Black spot concern

February 09, 2018

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed inadequate mobile reception in Shepparton district towns is compromising residents' safety.

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed has grave concerns for what poor connectivity in Katandra West and Katunga could mean in the event of an emergency.

Ms Sheed said inadequate mobile reception in Shepparton district towns was just not acceptable, that it was a safety issue and may be affecting the welfare of communities.

She used a constituency question in parliament this week to quiz the Victorian Government on progress toward removing the Shepparton-area blackspots.

‘‘Can you please advise what action is being taken to appropriately assess and improve the significant lack of mobile phone reception in the Shepparton electorate and to ensure my constituents receive the service they deserve?’’ she asked.

‘‘Katunga is a town in my electorate that was already identified as a priority area, and indeed many constituents in that area have voiced their concern about lack of coverage for years.

‘‘Katandra West is in a similar situation.’’

Ms Sheed said phone reception should not be a luxury in the modern day and that it was a safety issue for the towns, which needed to be addressed as a priority.

‘‘I and many of my constituents hold grave concerns about what the poor coverage could mean in an emergency when vital safety information cannot be relayed to communities, and I look forward to seeing what the government will be doing about this,’’ she said.

Stakeholders last month argued whichever tier of government was best placed to provide reliable mobile phone coverage to poorly connected communities should lead the way with it.

It follows the the Victorian Government’s decision last month to turn 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 state 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.

‘‘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 at the time.

Katandra West dentist David Whelan this month said the town had been disappointed it had not yet been provided for under the program, despite continuous efforts.

Last month Katunga resident told the Country News connectivity in the town was ‘‘virtually non-existent’’.

And they remained unconvinced the Victorian Government’s decision would improve their situation.

‘‘There was some hope that coverage would improve for Katunga when the town was listed as a priority area under the Commonwealth scheme and I would hope it remains a priority for this Victorian Government,’’ Ms Sheed said.

Ms Sheed last month described the state government’s move as ‘‘politically loaded’’, urged for a common-sense approach and welcomed communication with stakeholders to establish areas of concern, including where emergency services access might be compromised.

Ms Sheed yesterday said she would be following up with the minister and that saw an opportunity for the region to get its mobile connectivity challenges addressed.

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