Councils push for phone towers in black spot areas

Pyrenees Shire Council mayor Robert Vance is “quite confident” the mobile black-spot town of Moonambel will have funding to build a phone tower in the next few years. 

It comes as Cr Vance and mayors from the Ararat and Northern Grampians shire councils met with federal government ministerial advisors in Canberra this week to discuss the prospects of erecting a phone tower in the town.

At a council meeting on Tuesday, 14 mobile black-spot areas were identified in the Pyrenees Shire including in Moonambel, Landsborough, Amphitheatre, Lexton, Beaufort, Raglan, Waubra, Carngham and Snake Valley. 

The Department of Communications said it could not reveal the number of Ballarat stakeholders and organisations that had applied for funding under the federal government’s $100 million Mobile Coverage Program in  2014.

However, the department said more than 150 submissions had been received since the closure of the consultation period on February 28. 

The federal government program will supply funding to small communities and in locations prone to experiencing natural disasters. 

The Pyrenees has seen several natural disasters in the past few years, including a flow on effect from the devastating Grampians bushfire that burned more than 52,000 hectares in January this year.

Cr Vance said there were discussions about the prospect of fire-ravaged Dereel receiving government funding as well.

“I can’t reveal what is happening at this stage and neither can (the government),” Cr Vance said. “At this stage I am confident money will be committed to Moonambel and Dereel in the establishment of a phone tower in the future.” 

“But I understand the (federal government) budget is going to be extremely tight in the next 12 months. The money is not there.” 

Cr Vance said the Pyrenees Shire had problems with mobile reception “since the inception of mobile phones”. 

“Of course it is (dangerous), especially in the case of fires. The north west section of the Grampians has no mobile coverage,” Cr Vance said. 

“No mobile coverage ... has left the winery and tourism operators frustrated,” he said. 

Warrenmang Vineyard and Resort in Moonambel owner Athalie Bazzani said she had moved to work in an office in Ballarat because the internet and mobile access was so poor in Moonambel. 

“In the early days, it was beyond a significant problem,” Mrs Bazzani said. “The mobile black spot does prevent the guests from being able to use their phone and we can’t have internet in some rooms.” 

Mrs Bazzani said they had spent “a fortune” for an off site reservation system so the resort could take online bookings. 

“It is just one of the problems we have ... we have (natural disasters) on our doorstep and guests want to tell their families where they are,” she said. 

Mrs Bazzani said she welcomed a phone tower to Moonambel.

“A tower in Moonambel would be a very big leap forward.”