Stakeholders say whichever tier of government is best placed to provide reliable mobile phone coverage to poorly connected communities in Greater Shepparton should lead the way with it.
The Victorian Government yesterday announced it was turning its back on the Federal Government’s mobile black spot program to instead put funding into its own towers.
In a thinly veiled barb, the Victorian Government committed to instead choosing mobile tower locations ‘‘based on merit and necessity, rather than political interests’’.
The Victorian Government will instead spend $11million it would have invested in the third round of the federal program to work with major telcos to build new towers.
Committee for Greater Shepparton chief executive Sam Birrell said whichever government was capable of delivering improved service to regional areas should forge ahead with it.
A statement from Victorian Digital Economy Minister Philip Dalidakis said the new state-run mobile black spot project was being delivered as part of the $45million connecting regional communities program announced in the 2017-18 Victorian Budget.
Regional Development Minister Jaala Pulford said the government was working with emergency management, local councils and regional partnerships to get the project right.
‘‘The Victorian Labor Government is playing pure politics with regional communications and that will leave people living, working and investing in regional Victoria worse off,’’ Federal Regional Communities Minister Bridget McKenzie said.
Greater Shepparton City Council said it had received more than 50 submissions about black spot concerns, with Katandra West identified as a major black spot area.
Sustainable development director Geraldine Christou said council considered mobile black spots a key inhibitor to liveability, productivity and community safety and would like to see them eradicated.
‘‘The lack of reliable and continuous access to mobile reception in the 21st century is unacceptable, it’s potentially dangerous and it’s a barrier to effective communication and business growth,’’ she said.
She said council had been in touch with telcos about rectifying the connectivity challenges and that it would work with the Victorian Government ‘‘to make them aware of our current challenges and identify measures to address and eradicate the issues’’.
State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed described the Victorian Government’s move as interesting, if ‘‘politically loaded’’, adding she would welcome a commonsense approach.
She welcomed communication with stakeholders as a sensible way to establish areas of concern, including where access to emergency services might be compromised.
‘‘Connectivity for regional people is one of the major issues I find in discussions,’’ she said.
Ms Sheed said there were areas in the Shepparton district where complaints about mobile connectivity dated back a long time.
While some improvements had been made, she said areas still did not have ideal coverage.
Katandra West dentist David Whelan said the town had been disappointed it had not yet been provided for under the program, despite constant efforts.
Mr Birrell stressed the importance of regional connectivity in ensuring modern agricultural businesses could function.
‘‘Mobile reception is pretty good in most parts of Shepparton, but you get out to places like Katandra and there’s some black spots,’’ Mr Birrell said.
‘‘It’s critical for agricultural businesses that rely on wireless technology for some of the upgraded irrigation systems, but also other monitoring systems on farm.
‘‘Whichever government entity can deliver service that farming entities require, (they) should go ahead and do it.’’