The state government has pledged at least $50 million to tackle poor connectivity in country NSW, promising action for regional areas that have been left behind.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro and his Parliamentary Secretary Bronnie Taylor announced the cash splash in Junee on Tuesday morning, ahead of the Cootamundra by-election.
“What we’ve done with the $39 million we’ve already invested was piggybacking off the federal program, partnering with Optus, Vodaphone or Telstra,” Mr Barilaro said.
“What happens usually is those areas with high population centres get the funding first.
“What we’re doing with this announcement is working through the data we already have, with local government, community groups, industry and businesses to make sure we’re also building the infrastructure in places there is need.”
For local farmer and Junee RFS volunteer Tony Clough, black spots impact on more than just business.
“Just the other day this young fellow was killed in a road accident and there was no mobile phone service," Mr Clough said.
“If that guy had been injured or trapped in there, he’d be able to make a call, but we had to rely on someone finding him and he was there all night, and that’s just not good enough.”
Mr Clough also highlighted the daily struggle of managing a farming business with cripplingly slow speeds.
“We all talk about megabits per second, I talk about kilobits per second, because that’s all I get, about 700 per second. You can imagine me trying to download a statement, it’s absolutely crazy, it takes forever,” he said.
He welcomes the announcement, but has been in a 10 year battle with the federal government over the tower at Wantabadgery.
He’s recently been informed by Telstra the tower won’t be constructed until 2019 and is only looking like it will provide coverage for Wantabadgery village.
“We need to be spoken to about what we need, where we want it and how efficient it’s going to be,” he said.
Junee RFS and SES volunteer Brett Porter said the lack of connectivity is life threatening.
“Our call out system is all through the SMS and pager system, which runs through the mobile phone network,” he said.
“If we don’t have coverage we don’t get the call outs, if we don’t get our call outs we don’t turn up, that could be someone’s property, even someone’s life,” he said.
“It’s just so important this comes through and we get the towers up.”
Fellow RFS volunteer Paul Armour is positive about the extra funds.
“They’re saying they’re floating around $50 million, that’s a lot of money, I think it’s worth taking heed of,” Mr Armour said.
“They’ll present the money but it’s up to the telcos to deliver in a timely manner.”
Ms Taylor and Mr Barilaro said the government were actively seeking to work with smaller, grassroots country providers and entrepreneurs to fund innovative solutions.
“We urge anybody out there who’s keen in improving telecommunications in regional NSW to partner with the NSW Government,” Mr Barilaro said.
The money has been committed under the government’s $1.3 billion Regional Growth Fund.