As an out of control bushfire raged around Bridgetown, three hours south of Perth, earlier this month, County Chairman John Bookless said it wasn’t long before services electricity and telephones are cut off.
- Telstra has confirmed that mobile services have been hit by power outages during the recent WA fires
- The phone company said it was also working to restore landline services in Halls Creek, after a cable was cut by a ‘third party’
- A review of regional telecommunications found more funds needed for disaster areas
“The city was under serious threat and this is the time when you need to have the best possible telecommunications, and if that’s the best we can do in our time, it’s quite pathetic,” he said. .
The next day, the town of Corrigin, two and a half hours east of Perth, experienced the same problem, according to its county chairman Des Hickey.
“The problem we have locally is that the Telstra tower, if it’s not powered, fails after two to three hours. That’s what happened in the fire: we lost contact with the people fighting on the ground very early in the fire,” Mr Hickey said.
It comes as the federal government released its triennial regional telecommunications review yesterday.
The report details similar issues that occurred during the 2019-2020 East Coast Black Summer Fires.
He said it would be too expensive to upgrade all the phone towers’ battery backup, but disaster-prone areas should receive targeted funding.
“In this challenging landscape, we argue that government and industry have a role to play in ensuring the reliability, resilience and redundancy of regional telecommunications networks,” the report states.
“The Committee is concerned that without better interventions, businesses and consumers in remote, rural and remote areas of Australia will not have access to vital telecommunications services when they need them most.”
Regional Telecommunications Minister Bridget McKenzie said that since the black fires in the summer, the government had spent $37 million to address the problem through its Natural Disaster Telecommunications Strengthening (STAND) fund. .
“I think by any measure the coalition, with the national party at its center, has actually delivered regional telecommunications as quickly as possible,” she said.
Mr. Hickey said he thinks his town could benefit from a solar-powered backup system for its telephone tower.
Fixed lines cut by “a third party”
At the other end of WA, in Halls Creek 30 hours northeast of Perth, businesswoman Emma Tierney owns the IGA store.
It is the only supermarket in town and the only place Halls Creek residents can purchase their prepaid electricity allowance.
When the ABC spoke to Ms Tierney yesterday on her mobile phone, the IGA landline was down, following a flood several weeks ago.
Telstra declined the ABC’s request for an interview, but in a statement its regional manager in WA, Boyd Brown, said a cable had been cut in Halls Creek by a ‘third party’ and hoped repairs would be completed last night.
“Mobile coverage is not currently affected, nor are people who have their home internet and phone service through the NBN,” he said.
Mr Brown also said Telstra would “happily” meet with the communities of Bridgetown and Corrigin to discuss mobile base station power requirements.
“In the WA area, we have over 900 mobile base stations, and as part of the first round of the STAND program, we recently upgraded 113 key sites to have 12 hours of battery backup,” a- he declared.
“The second cycle is a co-investment program and Telstra worked with the WA Fire and Emergency Services Department to identify additional sites that would benefit from longer emergency power supply.”
“We expect an announcement on these sites to be imminent.”