Community voices black spot concerns

Mobile coverage black spots across Gippsland were highlighted during a forum at Traralgon Bowls Club on Friday as part of the Federal Government’s process to allocate $100 million to fixing the problems.

The man who will oversee the program, Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Communication Paul Fletcher, heard from residents, who raised concerns about the impacts a lack of mobile coverage had on safety, business and connectivity.

Traralgon residents Nelly and Colin Coleman said the problems associated with black spots came to the fore for them when Mr Coleman was left stranded by the roadside in between Traralgon and McLoughlins Beach.

When Mr Coleman’s car stopped working in an area of no mobile coverage he was lucky to be picked up by a passer-by who drove him several kilometres up the road to call for road-side assistance.

However, after being dropped back at his car to meet the repair crew, he was left waiting for five hours because the assistance-providers could not locate or contact him.

“There are stacks of areas (with no coverage), but that’s the area we had trouble with,” Mr Coleman said.

Mr Fletcher said his government would use the information gained from this and other sessions held throughout Australia to compile a list of between 250 and 300 sites which would receive upgrades over the next three years.

He said successful sites would be announced after a “competitive selection process” in the first half of 2015, with upgrades to commence later that year.

Member for Gippsland Darren Chester said he had provided the Federal Government with a list of about 40 areas which could benefit from upgrades and would be fighting for a “fair share” of the funding.

“From a Gippsland perspective, one of the biggest priorities has been making sure our mobile phone coverage improves, particularly when it comes to dealing with natural disasters and also in terms of boosting the economy in our region,” Mr Chester said.

Walhalla petition

A petition with more than 1500 signatures calling for mobile phone coverage in Walhalla was presented to State Member for Narracan Gary Blackwood recently.

Walhalla Heritage and Development League president and petition head, Harvey Hutchison, said Walhalla had “just about” no mobile reception.

“Walhalla’s residents, visitors and tourism operators need mobile phones to keep in touch, to be able use internet for banking and bookings and, most importantly, in natural disasters and public emergencies,” Mr Hutchison said.

“The petition seeks State Parliament’s support to engage with Regional Development Australia Gippsland to pursue mobile connectivity via funding that will shortly be available from the Federal Government’s Mobile Blackspot Program.”

A media spokesperson for Mr Blackwood said the MP would table the petition when Parliament sat next week and also write to Federal Communication Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Federal Member for McMillan Russell Broadbent.