Round 4 mobile blackspot results praised by ICPA-NSW group

Photo: File.
Photo: File.

A voluntary parent organisation with the aim of providing better access to education for rural and regional children has praised the Australian government for recognising the need for better telecommunication in the bush after its recent Mobile Blackspot Round 4 results.

On March 18, 2019, Minister for Regional Services Bridget McKenzie announced the results of the Round 4 competitive assessment process, which included the small rural towns of Clare and Naradhan of western NSW.

The Isolated Children's Parents' Association (ICPA) praised the announcement, saying mobile phone service near rural and remote schools was important.

The Association was founded at Bourke in 1971, following the closure of the Bourke Hostel that provided accommodation for children living on remote properties so they could access education.

The NSW State Council of the Isolated Children's Parents' Association (ICPA-NSW) was formed less than a year after the Bourke branch was founded.

The mission of the newly formed association, then as it is now 39 years later, is access to education.

NSW ICPA president Claire Butler said Clare Public School is within a huge blackspot area.

"Clare Public School for example is 155 kilometres from Balranald township, the school sits in a paddock, surrounded by remote farmland, and unfortunately sits in a huge blackspot where one has to drive an hour to get mobile phone service," she said.

Ms Butler said for families, staff and surrounding farmers travelling on the road each day, mobile connectivity is an important infrastructure and resource.

When Round 1 of the Mobile Blackspot Program was announced in 2015, the association expressed much disappointment at the lack of remote areas that were successful.

Ms Butler said of the 144 base stations announced, none of those were in a geographically remote area of NSW.

"So, since then ICPA NSW has been advocating with telcos and government that if there was to be any particular area prioritised, then a place of public interest such as rural and remote schools should be an area of priority when deciding where to put a base station," she said.

"Areas such as the Clare School in far south-west NSW and Naradhan School in the Riverina, have always been high on our agenda and their wouldn't be too many politicians in the NSW Government who haven't heard of those two schools and their plight for mobile phone service.

"Less populated areas are less appealing to Telcos because they offer less commercial viability so, for Round 4 especially we are particularly pleased to see Telstra investing in more remote areas of NSW, in particular areas with schools in them."

According to the Australian government's Mobile Blackspot program, Round 4 will deliver 180 new mobile base stations (49 Optus and 131 Telstra) to address more coverage issues in regional and remote Australia.

Its website states that "the rollout is expected to commence shortly, with the first new base stations being activated by the second half of the year".