East Gippsland Shire Council understands digital connectivity and resilience is vital for residents, students, visitors and businesses.
Council is aware of a number of upgrades and is also working to support improved telecommunications. Further work is required but a first step is awareness of the work that is already underway.
Restoring the NBN fibre connection to Mallacoota has been an important step forward, with the opportunity for improved digital access in Mallacoota. Through the East Gippsland Recovery Committee (ERGC) and its working group, Council has worked with NBN and other agencies to support this connection. Improving the coverage and resilience ofour infrastructure for future events is a key focus of the Built Environment Working Group.
Council has also been advocating for our communities for improved connectivity and more resilient telecommunications through projects like above and the Federal Government’s Mobile Blackspot Program. A concern with the design of the current Blackspot Program is the ineligibility of some areas that have coverage, but that coverage is patchy or inconsistent. Further, funding cap limits for the Mobile Blackspot Program are preventing some mobile towers that require an independent power supply from being erected in remote areas.
Council is advocating for the Federal Government to address these issues where they are a barrier to improved digital connectivity, such as sections of the Princes Highway between Cann River and the New South Wales border.
Council has worked with Telstra and Alpine Shire Council to apply for funding to complete the fibre optic connection from Swifts Creek and Tambo Crossing and upgrade or install several new mobile phone towers (Omeo, Gipsy Point and Cabbage Tree Creek). Transmissions upgrades and 4G expansion of the existing network in Ensay, Tambo Crossing and Mallacoota are also included. Completing the optical fibre link would mean there is a continuous loop from Bright to Bairnsdale, increasing both capacity and resilience.
Mobile phone towers require a reliable power source in order to function, this is especially important during an emergency event. Six mobile phone towers will be upgraded across East Gippsland as part of the Federal Government’s Mobile Network Hardening Program.
These upgrades will ensure a minimum of 12 hours of back-up power to these towers in the event of a power outage including Bonang, Buchan South, Butchers Ridge, Sarsfield, Omeo Highway and Tongio.
Other key telecommunications projects include:
- Telstra will commence construction of a new tower at Cape Conran in mid-2021.
- Two small cell sites have also been approved for Telstra under the Mobile Blackspot Program at Furnell and Lindenow.
- Council has worked with the State and Commonwealth governments’ Strengthening Telecommunications Against Natural Disasters (STAND) program trial satellite communications in several relief centre sites in Mallacoota, Cann River, Orbost, Buchan, Lakes Entrance, Bairnsdale, Omeo and Paynesville. This provides an internet and WiFi calling backup in the event that other telecommunications such as mobile phone, NBN fixed wireless and optical fibre networks are lost.
- Projects to improve the security of electricity supplies (e.g. battery in Mallacoota) will also have some benefit in improving the resilience of telecommunications.
As part of Council’s community facilities upgrade project, Council will build upon the STAND program work above and offer a satellite connection at community halls and other facilities in several communities across East Gippsland. As a minimum this will provide a resilient telecommunications connection as a backup if mobile phone networks are lost.
Other agencies and telecommunications companies are also contributing to the improvement of infrastructure and connectivity in East Gippsland. Both Telstra and NBN Co have increased their capacity with mobile/relocatable telecommunications units that can be used to reinstate telecommunications following a disaster (e.g. mobile NBN, Skymuster trucks, etc.)
Council will soon be commencing work to identify and consolidate the priorities for digital connectivity improvement(resilience, coverage, literacy, etc.) across East Gippsland. This work and upcoming engagement will inform Council to produce a consolidated list of priorities for advocacy and planning with telecommunication providers and State and Federal governments.