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Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Page: 186

McEwen Highway: Mobile Phone Coverage

(Question No. 661)


Mr Katter asked the Minister representing the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, in writing, on 13 October 2011:

In respect of mobile phone coverage on the McEwen Highway between Charters Towers and Ravenshoe, (a) have investigations been held on the lack of coverage; if so, between who, and can he indicate the outcome, and (b) by when will coverage be made available.


Mr Albanese: The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:

The Australian Government understands the importance of mobile telephony to Australians. In recent years the mobile phone carriers have significantly expanded their terrestrial mobile networks. Vodafone Hutchison Australia claims its networks currently cover more than 94 per cent of the Australian population. Optus claims its 3G network provides services to 97 per cent of the Australian population. Telstra claims its Next G network now provides mobile coverage to 99 per cent of Australians.

For the most part the recent extension of mobile coverage across Australia has been based on commercial decisions by carriers. In making a decision to extend coverage to a particular area, carriers will consider a range of factors, including site availability, cost structures, likely levels of demand from users and overall economic viability of the service.

Telstra is the only carrier that provides mobile telephony in the Charters Towers district. The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy sought advice from Telstra in regard to mobile coverage on the McEwen Highway between Charters Towers and Ravenshoe. Telstra advised they have on numerous occasions looked at the feasibility of providing coverage to this area. However, they have determined that it is not commercially viable to do so. Telstra also advised they will continue to review investment decisions as part of their ongoing network planning.

In areas that are sparsely populated or have little passing traffic, often the only commercially viable option for mobile phone services is via satellite. Unlike terrestrial mobile coverage, satellite mobile phone services cover the entire Australian landmass and population, and are available from a number of providers.

The Satellite Phone Subsidy Scheme improves the affordability of mobile communications for people living and working in areas without terrestrial mobile coverage, by providing subsidies for the purchase of satellite phone handsets. The scheme provides up to $1000 for eligible applicants who live in areas without terrestrial mobile coverage or up to $700 for eligible applicants who live in areas that have coverage, but spend more than 180 days across a two year period in non-coverage areas.

Under the scheme's rules, those eligible to apply include individuals, small businesses, community groups, not-for-profit organisations, Indigenous corporations, emergency service organisations, health organisations and educational institutions. Further information is available at www.dbcde.gov.au/satphone.