• Tony Bosworth

Telstra snubs Mayor – no meeting to discuss Bilpin comms tower – BRAG not giving up

Telstra will not be holding a meeting with Mayor Patrick Conolly, councillors and Bilpin residents to discuss upgrading the local communications tower, despite the Mayor directly appealing to Telstra CEO Andrew Penn almost two weeks ago.

The Bilpin Region Advancement Group (BRAG) say they are not giving up in their quest to get the tower emergency future-proofed with an onsite generator, which would kick in if power were cut.

Power was cut during the last bushfire emergency, which meant emergency personnel and residents often could not make calls or receive texts, including those telling residents to evacuate.

The council initially wrote to Telstra asked for a meeting between the company’s relevant personnel and Bilpin residents, along with councillors. But Telstra said they were not available.

“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.

Cllr Conolly then wrote directly to Telstra CEO Andrew Penn asking him to intervene. “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,” said the Mayor, “and the community to discuss matters of life and death in this vulnerable community that is still in recovery.” “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.

But that didn’t work either.

“Based on holding a previous community meeting 12 months ago, our current network performance and recent upgrades in the area, Telstra thanks the Council for its invitation but does not believe any further community meetings in Bilpin are necessary at this stage,” said Mike Marom, Telstra’s Regional General Manager for NSW.

“Members of the Telstra team have previously spoken with the Council and offered to address any specific concerns that they had about particular sites,” a Telstra spokesman told the Post.

“This invitation remains ongoing. We also encourage any Bilpin residents experiencing issues at their property to contact us and report a fault.”

Our infrastructure is reliant on mains power to operate,” Mr Marom said.

“Telstra has also upgraded the mobile base station that services the Bilpin community, significantly increasing the level of battery stand by capacity to 12 hours in the event of a major power outage.”

BRAG’s Graziella Obeid has written back to Telstra CEO Mr Penn on behalf of the group and said the Telstra communications tower had only around 14 hours battery after a blackout.

“We desperately need Telstra to commit to installing a generator to supply communications in emergencies such as are occurring now,” Ms Obeid said.

“If the tower fails, Telstra technicians will not be able to access the site. It will neither be safe or possible. If the tower fails we will also be in danger.

“Landlines and mobile signals will die after 14 hours. This means there will be no triple zero calls available, no internet, no access to help, or Facebook emergency posts, or emergency evacuation texts.

“Our RFS won’t be able to respond to callouts as they use private mobiles to arrange crews to include drivers, crew leaders etc.

Ms Obeid said, “locals have corresponded with Telstra for over 10 years regarding this issue. Last summer during the fires, we lost power many times and therefore signal. Many areas have no reliable mobile coverage anyway so when landlines die there is no comms at all.”

BRAG say they will keep up the pressure for a generator to be fitted at the communications tower.

We have asked Council for a comment and asked what the Mayor intends to do next. We have received no response. We will of course add that if we get one.

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