said.

“It was a great festival overall, the dampener is that we know how much business we lost.”

Ms Crombie said she went around the festival on the day to gauge the losses from other vendors and many others reported difficulty – she said she was concerned about the smaller businesses.

“We were a bigger operator but a lot of the small market vendors are much smaller micro businesses and a $50 loss to them is to be a deal,” she said.

Ms Crombie said she wanted to emphasise there is no fault to the Chestnut festival organisers, who do an awesome job of putting it together.

In previous years, an ATM has been provided but wasn’t used this year due to costs and lack of use, Jaki said that this year was definitely the worst for the reception issues.

“There were a lot of people at this year’s festival, we spend a lot of time trying to make sure everyone has a good day and for all that work to be undone by phone reception is heart breaking,” Jaki said.

“The organisers are all locals and unfortunately having reception issues in the hills is just life for us,” she said.

Telstra Regional General Manager Jenny Gray said that Telstra 5G and 4G coverage is available in and around Kalorama.

“One-off annual events can put extra demand on our local network and can slow data speeds,” she said.

State Member for Monbulk, MP Daniela De Martino said that mobile telecommunication blackspots are a critical issue in the Dandenong Ranges and surrounding areas.

“Large areas of the District of Monbulk have very poor or no coverage and when demand is increased, the problems are exacerbated,” she said.

Telecommunications are governed by the Australian Federal Government, which means the Victorian State Government is restricted in how it can respond to mobile network deficiencies.

Federal Member for Casey, Aaron Violi MP said it is devastating to hear that local businesses have suffered losses during what is a much-loved community event due to telecommunications challenges.

Infrastructure projects for the hills have been funded federally in the past and Mr Violi said that the former federal Liberal government funded a phone tower for Kalorama in 2018.

“This would have alleviated some of these challenges, however, the relevant telecommunications providers were unable to build the base station due to difficulties acquiring a suitable site and obtaining local planning approvals,” he said.

Ms De Martino said that dozens of telecommunications projects were announced for the Dandenong Ranges in 2022 through the Labour Connecting Victoria program – a $540 million program to improve mobile and broadband connectivity across the state.

“This includes construction and upgrades of mobile phone towers in various townships, including Kalorama,” said Ms De Martino

“We are doing what we can, where we can – but it’s time for the Telcos to come to the table,” she said.

Ms De Martino has an active petition running “Tell the Telcos” and said that it is incumbent upon Telstra, Optus, TPG and Vodafone to improve mobile coverage across the Dandenong Ranges and eliminate ‘blackspots’.

“I’m asking that the telecommunications companies ensure uninterrupted mobile coverage across the Dandenong Ranges,” she said.

“The Kalorama Chestnut Festival is a striking example of the need for more resilient mobile coverage in the Hills.”

Telstra regional manager Jenny Gray said Telstra are always happy to work with community organisations ahead of a big event and that organisers often co-invest with Telstra to boost capacity by bringing in a temporary mobile base station or roll out other solutions to improve connectivity for visitors and traders.

“We’re happy to discuss options with Chestnut Festival organisers ahead of next year’s event,” Ms Gray said.

Jaki said that because they’ve never experienced this kind of outage before it’s never been on the Chestnut Festival committee’s radar that they would need to notify a telco.

“We are adding this as a priority for the event next year,” she said.