• Tony Bosworth

Mayor asks Telstra to join with Bilpin residents and council in bid to sort out comms issues

Mayor Patrick Conolly says he has contacted Telstra to ask the company to engage with “Council and the Bilpin community on vital telecommunications that are currently not being provided in Bilpin”.

“We are asking Telstra to meet with our community members and Council to discuss how the telecommunications network can be made more effective and resilient,” Mayor Conolly said.

Telstra has apparently replied to the Mayor saying they didn’t have personnel available for a meeting, which has led to Cllr Conolly calling directly on Telstra CEO Andy Penn to get involved to break the impasse.

At a full Council meeting almost two months ago, Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett put up a motion to ask for a meeting with Bilpin residents, Council and Telstra. This was defeated on the casting vote of the Mayor and with the support of Liberal and Labor councillors. Their amendment was to ask for a meeting with Telstra to discuss Hawkesbury (not specifically Bilpin) telecoms issues. That was passed with a majority, again on the casting vote of the Mayor.

So, the outcome was to try and organise a meeting with Telstra, councillors and Hawkesbury residents.

Both the Mayor and Cllr Sarah Richards said MP Susan Templeman should go in to bat for the Bilpin residents.

Sometime later - at one of the new committee meetings which only Liberal and Labor councillors sit on - it seems this was changed from Hawkesbury to Bilpin residents to meet with Telstra and Hawkesbury Council - the exact same motion that was voted down by the Mayor and Liberal and Labor councillors only two months ago.

This curiosity aside, the Mayor says he is now imploring Telstra to come to the table with Bilpin residents to thrash out the situation.

Essentially, Bilpin residents want a standalone generator to kick in when there are power cuts which immobilises the communications tower, cutting comms across the region, as happened during the bushfire emergency.

Telstra says the back-up batteries they have installed are sufficient and they have no plans to put more infrastructure in.

“Whilst we are also seeking Telstra’s assistance and commitment towards maintaining and enhancing the current telecommunications network, a community meeting about the issue of failing telecommunications during emergencies, and regularly poor, unreliable service any other day, is imperative for our community,” says Mayor Conolly now.

“The devastating Black Summer bushfires of 2019/2020 severely impacted our community,” he added.

“During these bushfires, as well as many times previously, the failure of power, loss of overhead cabling and poor coverage made management of the unfolding disaster unnecessarily complex. It put the lives of emergency services staff and volunteers, and our community members, at risk.”

“It is extremely disappointing to have a bureaucratic response simply indicating that representatives were ‘not available’, when Council even sought alternative and mutually compatible dates,” Mayor Conolly said.

“As the Mayor of Hawkesbury, I am seeking the direct assistance of Telstra’s Chief Executive Officer Andrew Penn to arrange relevant Telstra staff to meet with Council and the community to discuss matters of life and death in this vulnerable community that is still in recovery.

“I have personally written to Mr Penn seeking Telstra’s participation and active involvement. I have also sent him a copy of Council’s submission to the Mobile Black Spot Program in relation to Council’s submission for the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.

“I look forward to a helpful response with some proposed dates in the very near future for when Telstra will commit to attending a Bilpin telecommunications meeting,” Mayor Conolly said.

“Bilpin residents have been waiting for so long for a community meeting to happen. We’ve had a state of grace with the rain this bushfire season but we all need to step up to this issue. It’s too late when someone has lost their life because they couldn’t call for help or be informed they were in danger.”

The Mayor has also extended an offer to meet with the Telstra CEO at any time he is available to arrange a mutual date for a community meeting.

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