Optus' wireless broadband ambitions may be hampered by Tasmania's local councils and residents.
Through details in public archives, Consumer action group, Digital Tasmania, has tracked the telco’s plans to broaden its wireless Internet reach in the state by building 50 new mobile sites. The rollout will double its current site numbers at an estimated cost of $24 million.
“This has been happening in the last few months,” Digital Tasmania spokesperson, Andrew Connor, said. “But the issue came to a head when a couple of councils knocked back Optus applications to install the mobile towers either from councilors going against the plan or residents voicing their concerns.”
Connor cited aesthetics as the key reason for residents to spurn the mobile bases.
“The standard proposal that Optus is putting in is for 60m towers,” he said. “They are large by any standard but that is what is needed to get coverage out to Tasmania because our landscape is hilly in some areas and the height is also handy for backhaul.
“They don’t look great in some places but in other cases, there are lots of trees around so the tower is not visible at certain angles.”
Radiation was also an issue but Connor dismissed the concern, saying residents needn’t worry since each proposed site has been assessed to determine the amount of electromagnetic energy that will be emitted. Levels are typically low and less than 0.01 per cent of the continual exposure limits set by the Australian Government.
With Telstra (ASX: TLS) as the only telco with extensive coverage in Tasmania, Connor saw the Optus expansion as crucial in promoting healthy competition and to drive down cost to consumers.
“Coverage for Internet service providers (ISPs) other than Telstra is quite limited and once you get out of the main cities the choice is only the incumbent operator,” he said. “So Optus’ network extension will bring choice to people off the beaten track and give them access to a variety of operators.”
Connor fears further application rejections may delay network expansion and lead to coverage gaps if less optimal sites are used. He hopes the 29 councils in Tasmania will consider the benefits of wireless broadband infrastructure development to residents and tourists when deliberating on mobile site proposals.
An Optus spokesperson told ARN that the company works closely with the councils through a consultation process. The telco is keen to strike a balance between rolling out a competitive network in Tasmania as well as addressing community concerns and continue to work towards that goal.
Broadband was also on the lips of the Tasmanian Government, which is investing $12.7 million equity contributions to Aurora Energy’s optic fibre system for the National Broadband Network (NBN). This follows on from news that the Basslink network will be online by the end of the month.