Hendy Cowan

Hendy Cowan


    Government to boost regional mobile phone coverage (with Pic.)

    17/01/2001 12:00 AM

    People in regional Western Australia stand to benefit from wider mobile phone coverage and improved data transmission capacity as a result of the sale of AlintaGas.

    Deputy Premier and Regional Development Minister Hendy Cowan said today that $7 million in proceeds from the Alinta sale would be channelled into improving telecommunications services in the South-West land division, stretching from Geraldton to the Goldfields and Esperance.

    These funds would be complemented by a matching $7 million from Telstra and $7 million from the Commonwealth under its new program WirelesSWest.

    The Federal Government’s Networking the Nation program has already brought terrestrial coverage to many parts of the State and now the WA Government has entered into a partnership approach to bring CDMA coverage to practically all of the South-West land division.

    Speaking at the official opening of a new commercial satellite tracking station near Mingenew in the State’s Mid-West, Mr Cowan said that while there was adequate mobile phone coverage in many regional centres, there were several gaps in areas outside the coverage radius.

    There were also frustrating coverage breaks for people driving between regional centres.

    For residents in the north of the State, the Government has already introduced a grant scheme to assist people to purchase a satellite mobile phone. Under the Satellite Mobile Phone Scheme, grants of $550 are available to people unable to access terrestrial mobile phone services.

    Mr Cowan welcomed the announcement by Federal Communications Minister Senator Richard Alston of an additional $3 million to partially subsidise mobile phone handsets for people in remote regions.

    Mr Cowan said the funding announced by the State and Federal Governments today would allow the construction by Telstra of new mobile phone base stations and the upgrading of radio telephone infrastructure at 54 sites over the next two years.

    Completion of the CDMA network will also allow the use of Wireless Local Loop technology to provide fixed telephony services. In the future, CDMA will also become a data transmission platform.

    Regional residents, through this project, will have access to the most modern and reliable technology.

    Mr Cowan said improved telecommunications services had been identified as one of the greatest unmet needs for people living and working in regional WA.

    This had been confirmed by the recently released Besley Report, commissioned by the Federal Government.

    “The highest priority is for continuous and reliable access to mobile telephony,” Mr Cowan said.

    “The unreliability and patchiness of service is a major disincentive to the take-up of mobile phones in a region where the population is, by necessity, extremely mobile.

    “A secondary need is better quality fixed telephone services for a significant proportion of residents.

    “The ageing copper wire network is unreliable and prone to fault and was not designed for modern consumer demands, in particular fax and data transmission.

    “The generally poor quality and limited coverage of telecommunications infrastructure is seen as the major inhibitor to future economic and social development in the regions.

    “Regional residents need to be able to run their businesses with the same access to information, markets and customers as city residents.

    “They need to be able to rely on their fixed telephone and fax services.

    “It is also important for country people to easily make the necessary contacts in an emergency and to be assured that they or their families, who can travel long distances on isolated roads, can be reached while travelling.”

    Mr Cowan said the new telecommunications funding was another example of the State Government putting into action the principle of greater equity for country people outlined In the Regional Development Policy, released in May.

    Under the State-wide Telecommunications Enhancement Program (STEP) the Government had also introduced a greater degree of competition into provision of telecommunications services in regional and remote areas.

    Contracts had been signed between the Government and major service providers, Optus and Telstra, and there is provision for the scheme to be extended during the next term of government to attract other service providers.

    Media contact: Peter Jackson 9222-9595

    Deputy Premier Hendy Cowan (right) and BAE operations director Mike Brownhill after the opening of the new satellite tracking station at Mingenew.

    Hendy Cowan tries out a satellite phone in the Mid West.