Someone should set up a coffee van on the corner of Lowther Siding Road and Ganbenang Road in the Kanimbla Valley, residents joke. It would get plenty of business.
It's the only place that residents can get reliable mobile reception and, as a result, it is often a parking area as property owners head home - a last opportunity to make a call and check messages before they lose reception.
That wouldn't be such a major concern, except the landlines in the area are also notoriously unreliable, dropping out in bad weather and storms.
There have been some close calls and residents want the problem addressed before a tragedy occurs to highlight the problem.
Jason Green addressed Lithgow City Council on Monday night, October 29, and told them he had already had a close call involving his own family.
“It’s a major safety concern for our community...
“We’ve had people who suffered heart attacks, major spider bites and had to drive themselves mid-way to get emergency help.
“I personally had an incident a couple of years ago with my family suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning from a leaking wood heater.
“I had my family passed out on the floor, I picked up the landline and it was out of order.
“I had to walk approximately 3km to raise the alarm. I nearly lost my whole family in the process because I couldn’t contact emergency services… If I had mobile coverage I could have got help a lot quicker.”
Mr Green said the affected communities, which included Lowther, Ganbenang, and the Kanimbla Valley, have had enough of telcos ignoring the area.
There were 360 properties affected within the Lowther, Ganbenang and Kanimbla Valley, Mr Green said, which did not include the surrounding communities of Hampton, Little Hartley, Forty Bends, Gap Road and other areas that would benefit from improved services.
We’ve had people who suffered heart attacks, major spider bites and had to drive themselves mid-way to get emergency help.Jason Green
“Since March 2016 our rural community has been trying to get the federal government and telecommunications to take notice,” Mr Green said.
The community has created the Kanimbla Valley Mobile Phone Black Spot Action Group, which has been making itself heard on social media.
“The landscape has changed and having mobile phone coverage is a necessity, not a luxury,” Mr Green said.
The federal government has announced $25 million for round four of the mobile blackspot program. The Kanimbla Valley is lobbying to get action from the latest round.
The federal government released the guidelines for round four on October 15 and called for applications from mobile network operators to apply. Submissions close on December 10, with the rollout expected early in 2019.
Calare MP Andrew Gee stated that, over the past two years he has “worked very closely with the Lowther and Kanimbla Valley communities to lobby for a new mobile phone tower”.
“The site has been submitted for the upcoming black spot funding round and the ball is now in the court of Telstra and the other telcos to apply for the funding and submit a tender to the government for that location,” he said.
“I’ve written to the CEO of Telstra and the others asking them to submit a tender and I am repeating that call today.
“It’s vitally important that they do because without an application from the telcos for funding all of our work will count for nothing.”
Mike Marom, Regional General Manager for Telstra in NSW, said providing effective mobile coverage in the Kanimbla Valley was technically challenging “due to terrain and availability of suitable sites that would meet both coverage and infrastructure requirements”.
“Telstra understands the community’s concerns and have spoken to local residents as well as the Federal Member Mr Andrew Gee previously about coverage in the area,” he said.
“Currently the Federal Government is considering new sites as part of the blackspot program and if the Kanimbla Valley is selected, I am sure Telstra, along with other major service providers, will give the site due consideration.”
Mr Green told council the mobile phone issue “was further magnified by Telstra’s reluctance to upgrade the infrastructure of the copper lines in our area”.
“We have continued outages residents are experiencing on a regular basis,” he said.
“Any storm activity often puts the residents’ phone out of order for an extended period of time.”
Kanimbla Valley resident and businessman Mal Harris said he had abandoned his landline completely.
“It would work for a week, then go out, then you’d wait a month to get it fixed,” he said.
But mobile phone reception is almost non-existent on his 100 acre property. He says there is one particular place on his windowsill he can get enough service to receive text messages.
“I live by myself and if I get crook, how am I going to try to get help?”
The residents share stories about near misses, from snake bites, to heart attacks, cars going off the road and flipped quad bikes.
Resident of 25 years Chris Cox said the solution they have been presented with from Telstra was novel.
“When the landline cuts out, they tell me they’re going to divert it to my mobile,” he said.
“Now that’s handy.”
Mr Cox said, with lots of tourists using the road, as well as the school bus, there would be problems if someone ran off the road or broke down and could not get assistance.
Mr Green presented numbers to council stating that Jenolan Caves Road saw 1400 cars a day.
Lithgow City Council voted to write to MP Andrew Gee and the Minister for Regional Communications and Bridget McKenzie about the lack of adequate mobile coverage in this area and seek the Minister’s support to address the issue, based on a notice of motion by Cr Steve Ring.
“We want this community to go forward, we need technology that is needed and expected by people today,” Cr Ring said.
“People aren’t going to move here, business aren’t going to come, if we don’t have the requisite technology and having good phone service is a basic these days.”
Cr Statham said she had first hand experience of the dangers of lack of coverage in that area.
“I was down there last year at a function and something happened to one of the families. There was no mobile coverage [to call for assistance],” she said.
In the interim, Telstra’s Mr Marom said there were a number of options that Telstra customers could consider to help provide mobile coverage within their homes, including a range of antennas or if they have an internet service at their home, utilise Wi-Fi Calling, a free setting on many popular mobile phones that provides mobile coverage when within home Wi-Fi range.
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