Council calls on State to improve telecommunications in Yarra Ranges
Published on 12 August 2021
Yarra Ranges Council is again strongly advocating to the State Government to vastly improve telecommunication services in the region, with the impacts of multiple COVID-19 lockdowns and recent storm events highlighting major connectivity issues.
With Yarra Ranges facing year-round threats of severe weather events, better mobile and broadband accessibility for the region is vital, with recent storm events in the Dandenong Ranges leaving many communities off the grid with no line out of the impact zone to reach 000 or loved ones.
Yarra Ranges Mayor Fiona McAllister said addressing the connectivity issues across Yarra Ranges has been critical for years and needs to be fixed, not just to help residents in emergency situations but also in everyday life with local businesses and schools being impacted.
“Connectivity has long been an issue for many of our townships in Yarra Ranges, and was raised as a significant issue following Black Saturday. Again it was the number one frustration we heard from our storm impacted communities when holding our post-storm community meetings,” Cr McAllister said.
“34 of our communities lost mobile and broadband service over the first three days of the June storms, meaning they didn’t know what was going on, couldn’t reach out to loved ones, access emergency information or even dial 000 for assistance.
“Two months after the storm event, NBN Co. confirmed that there are still 700 services – many of which are in the Yarra Ranges - yet to be restored, which makes things incredibly difficult when you consider so many of our residents have been working from home during the lockdowns.
“There has been a lot of conversation and sympathy but Council and community stand united in calling for less talk and more action.
“It is unacceptable that in 2021 our communities are still suffering and remain heavily disadvantaged due to poor telecommunications infrastructure.”
Cr McAllister said Council was undertaking its own in-depth study to gain a greater understanding of the mobile and broadband issues within the community, including a community survey of fixed and wireless internet services in homes and businesses, as well as blackspot ‘drive testing’.
“The data from our study showed that 4G service could not be accessed at 25 per cent of the sites and road segments we tested, while poor network quality and mobile blackspots were concentrated around the Dandenong Ranges, tourist roads such as the Black Spur, and areas toward Beenak and Hoddles Creek,” Cr McAllister said.
”These insights are being shared with the State and Federal Governments to identify and solve the current telecommunication issues within the region. Council is also working closely with carriers and other partners.
“We need to consider not only funding support, but also the provision of land for new infrastructure, resilience upgrades for existing phone towers, changes to policy settings, and community engagement and education programs,” Cr McAllister said.
Council’s telecommunications study will shape its formal submission to the State Government’s Connecting Victoria program – a $550 million initiative to improve mobile and broadband connectivity across the state.
Council will also participate in a Connecting Victoria roundtable discussion in September, alongside community members and local businesses leaders to unpack local connectivity issues, including the impacts of recent outages.
Public submissions to the Connecting Victoria survey can be made online until September 20.
Cr McAllister said she was incredibly grateful to Yarra Ranges residents and businesses who had helped Council gather critical data to date.
“The data we’ve received so far is helping us determine a path forward,” Cr McAllister said.
“We know people are frustrated and fatigued following many rounds of community engagement on this issue, but we strongly encourage them to make their own submissions to the Connecting Victoria survey.
“Every response helps to keep this important issue on the agenda.
“Until we fix these issues, our businesses will continue to struggle through any future lockdowns or weather events, as will our local school children due to insufficient internet connectivity.
“Some schools have had to revert back to paper-based remote learning as they await nearby NBN lines to be repaired, and this is after the students missed multiple days of school due to the recent storm.
“We need solutions urgently or children may be left behind.”
The Connecting Victoria survey is open until 20 September 2021, at engage.vic.gov.au/connecting-victoria.
Updates on Yarra Ranges Council’s telecommunications advocacy can be found on their website.