• Tony Bosworth

Four fire seasons and still no promised mobile boost for Macdonald Valley

Stephen Brown says he judges the time since Optus first said they would fit a tower to solve mobile black spots in the St Albans area in fire seasons, because it’s during those crucial times locals need mobile reception more than ever.

“It’s four fire seasons,” said Mr Brown who is past President of the Macdonald Valley Association. “They were looking at what you might call a macro solution but now they’re investigating micro because the larger option is judged too expensive.”

Even Optus themselves say their cheaper option is not the ideal solution for the wider area, but it looks like it’s the best St Albans residents will get.

Mobile phone coverage in the Macdonald Valley is some of the worst in the Hawkesbury with the steep terrain and valley restricting mobile signals.

Optus has costed the first high power option at $2m, not least because it includes a 7km power run and agreement with National Parks to use a track, plus some vegetation clearing would be needed, as well as a second repeater location for transmission back to the Optus Core Network.

“With an estimated cost in excess of $2m to construct, Optus will be submitting paperwork to the Commonwealth to “frustrate” the site [on St Albans Rd] and replace it with a Small Cell Solution using satellite backhaul transmission to the Optus Core Network,” said Optus’s Vin Mullins, Manager Mobile Access Planning, in a letter to Mr Brown.

“This satellite small cell solution would preferably be located close to the RFS Station to at least provide coverage to the town proper,” said Mr Mullins.

“Whilst not the most ideal solution for wide area coverage, Optus believes, after reviewing more than 12 locations, meeting with Hawkesbury Council and experiences on similarly challenging site locations, this is the best way forward,” Mr Mullins said.

The solution would deliver 4G and 3G coverage as well as access to ‘000’ for

users on other carriers, said Mr Mullins, but the area it covers would not be as broad as would have been provided by a bigger more powerful tower.

“It was back in 2017 this was first announced,” said Mr Brown, “and we’re not only still waiting, we’re now looking at an inferior solution.”

Federal MP Susan Templeman, who is on a crusade to get better mobile coverage across the Hawkesbury, told the Post the delays at St Albans were just not good enough.

“It’s very disappointing that after many years and community members working tirelessly for an outcome, Optus is not proceeding with what was originally proposed,” Ms Templeman said.

“Like so many communities around the Hawkesbury, St Albans came under direct threat from the terrible bushfires of last summer and reliable communications in these remote areas is paramount.

“This is another example of the failure of the Morrison Government in raising expectations about overcoming mobile black spots and then failing to deliver.

“There is something fundamentally wrong with a process that awards funding to carriers with no guarantee that the project can actually be delivered.

“We saw it with Mount Tomah and now we see it again at St Albans.

“At least with St Albans the Rural Fire Service shed may in the end have mobile coverage.”

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