The federal government has pumped $37.1 million into strengthening Australia’s telecommunications resilience in the wake of the summer bush fires.
The NBN Co and telcos including Telstra, Vodafone and Optus suffered damage during the devastating fires in New South Wales and Victoria, with major outages reported across the two states.
In order to prevent future down time amid natural disasters, the government has invested $18 million in upgrading mobile phone base stations, which will include $10 million from the ongoing Mobile Black Spot Program.
A further $10 million will be portioned off into purchasing portable communications facilities such as cells on wheels (COWs), mobile exchanges on wheels (MEOWs) and NBN Road Muster trucks.
According to a statement from Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, these will be positioned in bushfire affected areas to allow services to be restored quickly.
Of this, $1.7 million will be handed to NBN Co to purchase five extra Road Muster satellite trucks and 12 portable satellite kits.
Another $7 million will fund the deployment of 2,000 NBN Co satellite services across Australia to service rural and country fire services and designated evacuation centres.
This will also provide additional redundancy during fixed line outages, Minister Fletcher said.
The package will also include a pilot program valued at $2.1 million to fund community education about access to telecommunications in emergencies.
The remaining funding will be allocated under a competitive grants process, whereby telecommunications providers own the portable facilities but give commitments to the federal government about their use during emergencies.
Of the competitive grants component, NBN Co and carriers will contribute up to half of the capital costs of the facilities and will be responsible for the operation, maintenance and replacement costs of equipment purchased.
“Telecommunications services are vital during emergencies to keep communities safe, connected and informed,” Minister Fletcher said. “They are also crucial in coordinating response efforts to get timely information to emergency personnel during natural disasters. However, no communications network is 100 per cent resilient to natural disasters.”
According to a recent update by Telstra, services in over 20 areas in NSW are still affected by bush fire damage following the end of summer.