Chatsworth residents stuck in a mobile black hole

CHATSWORTH farmer and firefighter Ben Gubbins knows better than most the problems caused by mobile phone black spots.

Sixty-five Chatsworth district residents have signed a petition supporting a submission to the federal Communications Department to be part of a $100 million program aimed to alleviate mobile phone issues.

Mr Gubbins, a 25-year-old sheep, cattle and crop farmer, said technology was rolling out across Australia with phone applications for just about everything — the only problem in Chatsworth being the almost non-existent reception.

He said the area, 35 kilometres north-east of Mortlake, appeared to be trapped between mobile phone towers and turning your head while talking could lead to a phone dropping out.

Mr Gubbins described the frustrations of having to run or drive to the nearest hill in an attempt to get mobile phone coverage — a life-threatening situation in his role as the second lieutenant of the Chatsworth Country Fire Authority unit.

He said it was also difficult to summon brigade members to man a CFA truck when they could not be contacted by phone.

Farmers are also being forced to consider spending their own cash on $300 directional antennas or $750 for “smart hubs”. “These problems have been around since we started using mobile phones,” Mr Gubbins said.

“There’s a lot of people use this area as a highway bypass and the coverage has always been poor. 

“I’m told that 99 per cent of the country is serviced by Telstra. If anyone’s wondering where that other one per cent is there’s certainly some of it around Chatsworth.”

Mr Gubbins said new mobile phone apps — such as Fire Ready — were proving less than useful.

“We have enormous troubles using them,” he said.

“Communication is the key and we have a lot of troubles with the service in place. What we need is another tower to service this area.”

A Corangamite Shire spokesman said there were also known black spots around Scotts Creek, Timboon, Port Campbell and Simpson to the south, more centrally around Noorat and Terang districts and also around Skipton.

He said the shire council had made a submission and at least one councillor had urged residents to make individual submissions. 

The federal government hopes to receive matching funding from telecommunications companies in an effort to tackle the issue. 

But with a mobile telephone tower worth at least $500,000 it appears many black spots around Victoria and Australia will remain.

Member for Wannon Dan Tehan said the federal government was now collating all the submissions regarding black spots. He said that information would be prioritised while a final design around the government’s $100 million commitment was finalised.

Mr Tehan said submissions had also been received from the major telecommunications providers and how the program would roll out would be announced in coming months.

“Mobile telephone black spots is a growing issue because as usage increases the reach of mobile towers reduces.”

Mr Tehan said that after years of neglect the issues of mobile phone black spots now needed to be urgently addressed.

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