Call Telstra to get Bilpin tower back-up happening - says Deputy PM McCormack
Telstra will be the ones making a decision whether they want to bid for government money to upgrade the Bilpin communications tower to make it more robust during bushfire emergencies and storms.
Following a strongly-worded letter from Bilpin Region Advancement Group (BRAG) yesterday to Communications Minister Paul Fletcher after Bilpin communications tower was not one of 467 tower battery back-up upgrades listed for government funding, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has stepped in and put Bilpin on a register available to bidders including Telstra.
The Deputy PM told the Post this meant Bilpin residents should call Telstra to get them to bid for a share of the government money for the work.
BRAG are asking for a generator – estimated to cost around $10,000 to buy and install – so that power cuts don’t cut off communications in the area.
After the bushfire emergency of 2019-20 which saw homes and businesses in Bilpin burn to the ground and people fleeing for their lives, often without any access to triple-zero or SMS messaging, BRAG put the call out to make the tower power-cut proof.
A spokesman for the Deputy PM – Communications Minister Fletcher is on leave - told the Post the letter from BRAG had seen the Bilpin tower added yesterday to Stage 2 of a list called the Mobile Network Hardening Program which has $18m of government money available to “fund mobile carriers to enhance the resilience of their mobile networks in regional and remote Australia”.
Until the Deputy PM’s intervention, Bilpin was not one of the 467 towers listed nationwide, despite the devastation the area suffered during the bushfires and the total loss of communications during that period.
But the list doesn’t automatically mean anything will happen other than telecommunications companies choosing whether or not to bid on work for their towers.
“The Bilpin mobile base station is a commercial tower, built as part of Telstra’s commercial rollout program,” said the Deputy PM’s spokesperson.
“As such, it was not funded under Rounds 1 or 2 of the Black Spot program, and therefore not eligible for funding under Stage 1 of the Mobile Network Hardening Program.
“Ultimately, it will be a decision for the individual bidders whether to put forward a proposal for funding under Stage 2 of the Program."
Macquarie MP Susan Templeman is furious with the situation.
“I’m so over the Morrison Government washing its hands of responsibility for what is essentially the lives of people living in the Hawkesbury,” the MP told the Post.
“Mobile phone communication is not a luxury, it’s an essential service and being able to receive a text, or make a phone call can actually be a matter of life and death especially during bushfires.
“The Government cannot keep claiming it has no role, and blaming others.
“Telstra and the Federal Government are both well aware of the problems at the Bilpin tower from letters, conversations I’ve had since before last year’s fires and from my speeches in Parliament - it’s about time they looked after their customers and their citizens by taking a simple step to fix this.”
We contacted Telstra yesterday for a comment and we’re waiting for them to get back to us. Once we have more information we’ll update this story.
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