NO SERVICE: Briony Sommers and Kameron Jeffrey believe the lack of reliable mobile reception in the Valley is a serious problem.
NO SERVICE: Briony Sommers and Kameron Jeffrey believe the lack of reliable mobile reception in the Valley is a serious problem. Melanie Keyte

Connection lost: Mobile blackouts 'not good enough'

WHEN customers pay for a service, they expect the service to work.

But Helidon Progress Association president Kameron Jeffrey said that's not what's happening in the Lockyer and Brisbane valleys.

The association has launched a campaign to pressure the three major telecommunications providers -- Telstra, Optus and Vodafone - and all levels of government to improve intermittent mobile phone service in the region.

Mr Jeffrey said the unreliable service was letting down residents, small businesses and the region as a whole.

"For us to be able to future-proof our region, mobile phone coverage is a very basic necessity," he said.

"Regardless of what the telcos are saying, if Joe Bloggs isn't getting reception and is paying $70 per month, will (the telco) concede their service isn't good enough here or are they going to stick to their line and say 'We cover 99% of Australia, there is no problem'?

"If Joe Bloggs wants to call the mum-and-dad corner shop to order his chips and gravy, is he guaranteed a connection? No, and that's it."

There are no requirements for carriers to ensure adequate delivery of mobile services, though there are obligations on carriers to ensure landline connections and payphone access, which is subsidised by the Federal Government.

A statement from the Department of Communication and Arts said it cannot enforce mobile delivery but initiatives like the Mobile Black Spot Program would encourage investment and competition.

However, a Vodafone spokesperson said residents were already paying higher prices due to a lack of regional mobile competition'.

"What this means is that Telstra has been able to build a mobile network that is 1.4 million square kilometres bigger than its nearest competitor, and all users who live and work in those areas are held hostage to Telstra and its high prices," they said.

Their proposed solution was to invest in domestic roaming, which would enable customers of any network to connect to any Telstra, Vodafone or Optus tower.

Even then, the answer might not be that simple, said Somerset resident and IT professional Paul Heymans.

"Wireless technology is not going to be as reliable - that's the nature of the beast," he said.

All three carriers have invested in new equipment around the region Lockyer and Brisbane Valleys to improve coverage, but Mr Heymans said spotty reception could be put down to a number of factors outside the operators' control, including terrain, weather and design of residents' homes.

He also noted, as did spokespeople from Telstra, Vodafone and the federal government, that it was simply too expensive to ensure faultless coverage in all areas, particularly those with a lower population density.

"They're in business to make money," he said.

However, Optus pointed out they had switched on two new sites at Lowood and Lockrose as recently as July this year. 

"Optus committed $1 billion in regional investment in July to improve mobile coverage in regional Australia and deliver 500 new mobile towers," they said. 

Due to these issues, Mr Jeffrey is worried his town will be left behind in the mobile age, a concern shared by Lockyer Valley Mayor Tanya Milliganwho said she would raise the issue at this week's Local Government Association of Queensland conference.

"In today's day and age, communication is a basic necessity and should never be considered a luxury because at this point in time, sadly, it is in some areas," she said.

"The reality is that digital connectivity is a nation-wide issue and an issue that certainly needs to be addressed by all levels of government as we build our nation."

 

Both Lockyer Valley and Somerset mayors welcomed residents to use free wifi at various council facilities.

None of these suggestions help Mr Jeffrey though, who maintains residents are being let down.

"Nobody said it has to be perfect, but we do expect reliable and consistent coverage," he said.

"Without that, we as paying customers are paying for a service that's not guaranteed and that's not right."

Optus is currently building sites at Laidley Central, Coominya and Minden, and further new sites are planned for West Laidley, South Laidley, Lake Wivenhoe and Somerset Dam.

Telstra has planned coverage expansions in Helidon, Laidley, Ravensbourne, Kensington, Fernvale and Plainlands.

The Helidon Progress Association's petition can be found here.


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